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2016-17 Northwestern Preview: How will the Wildcats replace Alex Olah in the frontcourt?

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.

Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the backcourt for Illinois. After a few years of inconsistency from the team’s guards, the Illini are hoping things will be changing this fall.

'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Northwestern Frontcourt:

  • 2015-’16 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: None
  • Key Departures: Alex Olah and Joey Van Zegren
  • Additions: Barret Benson
  • Top Player: Dererk Pardon

Starting Rotation

Sophomore Dererk Pardon will get the start at this position to begin the season. Last year, he initially redshirted. After starter Alex Olah and his backup Joey Van Zegren went down with injuries, Pardon’s redshirt was burned. He showed flashes of being a great Big Ten center throughout his time playing. In his first game, he put up 28 and 12 against Nebraska. However, he often go in foul trouble mainly because of illegal screens in conference play. While Pardon only played half of a season, the experience he gained in Big Ten Play will be valuable headed in to this season. If he continues to improve this season and he can stay out of foul trouble, he will be a very reliable player for Chris Collins.

Pardon will have to be better at the pick- and-roll this season. That is a signature move of the Wildcats that help keep them on track in games and open up the offense. Pardon is very good finishing around the rim. With the return of Vic Law, Pardon will have another set of hands to help finish around the rim.

Bench Rotation

Freshman Barret Benson will absorb the remainder of the minutes on the floor. It is possible that he may be able to surpass Pardon and start towards the end of the season depending on how he develops. For a class that didn’t have many options at center, this was a huge get for Chris Collins and his staff. Benson had offers from numerous programs in the country, including seven other Big Ten offers from Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Nebraska, Illinois, Nebraska, and Penn State. Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin had also expressed interest in him. He was ranked as the 21st Center in the U.S and 3rd in the State of Illinois.

If Collins wants to play small ball, he can put Gavin Skelly in at center, who saw minutes there last year when Pardon, Van Zegren and Olah were in foul trouble. Gavin Skelly brings energy on the court and isn’t afraid to match up with any center in the conference. He’s a very gritty basketball player and isn’t afraid to make moves around the rim. Last season, he was known for the block he made on Bronson Koenig in the final seconds of the game vs. Wisconsin. That block allowed Koenig to commit an offensive foul and Northwestern was able to win the game.

Overall

The Center position is Northwestern’s youngest position. Dererk Pardon and Barret Benson have two different playing styles at Center, but their games should compliment each other. The experience Pardon gained in conference season will be important for him to use to build off of and also to teach Pardon strategies. The center position could become one of Northwestern’s strongest positions if they play well and stay out of foul trouble as best as they can.