NU On The Short Side Of Recruiting (Men’s Basketball)

Andrew Simon

By Andrew SimonThe Daily Northwestern

When people describe the Wildcats the words scrappy, hardworking and smart come up a lot. The word big never does.

That may change one of these years, but not next year. In fact, with centers Vince Scott and Ivan Tolic graduating, the Cats are only getting smaller.

While recruiting season isn’t over yet, the current projected roster for next season includes no player taller than 6-foot-8. But in a system like Northwestern’s, the question is whether that’s a significant disadvantage.

Wednesday’s game against Indiana might have provided some clues. With the Cats trailing by eight midway through the first half, coach Bill Carmody put an undersized lineup into the game. With neither Scott nor Tolic on the court, NU enjoyed a 13-2 run over a seven-minute stretch.

“It can create match-up problems,” Carmody said. “As long as those guys can shoot, you’re forcing the other team to go small, because their big guy can’t play you and can’t get outside. Then you can do it in the long run. But you have to be able to make shots.”

Even when the Cats use a center, they often put him on the perimeter and expect him to be able to pass and shoot from the outside.

“We feel that if you limit a person’s game, say to only staying on the block, it sort of takes away options we have in our offense,” assistant coach Tavaras Hardy said. “We want all five guys on the court to play more than just one role.”

The search for a big man to replace Scott is still ongoing. Up to this point, the Cats have inked only point guard Michael Thompson and forward Mike Capocci, who stands 6-foot-6.

Hardy said there is “a very good chance” the Cats will still bring in a bigger player for next season. One prospect NU is rumored to be in the hunt for is Chicago product Isaiah Martin. Listed at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, Martin is “one of the premier post defenders in the country,” according to rivals.com.

Another option for the Cats could come from within. Redshirt freshman Nikola Baran, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound Croatian is one candidate for the job. Not only has Baran had to adjust to a new culture, he also missed almost two months during the preseason with back problems.

“I had a hard time at the beginning of the year because I was injured,” Baran said. “When I came back I was out of shape, but now everything is better.”

Hardy, a former NU center himself, believes Baran is progressing well despite the challenges.

“Nikola is definitely going to have a lot of opportunities to play,” Hardy said. “He’s a strong kid. He can make outside shots. He’s getting better going to the basket, but that’s something he’s going to have to continue to work on. But I think he can help us next year.”

Reach Andrew Simon at [email protected]