On Sunday afternoon, Northwestern fans received unfortunate news.
According to a release from the school, star center Alex Olah would be out indefinitely following a foot injury. Though the team never released specifics on the potential length of duration of the injury, head coach Chris Collins did make a statement to BTN on Sunday night and implied that Olah would be sidelined for “a couple of weeks.”
Undoubtedly, this is a significant blow for the Wildcats. So far this season, Olah is averaging 26.8 minutes, 12.8 points, and 6.5 rebounds per game, which are all among the top three contributors on the team. He also has an impressive 121.1 offensive rating and has a 64.1 percent true shooting percentage. Along with this, he is arguably the team’s best overall rebounder.
Though Olah may not be the single best player on Northwestern’s team this season–Bryant McIntosh actually leads the team in overall win shares–it’s hard not to think that he’s right at the top of the roster. He puts up significant numbers, is an efficient player, and has been pretty consistent in just about every game this season, scoring at least 10 points in seven games this year.
Additionally, Olah is also easily the team’s best option at center. This offseason, Northwestern added Virginia Tech transfer Joey Van Zegeren in an attempt to add depth upfront, but Olah has dominated the minutes at the position. In fact, Van Zegeren has only played 23.6 percent of the team’s minutes this season and has struggled with avoiding fouls this year.
Now, with Olah sidelined, the pressure will be on Van Zegeren and others to hold down the position and keep the momentum from Northwestern’s 12-1 start alive.
Though Van Zegeren looks to be Northwestern’s primary replacement on paper, things may actually be a bit more interesting. This was evident during Northwestern’s first game without Olah on Sunday against Loyola (MD). During the game, Van Zegeren got 17 minutes, but true freshman Dererk Pardon ended up with 23 minutes. Initially, Pardon appeared to be set for a redshirt, but with Olah out of the lineup, Pardon has been forced into action.
As a recruit, Pardon had decent attention. He was rated as a three-star prospect according to ESPN and also had attention from several other schools including Pittsburgh. Naturally, he’s probably more of a forward than a center, but he will have to fill in with Olah sidelined and certainly has more long-term potential than Van Zegeren.
If Northwestern is going to get through Olah’s injury successfully, it’s hard not to think that Pardon will be a key piece of that transition.
Unfortunately, the schedule isn’t going to give the Wildcats any favors. The team was able to grab a victory without Olah on Sunday against Loyola (MD), but things are about to get far more difficult. Over the next four games, the Wildcats will have two road games and matchups with Maryland and Ohio State. Even at full strength, going better than 2-2 in that stretch would be a challenge.
The Wildcats still have plenty of hope for the coming weeks and this season, but the injury to Olah is about to make things far more difficult. Perhaps the emergence of Pardon and Van Zegeren can minimize some of the issues, but given the upcoming schedule and Olah’s contributions, seeing some type of slide shouldn’t be unexpected.
Northwestern opens Big Ten play against Nebraska on December 30th.