The college basketball season is a dark place. From April to November, teams across the country revert into a hoops hibernation, shielded from media spotlight and mostly unavailable to the public eye in the same way as, say, football players are during spring practice. Things ramp up again over the summer, and a recent NCAA rule pushing the start of official practice back two weeks ensures teams will begin formal preseason preparations even earlier this season.
Those extra two weeks are a welcome development, but the college basketball season remains a distant entity, microscopically positioned in the most forward-looking reaches of our winter sports imaginations. We’re here to help you bridge the gap with some refresher-type player capsules. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be rolling out quick little offseason snapshots of each player, how they performed last season and what you can probably expect as the Wildcats prepare for new coach Chris Collins’ first season. So if you’re ever missing basketball, if you find yourself pining for what’s to come on the hardwood this winter, you have brief individual player breakdowns to hold you over.
There is a lot of time to fill during a college hoops offseason, and convenient exercises like these can expedite the process.
Stats to know (from 2011-12; Crawford only appeared in 10 games last season)
Offensive Rating: 110.0
Effective Field Goal %: 56.0
Usage Rate: 23.9
% Shots: 26.9
The focus of Northwestern’s offense had shifted. After John Shurna graduated, and JerShon Cobb was ruled out for the season with an academic suspension, it was Crawford’s turn to assume sole command of the Wildcats’ shot-creation efforts. Crawford’s ability to produce offense off the dribble, without outside assistance from teammates, was a singular skill – a trait no other player on Northwestern’s roster, not even Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, could replicate.
His individual scoring efforts were lost for the season in December, when it was revealed Crawford needed surgery to repair a torn labrum. The upshot – if you can get past a 4-14 Big Ten season and coaching dismissal – was that Crawford would be back and eligible this season, which is exactly what happened. Right up until a few weeks ago, it was entirely possible Crawford would play out his final season of eligibility in another uniform. Several schools courted and prodded and wooed, but Crawford ultimately chose to finish his career where it began.
Where he fits
Nothing is guaranteed with a new coach. That’s the standard disclaimer, but with Crawford it doesn’t really apply: he’s going to play major minutes, hoist a high number of shot attempts and be involved in most every offensive set anytime Northwestern sets up on that end of the floor. He is the one Wildcat with the athleticism and high-flying scoring touch to challenge defenders in the open court, knife in the lane and either draw contact or score.
In this lineup, with this group of players, Crawford’s unique individual dynamism is indispensable. You saw what happened to Northwestern’s offense without Crawford last season. Maybe a healthy Cobb can alleviate some of those issues himself, and maybe Kale Abrahamson will grow into a more reliable outside shooter, or Alex Olah will hone his offensive post game. Getting marginal improvements from complementary scorers is never a bad thing; those improvements can only get you so far without a central offensive force around which to deploy those peripheral luxuries. Crawford can be the offensive nucleus Northwestern needs.
What to expect
I speculated a couple weeks back that Crawford, if allowed enough shot attempts, has a not-insane chance of challenging for the Big Ten scoring crown this season. I’d be somewhat less confident in Crawford’s chances were it not for the gaping expanse of returning individual scoring quality in the Big Ten. Crawford has already proven he can score at a high per-game clip, when he finished 2011-12 averaging 16.1 points per game, and those numbers should spike this season. There is no John Shurna to share shot attempts and possessions with. This is Crawford’s offense.
Every ancillary piece available – from point guard Dave Sobolewski to Cobb to Olah to Nikola Cerina – should work off of Crawford’s singular scoring capabilities and offer secondary options to his rim-attacking talents. Trying to figure out how Crawford and Cobb and everything else will work in Chris Collins’ offense is sort of dumb, right now, because no one knows exactly what a Collins-coached team will look like. Player molding and adaptability is part of his offensive philosophy, judging by what he said at his press conference, and that leeway should allow Crawford enough shots and opportunities to realize his scoring strengths in his final season.