So Drew Crawford is injured. With him and JerShon Cobb, a team that was expected to be on the cusp of the NCAA tournament is now without two of its starters. What does that mean for the rest of the season?
Well, it obviously isn't very good. But I like to put more analysis into things than "well, it obviously isn't very good", and plus, that isn't really a great summary anyway. So let's look at it.
I think it's pretty safe to say that Drew Crawford is Northwestern's most valuable player. We all know that NU runs an offense that results in a high percentage of points off of assisted baskets. Its goal is to guide guys to spots on the floor where they can receive a shot and take an open look or hit a layup, and we have a lot of guys capable of that. But when the offense breaks down, or the shots aren't falling, it helps to have an escape valve: someone capable of hitting a tough shot or taking someone off the dribble at an inopportune time and getting points out of it. That was Kevin Coble, that was Juice Thompson, that was John Shurna, and for this team, it was Drew Crawford.
Now? I think it's Dave Sobolewski. He's got a season to prove me wrong, but I don't think that will be as effective.
An early complaint about this team was that in stretches where Crawford couldn't get buckets, the team was ugly offensively. We're in for a season of that. It is true that part of what hurt Northwestern in those losses was, in fact, Crawford's struggles shooting the ball. But Northwestern needed him to take those shots, and probably would've lost with anybody else taking them, too.
HOWEVER: let's not act as if Northwestern can't win any games. That's not to say there isn't talent on this team. Reggie Hearn drills shots and has really impressed me with his ability to finish off of cuts. And Sobo's shot has come along and he's got the heart to drive. I'm still excited to see this team compete for wins as the year goes on. NU has won games with stars struggling or absent in the past, and will again this season. Like I said, there's talent on the floor, and when the shots fall, Northwestern will sometimes end up on the right side of the scoreboard. But I don't expect this team to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. They could surprise me, as they did when Kevin Coble went out for the year. But that team had a lot more depth - Thompson and Shurna and Crawford - and we hadn't already seen them play a third of their season.
I'm cancelling the tourney talk for now, because with the lineup they have, I don't see them winning half of their Big Ten games. The points just aren't on the floor. I would love for them to prove me wrong, but I find it doubtful.
As for the lineup, I'm pretty genuinely intrigued how Northwestern will opt to replace Crawford in the rotation. He hasn't come off the court much in important games, so its tough to say who the immediate starter would be. There's a couple of options: Bumping Kale Abrahamson from his reserve role to the starting lineup would be the easiest move position-wise, as you're just slotting a three in. That lineup: Sobo-Hearn-Chips-Swop-Olah. I like Abrahamson thus far, so this is what I'm thinking. He provides a shooting option, and what Northwestern's struggled with most is making shots.
I think the other feasible option is to start Alex Marcotullio, who's a senior, but his role has kind of evaporated: he hasn't played more than ten minutes since the TCU game, and didn't even see the court against Butler while Abrahamson got ten minutes of court time. (EDITORS NOTE: forgot that he had back issues.) But I think he's the most sensible option at this point in time. I don't think Tre Demps gets a starting gig at this point in his career, and don't really trust him getting 20 minutes a game the way he's hoisted shots thus far in his career.
tl;dr: :( about Drew Crawford's injury