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For Northwestern, Not Having Jaren Sina Hurts. Not Having Drew Crawford Would Hurt A Lot More.

Mild frustration is understandable. Disbelief is not. Jaren Sina ended his dramatic will-he-or-wont-he recruiting dalliance with Northwestern Wednesday, and if there’s a negative angle to take on the situation, a way to classify what Sina’s non-recommitment means for the Wildcats, it’s a roadside casualty to a broader and far more promising drive towards long-term hoops success.

Once Bill Carmody was dismissed, and assistant Fred Hill followed him out the door, the Wildcats were essentially stuck on a level playing field, jumbled in a free-for-all for one of the nation’s premier point guard talents. Hill recruited Sina to Northwestern; he left. Carmody’s Princeton system was an inviting offensive philosophy that maximized Sina’s talents in obvious ways; he left. Sina resurveyed his options, reconnected with Hill and elected to stay in his home state. Fin.

Losing Sina is only disappointing in so far as you steadfastly held on to the belief that Sina’s Northwestern commitment was less about coaches (Carmody and Hill) and more about the program itself – that Chris Collins’ acceptance of the head job would usher in a smooth recruiting transition, with Sina simply brushing off the coaching change and staying true to his word, that everything would fall into place as if Carmody and Hill’s recruiting work was a residual commodity available for Collins’ convenient consumption. Those are incredibly naïve assumptions to harbor, but if Wednesday spawned a wave of sheer personal despair and sudden pessimism about Collins’ recruiting prowess, well, get over it.

The reality, for the reasoned majority among us, is this: Northwestern fired its head coach and quickly hired a new one. Collins has already begun piecing together a nice staff, making important initial contact with some of the area’s top prospects and shooting hockey pucks at professional sporting events. Just because he couldn’t persuade a top-ranked recruit with no previous ties whatsoever to NU’s new coaching regime doesn’t gloss over all the overwhelmingly positive moves he’s made over the past month. Keeping Sina would have been an unexpected luxury; without him? Shake it off, pat yourself on the back and move on to more important matters…..

The first of which, and certainly not the last, is Drew Crawford. This Sina nonsense (don’t worry, I’m not totally relieved to NEVER HAVE TO SPEAK OF THE SINA-DRAMA EVER AGAIN, or anything like that) was the perfect diversion for what could wind up being a much more drastic loss for Northwestern basketball. Retaining Crawford this season is about 85 kilotons more urgent than re-recruiting Sina ever was (for the purposes of the 2013-14 season), and by the sounds of it, the Wildcats could be just as close to losing the former as the latter.

Multiple BCS programs are hot on Crawford’s tail, and after seeing his coach forced out after a season in which Crawford was practically powerless in trying to convince naysayers otherwise, it’s not hard to see why a curtain call Tournament run and a change of scenery would be equally comforting scenarios for a player just trying to scrape the most personal and team-shared satisfaction out of his last season of college hoops. Keeping Tavaras Hardy – who recruited Crawford out of Naperville Central – is a promising first step, but is it enough to ensure Crawford will stay grounded for his final year of college eligibility?

Maybe, but maybe not. The process matters less than the outcome, because if the Wildcats have any shot at turning Collins’ first season into something more than a lower-tier-Big-Ten transition year, Crawford needs to have all hands on deck.

Doing without Sina is not the end of the world – the Wildcats are perfectly capable of mixing and matching at the guard position to offset whatever added value Sina may have brought in his first year on campus. Crawford is an entirely different beast. At his best, Crawford is an elite individual scorer, a half-court catalyst with above-average athletic ability, one of the few (if not the only) Wildcats who can create off the dribble and penetrate physical Big Ten defenses. His contributions are more difficult to replace than anyone not named Chris Collins.

Without Crawford, Northwestern loses the engine – both on the court and off it – that makes everything work. The ancillary components compensate (or fail trying), the strength of the system erodes, the pieces don’t fit nearly as well as they prospectively should, doubt sets in.

This is a situation, admittedly dramatized for effect, that can be avoided if Collins manages to shore up the most important personnel development of the offseason: keeping Crawford.

It is all too easy – impulsive, even – to lament the loss of a promising young point guard. Sina should star at Seton Hall, and should never hold a shard of regret over turning down two Big Ten programs with promising trajectories for an in-state school. It’s whatever. The Wildcats have more pressing concerns – concerns that, if unresolved, could directly threaten the fortunes of Collins’ first Northwestern season in a big way.