One name stood out on the stat sheet after Northwestern's blowout loss to Wisconsin last Friday. Alex Olah. Olah had 23 points, a career best for the sophomore center, on 10 of 14 shooting. He also snagged six rebounds and blocked two shots in his 29 minutes on the floor against the Badgers. While he's still a work in progress, Olah has made significant improvements from last season and has solidified himself as Northwestern's center of the future.
In his freshman season, Olah averaged about six points and four rebounds per game. He shot 41.5 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from the free throw line. Olah's game was extremely raw and required maturation. He certainly wasn't looked to as a scorer. His rebounding and defensive skills were poor. Olah in general was very timid and seemed uncomfortable with the college game. While he still isn't a star or leader for NU, Olah is slowly becoming a solid option at center.
Olah's production has been much more efficient in his sophomore year. He's shooting a staggering 57.4 percent from the field and 73.2 percent from the free throw stripe. His scoring and rebounding have both increased, now at 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He's also scored in double figures in five of his last six games. Olah has played more physically and appears much more confident this season. Olah's improvement has likely come from his hard work in the offseason.
During the summer, Olah played for his home country of Romania in the FIBA U20 European Championship. He led the team in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game. In Romania's eight game run in the tournament, Olah also had 9.1 rebounds per game. The international experience has boosted Olah's presence on the floor and helped him develop some moves in the post. Olah has proven he can work on the block through a couple of strong post moves, including a nice bunny hook in the lane. Olah is shooting 57 percent from the field because of his touch around the rim.
Olah has made some good improvements offensively, but he's still a work in progress. For a 7-footer, 5.3 rebounds per game is not very many, and Olah's defense is still mediocre. He has slow feet and struggles against talented post players. Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin, who both average more rebounds per game than Olah, should not have too carry this team down low. Olah needs to work on boxing out, grabbing rebounds, and controlling the painted area. While he continues to work on his defense, Olah can also diversify his post moves and become a team leader for the Wildcats.
Olah's continued progression as a center is key to Northwestern's future. Five new recruits are coming in next year, and none of them are centers. Olah is the only starter on this year's team that is essentially guaranteed a starting spot in next year's lineup. And in all likelihood he will start his senior year too. This year's team is going to fly under the radar because they are the worst team in the Big Ten, but Alex Olah can make big strides in his game this season, and his development will be integral to Northwestern's future success.