As we continue our player previews for a highly-anticipated season of Wildcat basketball, we turn to grad transfer Blake Preston, who is slated to be a rotational piece for the ‘Cats as they look to make a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Who he is
Graduate student; 6-foot-9; from Charlotte, North Carolina; Liberty transfer
2022-2023 stats (at Liberty)
35 games (22 starts), 17.3 minutes per game, 6.7 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, 0.5 blocks per game, 0.4 steals per game, 66.0% FG%, 39.7% FG%
A key veteran in the Flames’ lineup last season, Preston served as the big man for a Liberty team that finished 27-9, falling just one point short of a ASUN conference championship and trip to March Madness after a 67-66 loss to Kennesaw State. In his fourth season with the program, Preston set career bests in field goal percentage, assists per game and blocks per game.
Preston leaves the program ranking 17th on Liberty’s all-time rebounding list, having collected 535 across his four years in Lynchburg. Last season, Preston notched 10 or more points on 10 different occasions, posting a season-high 17 against North Florida.
Although designated as a forward, Preston assumed the big-man role for Liberty as the tallest rotation player on the Flames. He was often matched up against opposing centers. For a majority of the season, Preston was on the court for somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes a game.
Northwestern had a chance to see its future transfer up close when Liberty took on NU in the Cancun Challenge last year. Preston played 12 minutes in that game, racking up four points on perfect shooting, four rebounds and two assists in a 66-52 Wildcat victory.
For starters, Preston is a really solid rebounder who is especially effective on the offensive glass, corralling nearly two extra possessions per game. He uses his size and physicality to position himself opportunistically. He’s reliable on the defensive glass as well, and adds a few blocks as well on that end of the floor.
Preston is crafty and efficient around the rim, with a high make percentage. The transfer is a smart player who is wise in his shot selection, usually careful about avoiding low-percentage shots.
For a big man, Preston has sneaky great vision that has only improved throughout his career, as his career-high in assists from a season ago proves. He has sound spatial awareness, isn’t especially prone to turning the ball over and can be effective with the ball both under the basket and at the elbow.
The most glaring hole in Preston’s game is his struggles at the free throw line. Last year he shot just 27-of-68 from the stripe, for a lowly percentage of 39.7%. We’ve seen Preston have success at the line before — his sophomore season he shot a much better 67.4%. But with a career rate sitting only a smidge above 50%, Preston becomes an easy target for intentional fouls late in game, making him a liability on the court.
Preston offers little to no range as a shooter. His arsenal is limited to the paint, which can make life easier on opposing defenses, who don’t have to fear being spread out nearly as much.
In reviewing Preston’s tape, I sometimes felt like he was slightly passive on offense, and some of the numbers back that up. Preston declined from his career-high totals in points, field goals and field goal attempts back in 2020-21, a season when he was playing roughly the same amount as last year.
Preston should slide right in to the role UTEP transfer Tydus Verhoeven filled last year. The two transfers are the same height and produced similar scoring outputs (6.6 points for Verhoeven, 6.7 for Preston) in their final seasons before transferring to Northwestern.
A few key differences for the two players: Verhoeven was a significantly better free throw shooter, whereas Preston is much better at staying out of foul trouble and is more effective at converting his shots on the floor.
It’s not unreasonable to think that Preston should be able to produce, at minimum, the same stat line Verhoeven provided the ‘Cats a season ago: 15.8 minutes per game with averages of 2.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 blocks and 0.5 steals. Preston’s offensive potency should allow him to boost the output in both the scoring and assist categories.
More often than not, I expect Preston to be used as relief when Matthew Nicholson is not on the court. While I do think Northwestern will play with some big lineups, deploying combinations of Luke Hunger with either Nicholson or Preston, this team will continue to run through the guards. Yet, Preston will be relied upon to do some of the “dirty work” as the ‘Cats try to compound their success.