A few weeks ago, I pressed ctrl+b in order to properly emphasize that “Reggie Hearn is every bit as good as Drew Crawford“, essentially saying that both seniors could be considered Northwestern’s best player. Well, they both got hurt this week; Reggie’s hopeful for the conference opener but Drew’s gone for the year. So say “hello” to NU’s new most important player: freshman center Alex Olah.
I don’t mean he’s the best player on NU sans Hearn and Crawford- that’s Sobolewski and his steady twelve points a game. But with the obvious exception of our point guard taking the ball down the floor, no one is touching the ball more than our Romanian freshman center, who has just this week learned some low post moves and shown real improvement in his jump shot. He’s still providing the high post playmaking and sense of the game that’s always been his trademark, placing him right behind our point guard for the team lead in assists.
Combine all that with the good work Tre Demps has been doing in relief of Sobolewski’s foul trouble and it’s clear that Olah is more vital for this team than anyone else they’ve got going.
Olah and Sobolewski are improving every game, which is unfortunately a better sign for next year and 2014-15 than for our current season. When you consider that Northwestern’s preferred lineup for this year was Crawford – Hearn – Cobb – Sobolewski – “A Center From Somewhere I Dunno” it becomes clear that the squad is not exactly in prime condition for the titanic #2 Michigan team coming to Evanston in a week (when students will still be at home, frustratingly, so there’s no chance of the student section ruining Hardaway’s day like they did last year).
Northwestern has scraped through the non-conference schedule without embarrassing itself too badly, but it’s getting harder and harder to envision 2012-13 being “the year.” Is there really any chance that a team can lose its best player ever to graduation, lose its second-best player to injury for the entire conference schedule, lose another starter to academic disqualification (or whatever that all was with Cobb) and yet another to nagging ankle problems, then overcome all that to have a history-making first year in the NCAA Tournament?
It’s time to find out. Welcome to the conference schedule.