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How will Northwestern replace Drew Crawford?

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NU's talisman graduated last spring, and replacing his production -- particularly his ability to get into the lane -- will be a group effort.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not sure this fact is as widely known as it should be: Drew Crawford led the Big Ten in minutes per game last year.

There's perhaps no better measure as to how important a player is to a team than how many minutes his coach chooses to keep him on the floor, and Chris Collins turned to Crawford for 36.6 minutes per contest last year. That's more than 90 percent of the time that Collins felt it was absolutely necessary for Crawford to be playing.

And not only was Crawford on the floor often, he was Northwestern's best player last year. He was the only guy in the conference to finish in the top ten of both scoring and rebounding, and he was able to consistently get into the paint to either set up an easy look for himself or force the defense to crash on him and find an open teammate.

The main point of this presentation is that Drew Crawford will be sorely missed, both on and off the court- he was the undoubted leader of this team, and it will take more than just one player to fill the sizable void that his departure opened.

I asked Coach Collins this exact question (How does a program go about replacing a guy like Drew Crawford?) at Big Ten Media Day, and his response showed that he's been thinking about this exact dilemma often this offseason.

"I don't want to put that on any one player," Collins said. "I think as a whole, I think we have more fire power offensively, not just with some of the young guys we brought in, but also the development in some of our returning guys."

Collins then alluded to the influx of athleticism that has 'Cats fans so excited this year.

"We need some guys to step up, and I think it's going to have to be a collective effort. But what I've seen so far is we have some more players and more depth and more athletes that can make some plays and hopefully help in that regard."

It's going to be a collective effort, but freshman Vic Law should have an immediate impact as a replacement for Crawford. Yes, he's very young, but he possesses an ideal frame for a guard/forward at 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds and is an elite athlete. He should be able to get into the paint early and often this year, and that'll be vital to an offense that needs every easy bucket it can get.

It's also time for JerShon Cobb to step up and make the leap to being one of the Big Ten's better players. A torn meniscus ended Cobb's season right in the midst of Big Ten play, so you have to believe he's chomping at the bit to show what he can do on the floor. Expect Cobb to take more than the 10 shots/game he put up last year.

Lastly, keep an eye on Tre Demps and the way he plays this year. As I detailed, Demps is expecting himself to be much more efficient this year and is looking to get into the lane to create space for his teammates. It's easier said than done, but Demps has the quickness to make good on those claims, and if he can indeed become a true creator he'll be a huge asset to this Northwestern basketball team.

It's going to be a group effort, but this is nothing new to Chris Collins. Having coached under Coach K for so long, he knows a thing or two about losing talent to graduation and, in Duke's case, the top 10 of the NBA Draft. The only difference is now, he has to figure out how to build rather than reload.