If you follow Northwestern basketball, you’ve no doubt had plenty to think about over the last few weeks. Former coach Bill Carmody was fired after 13 good but not great seasons. Chris Collins was hired to replace him. Longtime assistant Tavaras Hardy turned down other opportunities to stay at his alma mater. Headlining 2013 recruit Jaren Sina rescinded his verbal commitment (more on this later). With so many storylines crammed into such a small window, the team itself – the players responsible for helping Collins transition into his first head coaching job – has flown under the radar.
It is now time to call to your attention something entirely team-related that, aside from, maybe, Collins’ pending staff assembly process, is the most immediately drastic implication of firing a long-tenured coach like Carmody: player transfers. Fifth-year senior and 2011-12 third team All-Big Ten selection Drew Crawford is the subject of inquiry, and according to the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, Crawford has no meager list of options to choose from. To wit:
Fair enough. Crawford has two excellent programs with prospectively better chances at making NCAA Tournament runs next season knocking at his door, and with Carmody out of the picture, the impetus to not only transfer but milk the most possible winning potential out of one final year of college eligibility with an elite program is rather easy to comprehend. Crawford has every right to test the waters and survey his options and explore every avenue available to turn his final year of college basketball into the most enjoyable and successful season possible.
I can’t speak to the likelihood that Crawford will finish his career in Evanston. He’s made excellent strides as a player over three years, and could blossom into something like an elite scorer next season. There’s also the perpetual goal – and one Crawford has spoken about to me before – of getting the Wildcats over the hump and being a part of Northwestern’s first-ever NCAA Tournament team. Those are strong considerations that can’t be discounted, right along with whatever academic and locational comforts or loyalties he may have to players and coaches.
Another important factor? Hardy, the first member of Collins’ still-coming-together coaching staff. Hardy was the main force behind bringing Crawford (along with JerShonn Cobb and others) to Evanston, and the two share a close relationship that just might be the difference when it comes to Crawford making a decision about where he plays next season.
This is a development that bears watching, at the risk of speaking the blatantly obvious truth, because without Crawford, Northwestern’s most optimal one-year Tournament window starts looking more like a mediocre and probably NIT-bound season. For the Wildcats NCAA hopes, and the success of Collins’ first year on the job, keeping Crawford is absolutely critical. Greenstein’s tweet only clarifies what was already known to be true: other teams – good, rising, Tournament-buoyant outfits – are going hard after Northwestern’s best player.
Never a dull day on the Jaren Sina recruiting front: Tuesday, after narrowing down his list of schools to Seton Hall, Indiana, Alabama and Northwestern, Sina crossed the Crimson Tide off his list. A recent visit to Tuscaloosa, wherein Sina learned of Alabama’s intentions to bring in a junior college guard during the upcoming spring signing period, effectively eliminated Alabama from Sina’s considerations.
But just when you thought the four-star (per ESPN recruiting) point guard might be nearing a decision, the uncertainty remains as thick as it has been at any point since Sina’s decommitment.
That means at least one more week until Sina even begins to collect his thoughts and and evaluate his three options, let alone actually make a decision. Collins visited Sina at his New Jersey home this weekend, and the most brief anecdotal assessment is all thumbs up. Which is an extremely positive counterpoint to the wideheld suspicion that Sina’s initial commitment to the Wildcats was a decision based entirely on a) Bill Carmody’s Princeton offense and b) his relationship with former assistant Fred Hill, now a member of Seton Hall’s staff.
Once Sina reneged on his verbal pledge, there was never any doubt it would be a long and circuitous road back in the commitment picture for Northwestern. Initial dispatches out of New Jersey indicate Collins left a positive impression, and the Wildcats are still a very realistic option at this late juncture.
Of Sina’s three finalists, Indiana is easily the most intriguing – a historic blueblood with a hoops-obsessed fan base and a campus culture that fosters year-long enthusiasm and anticipation and craves success at the highest levels of competition. A visit to Bloomington, inside Assembly Hall, a quick jaunt inside the shiny multi-purpose, state-of-the-art basketball facility, might be the tipping point for an indecisive highly-touted recruit. The Hoosiers have the most on-court and off-court amenities to tickle Sina’s recruiting fancy, and it is impossible to downplay the allure of playing for a nationally-revered program like the Hoosiers.
Everyone else – Seton Hall and Northwestern – is more than a few notches below Indiana’s historically and presently-captivating programmatic experience. We’ll revisit this issue a week from now, when Sina will hopefully, finally, mercifully reach a conclusion. Until then, sweet Sina-conjectural dreams – you’re kidding yourself if you think you know where his mind is at this point in time. Save yourself some grief; take this week to alleviate your Sina-strained frontal lobe. It’s been a long road and incessantly suspenseful road. Sina isn’t making this process any easier for anyone involved.