Last week, a little known freshman named Dererk Pardon played the game of his life. In Northwestern's Big Ten season opener against Nebraska, the forward dropped 28 points (a career-high), 12 rebounds (a career-high) and went 6-8 from the line (a career-high in both free throws made and free throws attempted). It was also just his second collegiate game. Ever.
Pardon was not expected to play at all this season. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, he turned down offers from Dayton, Xavier and Pittsburgh in favor of joining Northwestern for the 2015-16 season. However, with solid depth in the frontcourt, led by senior Alex Olah, head coach Chris Collins elected to place a redshirt on Pardon in order to retain his eligibility for a full four years going forward.
Fast forward and Northwestern is off to an 11-1 start. But after a relatively untested non-conference season, Olah goes down indefinitely with a foot injury. Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren is forced to take on a starting role and Collins decides to make a change. In a move that few expected, Collins removed the redshirt tag from Pardon and inserted him into a prominent role off the bench against Loyola (Md.). In his first game, Pardon added 6 points and 4 rebounds off the bench in 23 minutes played. It was enough to convince Collins that more minutes had been earned.
Following the Nebraska game, it appeared evident that the Wildcats had found their solution, at least temporarily, in the frontcourt. An 8 point, 6 rebounds performance against #4 Maryland in the next game confirmed that even if Pardon is not an everyday star, he can provide valuable minutes off the bench. It is now clear that he can add a new element to the scoring attack of this Northwestern team.
Until Olah returns, which will likely be in the next week or two, Pardon will continue to see considerable minutes. In the Maryland game, he lead the team in rebounds while also going 4-5 from the field. Pardon's ability to work inside and take high percentage shots is something that not only Northwestern, but many of the teams in this conference need. It does not take an elite scorer to compete at this level, and Pardon is demonstrating that even without sleek moves and an over-powering presence, it is still possible to score.
Pardon get another chance to continue his solid play this week when the Wildcats take on Ohio State and Minnesota. The Buckeyes are a team with guys that can matchup with the 6-8 Pardon. Keita Bates-Diop is a defensive force that will be creating trouble in the post. However Minnesota should be easier to penetrate against.
The reality remains that Dererk Pardon is a temporary solution to the Alex Olah injury. However, when Olah returns, expect Pardon to remain an essential component of this team. He provides an effective weapon off the bench, and most likely next year will be the starting center for this Northwestern team.