The NKU guard might earn All-Freshman honors after all
During the off-season, I put together my best guess on what the Horizon League All-Freshman team might look like. While I acknowledged Northern Kentucky’s Marques Warrick, I thought the incoming and returning backcourt talent at NKU would have proven too much for Warrick to get major minutes right away despite him being one of the highest regarded freshmen in the league. With star rankings having less to do with early success than opportunity at the mid-major level, I thought he’d need to wait his turn to break out.
Warrick is second on NKU in scoring with 13.9 points per game, one of just two players averaging double-figures for the Norse. He has taken home four of the Horizon League’s six Freshman of the Week awards to date. Barring injury, he might not even need to play as well as he has so far in the next 12 games to come away with the Horizon League Freshman of the Year award. The only other freshman averaging double-figures in the league is Youngstown State’s Shemar Rathan-Mayes at 10.8 points per game, and he hasn’t been nearly as efficient as Warrick to date.
In defense of this whiff, I’d like to put part of the blame on another off-season whiff of mine. After Carlos Hines blew up into a strong floor general and secondary scoring option at Northern Arizona, the 6-foot-4 guard seemed like a no-brainer candidate to wind up in the starting lineup and become one of Northern Kentucky’s top players. Hines averaged 12.9 points and 4 assists per game at NAU in 2019. That type of production at another Division I program seems like it should easily translate to success. As a result, I projected him as a member of the nonexistent Horizon League All-Newcomer Team. But this year hasn’t gone as expected for Hines whatsoever. He missed Northern Kentucky’s first six games, and has played just 7.8 minutes per game in his five contests this season. He’s currently averaging 1.6 points, 0.6 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game. The difficult transition is especially interesting considering Karl Harris — a former NAU backup — was able to see more playing time in 2020 despite Northern Kentucky’s lineup featuring three 2020 All-League performers and current leading scorer Trevon Faulkner.
With a player that was expected to be a major contributor failing to pan out as expected there were a lot of minutes available, but Warrick still had to overcome a backcourt rotation full of talented upperclassmen. Beyond Faulkner, the team had Bryson Langdon returning and likely to take up significant minutes as the presumed starting point guard. Adham Eleeda and Paul Djoko were also returning for their respective senior and junior seasons, and incoming wing Darius Harding was ranked as the number 81 Junior College recruit in the nation.
The other issue Warrick seemed to face heading into this season was that two of the three major departures from the team this offseason — Jalen Tate and Dantez Walton — would likely be playing almost exclusively in the frontcourt for NKU’s undersized roster if they were on the team for another year. Warrick could be the best freshman on the team, but if he hadn’t beat out the upperclassmen guards he might still be playing less than some of the others because a 4-out 1-in offense with 6-foot-7 Adrian Nelson playing 40 minutes is completely unrealistic.
Ultimately, none the obstacles mattered. Unlike several players who should garner consideration for the All-Freshman team by the end of the year — including his NKU teammate David Böhm — Warrick didn’t even need to work his way into the lineup as the season progressed. It was obvious in practice that he needed to be a Day 1 starter.
As if my prediction immediately blowing up in my face wasn’t bad enough, it might get even worse. Warrick scored more than 20 points three times in his last four games. Even with a terrible 3-for-15 shooting night one week ago in a game where league-leading Cleveland State gave everyone on NKU fits, his effective field goal percentage during this run is 54.1. When you only include the three games where he scored over 20, that percentage jumps to 64.1. If this is a sign of things to come rather than a hot streak, his postseason honors might not be limited to the ones that only freshmen are eligible for.