Men’s Basketball: The adversity facing Ryan Young, a young center in a crowded league


Daily File Photo by Joshua Hoffman

After suffering a back contusion against Maryland, freshman center Ryan Young returns to action this weekend against Ohio State.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

The loudest sound of the night at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday was the “pop” Ryan Young made when he hit the ground. In the second half, Northwestern’s six-foot-ten redshirt freshman tried to challenge Maryland’s Jalen Smith at the rim. Smith blocked Young’s shot and sent him on a free fall to the ground.

Young landed squarely on his back, made the court shake and eventually limped to the locker room. Four minutes later, he was in the game playing through a back contusion.

Gritting it out against a projected first round pick in the Terrapins’ center, Young watched Smith score a career-high 25 points in the Wildcats’ 11-point loss.

He’ll face another elite big man Sunday, when the Wildcats (6-12, 1-7 Big Ten) play Ohio State (12-7, 2-6) at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Buckeyes center Kaleb Wesson was selected to the Big Ten’s preseason all-conference team and is expected to be drafted in the second round this June.

Coach Chris Collins said Young’s trial by fire will be good for him in the long term.

“I’ve never seen a collection of big men in a conference as good as this year,” Collins said. “You’re throwing Young every night, and he’s playing against (stars). How good is that for his development?”

Of the fourteen starting centers in the Big Ten, eight are NBA prospects. There’s a dynamic inside-outside threat in Smith, a record-setting rebounder in Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu and a low post bruiser in Wesson. There’s also Iowa’s Luka Garza, a national player of the year contender, and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, a national freshman of the year contender.

In the Big Ten this season, there are ten centers averaging more than 10 points in conference play and five centers averaging more than 15 points per game. Every team in the conference has a center that averages more points per game in conference play than Young.

Young averages just 7.3 points per game against Big Ten competition, and the Cats are the only team in the conference whose center hasn’t scored more than 12 points in a Big Ten game this year. Young also has the lowest usage rate and the lowest defensive rating among starting bigs in the conference, and he ranks second-to-last in blocks and rebounds per possession.

Even though Young gained experience practicing against Dererk Pardon in his redshirt season last year, Collins said Young is in a difficult situation this year.

“(Young) is a warrior, and he battles,” Collins said. “I admire him as a freshman in this league this year.”

After a strong start to the season, Young’s production has trailed off in conference play. Young scored 12.1 points per game and had three offensive rebounds per game in nonconference play, but those averages have almost been cut in half against Big Ten teams. Young shot 65 percent from the field against teams from outside the Big Ten and 49 percent from the field in conference play.

He’ll have another difficult test Sunday. Entering Thursday, Wesson averaged 17.1 points per game in conference play –– the third-best mark among big men in the conference –– and is statistically the best rebounder in the Big Ten. A six-foot-nine, 270 pound center who looks like one of Ohio State’s offensive linemen, Wesson led the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding during their tournament run last season.

Even though Young’s been NU’s most efficient scorer this year, he isn’t on the level of Wesson or the other top bigs in the Big Ten. But Collins said he still believes Young has a bright future ahead of him.

“You can he’s see getting better, he’s learning how to score down low and he’s making plays,” Collins said. “He’s going to be a really good player for us, and he’s a warrior so I appreciate him fighting.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @2021_charlie