The Northwestern Wildcats are serious about making a run at the NCAA tournament this season. Even while coming off another sub .500 year, much home remains about the Cats' possibilities to make some real noise both in the conference schedule and beyond. But even with the solid coaching of Chris Collins, it will ultimately be the players that determine how far this team goes, both in the regular and the post-season. This being said, who are the three pivotal players for Northwestern this season? Let's get into it.
Alex Olah C, Senior
Over the past three seasons, Alex Olah has quietly evolved into one of the most productive big men in the conference. After averaging 6.1 PPG and 4.1 RPG through his freshman campaign, he has proceeded to up his numbers every year, and with sizable margin. In 2014-2015, Olah averaged 11.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG, numbers surprisingly comparable to Purdue's highly touted A.J. Hammons (11.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG), yet received little attention for it. While Hammons secured a spot on second team All-Big Ten, Olah failed to receive even an honorable mention.
Olah is key because he's an unsuspecting weapon. Not many outside of the NU program give him enough respect for what he is capable of and what he has done throughout his career. There are few in the Big Ten that can challenge Olah's 7-0 stature, which makes him a liability for opponents on both ends of the floor. His fiery style of play also allows him to be an emotional leader on the court. A man who received only one scholarship offer to play Division 1 basketball, Olah plays with a chip on his shoulder every single game. It wouldn't be too surprising to see him emerge as a candidate for third, and maybe even second team All-Big Ten.
Bryant McIntosh PG, Sophomore
By now, everyone knows about the impressive freshman campaign that Bryant McIntosh put together this past season(11.4 PPG, 4.7 APG), but what makes him even more important in 2015-2016? The answer: vocal leadership. Gone are the days where vets like Dave Sobolewski were running the show, it's all McIntosh from here on out. A strong scoring threat from anywhere on the floor, he will now have a year of experience under his belt as to how to run a fluid offense. He learns from the best in former point guard himself, Chris Collins. While McIntosh has all the tools to put up his own points, it will be his distribution of the basketball that will need to take off this season.
As stated in a previous article, some have Bryant ranked as a top five point guard in the Big Ten. This is high value for a three-star recruit who has only played his freshman season. McIntosh is key for Northwestern because he's arguably the most versatile weapon they've got. Look for major growth from the young man this year.
Aaron Falzon PF, Freshman
As profiled back in May, Aaron Falzon has the potential to be a key building block in Northwestern basketball for years to come. A four-star recruit out of Massachusetts, Falzon's highly athletic game mirrors that of an Andrew Wiggins or maybe even LeBron James. While only ranked as the fourteenth best recruit in the Big Ten's 2015 class, he still has the potential to make the Wildcats a much better team.
Prior to Falzon's arrival, Northwestern has lacked an athletic big to play the four. Often this past year, Coach Collins shuffled the starting lineup, sometimes playing a four guard set while other times playing guys like Vic Law or Sanjay Lumpkin at the 4 position. Falzon fulfills that need and gives the Wildcats much more flexibility with who they start and who they bring in off the bench. If Collins feels as if Falzon can help the team better coming off the bench, then don't expect to see him on the court for opening tipoff. This doesn't, however, diminish what he brings to this team in pure, natural talent. Whatever role Falzon plays, it's bound to be key for Northwestern.