Is Drew Crawford’s Return Enough to Lead Northwestern to a Winning Season?Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2013
One of the more splashy offseason coaching hires was when Northwestern tabbed Chris Collins to replace embattled Bill Carmody. Collins brings with him the instant credibility of having played and coached at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski. More importantly, he was a high school legend in the north suburbs of Chicago, where you would have to believe he will be able to make inroads there on the recruiting trail. In the long term, this is an outstanding hire for a Northwestern program that has never made the NCAA Tournament in its 75-year history. The long-term future looking brighter does nothing for the prospects of this year’s team, however, although one of the positives has to be the return from injury of 2011-12 Third Team all-B1G selection Drew Crawford. Crawford could have applied for a graduate transfer exemption and headed elsewhere for his final season, but Collins may have done his best recruiting job already in getting Crawford to stay in Evanston. He doesn’t have the players around him to end the aforementioned tournament drought, but Crawford is one of the top guards in the league when healthy.
As mentioned previously, Crawford was an all-B1G selection two years ago who, along with First Teamer John Shurna, almost broke through and went dancing. That team went 19-14 overall, and was probably one close loss to Ohio State away from finally making the NCAA Tournament. Crawford averaged 16.1 points per game that season, displaying a solid all-around skill set with no real holes in it. Games where he put up 34 points in a close loss against Creighton and 27 points against Ohio State went a long way toward cementing the postseason honors that he received. Crawford is not a superstar athlete, but he does more than enough to get by. Where he stands out is in his ability to shoot the ball, as he hit 41.2% from three in 2011-12, and is a 36.0% shooter from there for his career. His career numbers aren’t great, but 41% is pretty close to elite, especially when you figure that he took about 4.5 treys per game. If he can equal or duplicate that number this season, and Northwestern also takes advantage of the return of JerShon Cobb from suspension, they will be in good shape on the perimeter.
Perimeter success does not necessarily equate to being a well-rounded team, though. Northwestern has some decent other pieces with Dave Sobolewski, Tre Demps, and 7-footer Alex Olah. It has a new coach, and with that change, new excitement. The school signed its first top 100 level recruit from Chicago in quite some time and it appears that things are trending upward for the future. In looking ahead to this season, though, it’s hard to make a case for the Wildcats to finish above the bottom four teams in the conference. There are simply too many question marks to rate them any higher. That doesn’t mean that Crawford won’t be a bright spot. As long as his health concerns are a thing of the past, Crawford will have an outstanding year, more than likely averaging about 18-20 points per game and putting himself on the radar of the NBA Draft’s second round heading into next summer.