Don’t look now, but things are starting to look up for Northwestern. While the Wildcats are coming off a 15-17 season, they return several strong players including center Alex Olah and guards Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh. While a first-ever birth in the NCAA Tournament might still be a little bit away, there is hope that if things bounce their way this could be the year the Wildcats finally appear in the big dance.
There is also plenty of excitement about the team’s 2015 recruiting class, as forward Aaron Falzon and point guard Jordan Ash are highly touted players expected to contribute immediately. But they aren’t the only new freshmen on the Wildcats roster. There’s also new power forward/center Derek Pardon, the least talked about of Chris Collins’ new recruits. While he may not be expected to be a huge contributor right away, he certainly could be in the future. Let’s take a look at him.
At 6’8" and 235 pounds, Pardon has good size. He's also an energetic player who can run the floor for Collins and company. That’s extremely important when you realize that traditionally Northwestern likes to play a smaller lineup that can get up and down the floor fast. As far as his skillset, Pardon actually plays much more like a center even though he has the body of a power forward. Once again, that’s not the worst thing in the world for a team like the small-ball Wildcats, though it may make it difficult for him to guard the 7’0", 270 pound Olah in practice. Still, one of Pardon’s biggest strengths is that he plays bigger than his size. He’s a very strong rebounder who isn’t afraid to bang bodies and fight for the ball and he has the potential to be a menace on the defensive end. Although he’s only 6’8", he has a 7’2" wingspan, something that helps him out exponentially as a shot-blocker. That combined with his quickness and gritty style will make him a player that opponents may get sick of seeing very quickly.
Here's a look at some of his highlights:
Areas for Improvement
Like most frontcourt players coming into college, Pardon isn’t exceptionally skilled on the offensive end at the moment. His rebounding prowess has helped him get a good amount of put-backs at the high school level and he’s fast enough to get some buckets in transition. But if he’s ever going to be a true two-way threat, he’ll need to develop some post moves and maybe a jumper as well. It also remains to be seen how he does guarding bigger centers, though as mentioned above, he’ll get plenty of practice going up against Olah and 6’10" Joey van Zegeren on a regular basis.
It’s hard to say just how much of an impact Pardon will have this season. While Olah and van Zegeren figure to play nearly all the minutes at the five, Pardon’s athleticism could get him on the court if Collins wants to blitz teams with an even smaller and quicker lineup. He could also grab some minutes at the four against some of the better rebounding teams in the Big Ten. Down the line, however, expect Pardon to make his presence felt. He needs to improve offensively, but he brings enough to the table on defense and as a rebounder to form a formidable duo with Falzon. If Pardon and the rest of Northwestern’s players continue to develop, the Wildcats’ optimism could stretch past this season and into the future.