Matthew Nicholson took a gigantic leap forward this season, proving he could hang with other dominant Big Ten centers. He wasn’t the most productive scorer in the league, but he held his own on the defensive end of the floor against the best of the best. Today, we’ll take a look at his season and dissect what went right, and what the seven-foot-tall rising senior can improve on.
The following stats are from sports-reference.com:
In his first year as a starter, Nicholson posted respectable stat totals for a player who was not a top offensive option. He scored 6.3 points per game and had 5.4 rebounds per contest. Nicholson also had 1.2 blocks per game and shot 61.4% from the field, leading the Wildcats.
The only real statistical knock on Nicholson is that he shot poorly from the free-throw line. He shot 47.8%. At the collegiate level, this is rather unacceptable. Presumably, though, Nicholson and the Northwestern coaching staff are aware of this glaring weakness and working to fix it. Even if he can just be a 65% shooter from the line, that would be a huge, noticeable improvement.
These stats are from hoop-math.com:
These numbers are always a little less interesting when you are examining a big man because most of the shots are from roughly the same spots. Nicholson took just under 94% of his shots from around the rim and shot 64.4% from that range. That’s exactly what he should be doing.
Arguably, the most interesting piece of information to take away here is that Nicholson managed to be a productive player, while only taking the sixth most shots on the team. He should rise in that ranking next season. Depending on who is still on the ‘Cats roster, a lot of Nicholson’s averages could see boosts.
Let’s talk about the beard real quick. Great call. He looks great, and it makes him seem way more intimidating and menacing. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t get shaved off before next year. That would be almost as tragic as Buie and Audige both deciding to leave.
On a more serious note (although still potentially tied to the beard if you believe in that sort of thing), Nicholson got better and better as the year went on. He spent all of conference play preparing to match up against some of the most intimidating names in college hoops: Zach Edey, Trayce Jackson Davis, Hunter Dickinson, etc. And Nicholson is better for it. He’s learned how to use his size to negate opposing players’ moves and also runs Northwestern’s trap defense to perfection.
Offensively, he was starting to come into his own during the tournament. Against UCLA, Nicholson had 17 points. 17! In the first half, it felt like he was dragging Northwestern along, keeping them in the game when nobody else could hit shots. Overall, there was a lot to like about Nicholson’s season, and he made a lot of noticeable progress.
We’ve established that Nicholson wasn’t a dependable free throw shooter this season, but there are some other concerning aspects of his play worth mentioning. He does tend to put himself in severely awkward positions under the hoop. It doesn’t seem as if Nicholson really has any plus post moves, which means he’s somewhat ineffective down there in a traditional big-man post-up position. Fortunately, this is something he can improve upon. He has all of the physical tools, he just needs to work on making everything more smooth.
Free-throw shooting, free-throw shooting, free-throw shooting. Please.
Nicholson is a huge person. He’s seven-feet tall and weighs 256 pounds. As a result, he’s a hard guy to put a body on and guard in a legal way. He will get fouled, and he NEEDS to learn to take advantage of that. Nicholson should be in the gym every day just putting up free throw after free throw. Consistency at the stripe would upgrade his game immensely.
Generally, Nicholson should be focused more on offense this summer. Developing post moves and working on his fluidity could go a long way toward making him a star in Evanston. It’s also his clear weakness. Nicholson put in the work on defense. He knows he can guard Big Ten talent in the post; now he just needs to learn to score against it.
The Big Picture:
Nicholson was a critical piece to this year’s team, and it was always noticeable when he wasn’t on the floor. He was a bit of an unsung hero at times, but if Northwestern doesn’t have anyone to contain all that forward and center talent in the Big Ten, they don’t reach the heights they reached this year.
Next season, look for Nicholson to have made more strides offensively and to step into a prominent leadership role. He looks ready for it, and the ‘Cats are going to need him to be if a few important decisions don’t go their way over the next couple of weeks.