Northwestern’s college basketball season is over, but before we officially close the book on the 2021-22 campaign and start looking towards next year, it’s time to review the individual performances of each Wildcat over the past five months. This edition covers Ryan Young, who, spoiler alert, will likely not be on the roster come November.
This past season was Young’s biggest yet in purple and white. After becoming Derek Pardon’s successor as a redshirt freshman in 2019, the New Jersey native was relegated to the bench in 2020 as a result of Chris Collins’ decision to go with more of a small-ball look with Pete Nance at the five. That strategy, for better or worse, continued into 2021, with Collins deploying Young as the primary backup to Nance and rarely putting the two on the floor simultaneously.
Even though Young’s minutes steadily decreased over his three years in the rotation, his usage rate has followed an opposite trend, with the 6-foot-10 center receiving and capitalizing on increasingly more responsibility as a scorer and passer each season. However, there is an argument to be made that he could have played an even bigger role this year, especially at the end of games, and that might have impacted his decision to enter the transfer portal.
The following numbers are from KenPom.com.
As mentioned above, Young’s usage rate of 26.2 percent was his career high. That being said, the center didn’t shoot quite as well as he did in 2020, with both his true shooting and effective field goal percentages dropping slightly. But, perhaps a higher volume this past year caused some regression to the mean of his true shot-making talent level.
There are, however, two areas where the redshirt junior made a big jump: turnover rate and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. In 2020, Young turned the ball over a tick above 20 percent of the time, but it’s evident his passing and decision-making improved over the offseason, as that percentage dropped to 15.3. Additionally, he drew a little over six fouls per 40 minutes in 2021 — up from 4.6 in 2020 — good enough for 35th best in the country. However, Young did struggle to capitalize on his uncanny ability to get to the charity stripe, as he converted his free throws at an 67 percent clip.
The following stats are taken from hoop-math.com
Unsurprisingly, Young thrived in and around the paint, tallying team-highs in both percentage of shots taken at the rim and conversion rate on those shots at 70 percent and 65 percent respectively. The success he had near the basket made him the second most efficient scorer in the rotation, and when you have someone producing at that high of a level, there’s no reason to have him change his shot selection. As such, Young rarely settled for jump shots, especially in the infrequent situations where he’d have the ball on the perimeter, as only three percent of his shots came from behind the arc.
Young showed throughout the year that he was a more than capable backup to Nance, and the dichotomy of their play styles theoretically forced the opposition to contend with different forms, dependent on the personnel Collins deployed, of the NU offense. While not as athletic as the aforementioned Nance or Elyjah Williams, Young used his big body down low to get his shot near the rim and also rebound at both ends of the floor.
His biggest game of the season came on the road against Michigan State, where he put up 18 points and eight rebounds in a narrow victory. He followed that up three days later with 13 points and six rebounds at home in a six-point loss to Wisconsin, and it’s probably not a coincidence that his two best performances during the conference schedule were games where he received more than 20 minutes of playing time.
First, for a player of his stature, Young wasn’t much of a presence in the paint on defense. His 2.4 block percentage was fourth-best on the team, but second-worst of the guys who slotted in at the four or five. Additionally, even though he was the ‘Cats’ best offensive rebounder, he was susceptible to getting pushed around on the defensive glass, so in general, Young wasn’t the physical force on defense that you’d expect someone with a 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame to be.
Young also struggled to stay out of foul trouble, which, since he was the backup center, is not the best trait to have because one of his primary duties is to just give the starter some time to rest. This forced Collins to either send Nance back in earlier than he would like, or in the case where both were in foul trouble, he’d have to send sophomore reserve Matt Nicholson onto the floor.
If Young is to become solid starting center, whether that’s in Evanston or elsewhere, it’s imperative he improves in a few areas. Most importantly, he has to become a bigger shooting threat. If, at the very minimum, that just means he becomes a more reliable free-throw shooter, he’ll reach double-digits in scoring every game with ease, and anything more just makes him a more difficult defensive assignment. He also has space to grow in his reading of the game. Given his below-average speed and agility, his best bet to clean up his foul issues and become a bigger defensive nuisance is to gain an extra step on opposing ball-handlers by simply knowing where the ball is going to go, and getting to the right spot on time.
The Bottom Line
No one knows what the future holds for the big man from the east coast. If he stays at Northwestern, he’ll be thrown into the starting lineup and will have to hone his skillset, and if he heads somewhere else, he’ll likely make an impact there, and the same analysis about his game holds. Time is running out for Young to reach his potential at the collegiate level, and how he handles the upcoming offseason will dictate the type of player he can become.