Important Note: The Wildcats game against Penn State tomorrow is on ESPN2 not ESPN. ESPN has changed their schedule from the one printed originally in the NU media guide in order to show a bowl game triple-header.
Not too long ago, I wrote about how Jeff Ryan’s play would be a key to Northwestern’s success during the Big Ten season. Today, I want to comment on another element which I believe would seriously help the Wildcats in Big Ten play. This thought came from watching a ton of football over the last few days and having the importance of special teams reiterated to me for about the thousandth time. As I watched those football games, I thought about what might be the basketball equivalent of a special team. The answer, I concluded, was a three-point specialist who comes off the bench. Right now, Northwestern doesn’t feature such a player. NU actually starts their top four three-point shooters. This is by no means bad, however, it does limit the Wildcats ability have a so called “instant offense” or “microwave” guy who can come off the bench and heat up a stagnate offense in a hurry.
As I thought about this issue, I asked myself: Does Northwestern have such a player? The answer I believe is they have two great candidates, but neither has stepped into this role yet. The two players who I believe could fit this role are freshmen Luka Mirkovic and Nick Fruendt. Mirkovic came into the season regarded as one of the best offensive talents of the freshmen class, but it seems he’s still feeling his way through many of his minutes. If Luka can get over his tentative play, he can make a major difference in NU’s offense. His high school coach, Delray Brooks, said he believed Luka was one of the best big man shooters he’d seen. Bill Carmody also talked up Luka’s shooting skills in the preseason. The Wildcat coach said he believed Luka could knock down outside shots in the Princeton Offense. Luka did hit some two-point jumpers at Stanford, but being able to step up from the center position and hit threes would give the Wildcat offense an incredible dimension the team doesn’t currently feature.
Nick Fruendt’s situation is a little different than Luka’s. While Luka has managed to get on the court regularly, Fruendt has only played at the end of NU’s blowout wins. Still, I believe Fruendt could be the Wildcat’s “instant offense” guy. He was regarded as one of the top shooters and overall scorers in the state of Illinois coming out of high school. He was first team all-state according to multiple evaluation services and was prolific scorer for four seasons at Batavia High School. The rumors early on this season were Fruendt’s limited minutes were the result of his struggling to pick up NU’s offense. This might be true, but it’s also possible Bill Carmody simply doesn’t want to take Craig Moore off the court. I, and I think pretty much every NU fan, can understand this. Moore is the unquestioned leader of the Wildcat team, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for Fruendt. If Nick can show the coaches something in practice, I believe that he might be this year’s version of Ivan Peljusic. Peljusic, remember, couldn’t get on to the court early last season, but once he cracked the lineup was near impossible to get off. I hope this is the case with Nick, because their will be days when Moore, Coble, Thompson, and Shurna will struggle. When they do, I would love to see NU be able to call on their “special team” of Nick Fruendt and/or Luka Mirkovic to make a high scoring-game changing impact.