With only 15 days before Wildcat men’s basketball touches the floor, our anticipation for a sold-out crowd in Welsh Ryan Arena grows by the minute. While we wait, let's preview Nick Martinelli, who might just be Northwestern’s best lockdown defender off the bench this season.
Who is he?
Sophomore; forward; 6-foot-7; 200 pounds; from Glenview, IL
9.9 minutes per game; 2.6 points per game; 1.4 rebounds; 0.3 assists; 51.2 FG%; 50.0 3PT%; 50.0 FT%
In his first season, Martinelli made a notable impact. Despite making no starts and missing 14 games altogether, he still managed to play 200 minutes — leading the first-years in points and minutes. In a year of many firsts, Martinelli recorded his first steal in his collegiate opener against Chicago St.
Just as the season was ramping up, No. 2 missed the entirety of December play. After missing ten games in the peak of the ‘Cats’ season — including their 70-63 defeat against No. 20 Michigan St. — Martinelli returned against Wisconsin on Jan. 23, getting a majority of his minutes during conference games. He reached his career-high of 18 minutes in the last two regular-season games.
The expectations for the sophomore are high this season. Don’t be deceived by his minimal scoring. As a defensive player, Martinelli could easily become a starter by the end of the season. He’s an energetic defender, willing to dive for rebounds offensively and defensively. In just 12 minutes against Minnesota last season, Martinelli grabbed five boards — four of which were offensive. At the end of the 2022-23 season, the Wildcats finished with the third-best defense in the Big Ten, holding their opponents to an average of 62.8 points per game. As long as Martinelli keeps up this eagerness on the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats may find themselves ranked among the Top 20 NCAA defenses.
Although Martinelli’s defensive contributions are appreciated, seeing improvement in his free throw percentage and field goal attempts per game could also make him a real threat on offense. Northwestern losing its second-leading scorer in Chase Audige will put pressure on scoring for everyone, but as a wing with a crafty left hook, Martinelli has the potential to open up the paint for more scoring opportunities. Regardless of his 2.6 points per game, Martinelli made 21 of 42 shot attempts last season and four of eight from behind the arc. With more minutes and more attempts, it’s not unrealistic that the forward’s PPG could take a leap.
After finishing in the top three of the conference, with a 12-8 B10 record, all eyes are on Northwestern. Now that Martinelli has experience on the big stage, the stakes are high for him. Outside of his size at 6-foot-7, Martinelli’s other advantage, in comparison to other sophomores on the team, is experience. While no one is expecting the second year to start, he should find a new role as a go-to guy off the bench. However, if Martinelli’s game lacks improvement, his role could easily be replaced by more experienced transfer, Blake Preston, who averaged four more rebounds and points than Martinelli.
In high school, Martinelli was a three-star prospect and ranked as the No. 7 player in Illinois by 247Sports, after averaging 22.8 points per game in his senior season. Should the forward channel his scoring abilities, his ceiling could be far greater than anticipated.