Position Evaluation Group: Centers
Players Included: Kyle Rowley, Luka Mirkovic, and Davide Curletti
Grade: C -
The last group of NU players to evaluate is the Wildcat centers. I have to say this is the most disappointing group. Yes, Luka Mirkovic had his moments, such as 16 points and 10 rebounds in a win over #6 Purdue, but he was consistently inconsistent and neither Kyle Rowley nor Davide Curletti proved a reliable backup.
Mirkovic finished the year with some respectable numbers. For example, he pulled down 5.7 rebounds per game which is the most for an NU center in a decade (a sad, but true stat). He also averaged 7.3 points per game and led NU’s regulars with a 48.1% field goal percentage. Unfortunately, those numbers didn’t accumulate through consistent play. Mirkovic seemed to either flirt with double-doubles (generally in home games) or fail to dent the scorebook at all (primarily in road contests). It’s hard to understand this. Yes, many players play better at home, but Luka’s life story, which nusports.com documented earlier in the year, is one of triumph over great adversity. After surviving a war and coming to a new country, I don’t really understand why playing in front of 10,000 basketball fans wearing the opposing team’s shirts would be intimidating. It’s not like they’re going to be a threat to your life. Regardless, Mirkovic needs to improve his play on the road. He also needs to become a more consistent shooter from the three point line and the free throw line. In the Princeton Offense the center gets a lot of open looks, but Luka’s 9-for-26 from three won’t cut it next year. Neither will his 55.7% free throw shooting which cost NU some games this season. I’d also like Luka to play more under control. I’m all for fire, but his technical because he threw an elbow cost NU a shot at beating Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. The call might not have been great, but it was hard to dispute Luka throwing the elbow. Plus, he was apparently warned about putting his elbows up earlier in the contest.
Kyle Rowley and Davide Curletti each did have moments, but there just weren’t a lot of them. After Luka got hurt late in the season, Rowley did start NU’s NIT loss to Rhode Island and he looked as good on the glass as ever. However, he missed free throws (52.4% for the season) and he doesn’t provide any sort of outside threat. This is troublesome because it allows teams to clog the lane and takeaway backdoor cuts, a hallmark of the Princeton Offense. If he ever truly became a force on the boards, I think Rowley would be a worthwhile player, even with his PO limitations. As it stands, though, he’s like an option quarterback on a team that wants to run the Run-and-Shoot, he just doesn’t fit that well.
Curletti is a lot closer to fitting NU’s needs because he’s 6-9 and has a decent shooting touch. He made 3-of-6 three pointers this season (one big one against Iowa State) and converted a not-terrible 19-of-30 free throws. If he becomes more comfortable shooting and can occasionally drop in a post move he might become NU’s best center. He is already a very good option at center in the 1-3-1 defense because he can slide down and help the point guard quicker than Mirkovic or Rowley. Bottom line for Curletti is he needs to work on becoming a consistent shooting threat and actually a threat down low. He had a few inside baskets late in the season, but none looked comfortable. Rowley probably will never develop an outside shot, but if he continues to get into shape where he can attack the glass he might help. He also needs to drastically reduce his turnovers.
Overall, Mirkovic is NU’s best option at center, but really none of the three truly distinguished themselves. Mirkovic has played the best games, but his bad games were at times epically bad. Next year if one of the three doesn’t get consistent, I wouldn’t mind seeing a three guard lineup. Especially since 6-5 Drew Crawford and 6-8 John Shurna looked like NU’s best rebounders at the end of the season. Add them along with 6-8 Kevin Coble who is an excellent rebounder and 6-4 JerShon Cobb who can jump out of the gym, and you suddenly have four players who all might be better rebounders than any center NU can put on the floor.