We have spent a ton of time (or at least I have) talking about what comes next for Northwestern all-time leading scorer, John Shurna. Shurna will be an Atlanta Hawk this summer for at least a week in Las Vegas as he has his very open audition for those ever-precious NBA training camp invites.
The focus on campus has squarely turned to Northwestern’s future. Jaren Sina is the best recruit Bill Carmody has brought in to Evanston. The only problem is Sina will not help Northwestern much this season — seeing as he still has to play his senior year of high school.
All the excitement about the program’s future and the program’s recent past is making us somewhat forget what we have in front of us. The 2013 Wildcats will be very different from the 2012 team for several reasons.
John Shurna will be gone. The team has added depth in the frontcourt with the arrival of Jared Swopshire, Nikola Cerina and Alex Olah (Chier Ajou is expected to be redshirted this year). There has been a ton of excitement about who is new on the roster, that it has been easy to forget what was already on it.
Northwestern has plenty of solid players on the roster already. None may need to step up more than senior Drew Crawford. None may be more ready, as Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports Network mentioned Monday.
Crawford is going to be “the man” for Northwestern this year, relied upon to close games, lead the team and, perhaps do the impossible, replace John Shurna. That should not be too much, right?
Crawford had a fantastic season last year playing alongside Shurna. He scored 16.1 points per game and shot 48.4 percent from the floor, all the while posting a 55.9 percent effective field goal percentage and a 58.1 percent true shooting percentage. For a player that takes a lot of shots, those are very efficient numbers. The question, as always, when you get an increased role is whether you can keep that efficiency. That should be made easier for Crawford with a lot more talent and depth coming onto the roster. The hope is he will not have to play more than the 34.6 minutes per game he played last year.
As it stands now, Crawford is likely joined in the starting lineup by Dave Sobolewski, Jershon Cobb (or Alex Marcotullio), Alex Olah (or Nikola Cerina) and Jared Swopshire. Already, you can see that the team has added depth and may not rely on one player to generate offense like Northwestern had to at times last year. Certainly, the Wildcats should have a more balanced scoring attack.
Crawford though will be the linchpin of it all.
This is not a case of a young player getting more minutes with a departing senior. This is a player already playing heavy minutes getting a bigger role. And Crawford has to succeed for Northwestern to break through and finally reach the NCAA Tournament. He may not have to average 20.0 points per game and shoot 46.3 percent from the floor and 44.0 percent from beyond the arc. Duplicating Shurna’s stellar effort from last season may not be necessary.
Crawford may need to get close though.
Crawford, despite playing nearly every moment of every game last year, does have room for improvement. Crawford, much like Shurna, has to be ready for that “take-over” role in his senior year. He has to be willing to take on the scoring responsibility and score in multiple ways. Crawford was a volume scorer, last year but did a lot of his work from beyond the 3-point arc.
Last year, Crawford shot 41.2 percent from beyond the arc and took
346 148 of his 403 field goal attempts from beyond the arc. That is 85.9 36.7 percent of his shots on 3-pointers (Eds. note: my bad on that mistake, it is still a pretty gaudy number). Crawford has to be the one to step up.
The truth is Northwestern has no frame of reference for an NCAA Tournament season. None.
So it will take someone, a team, stepping up and simply doing it. Crawford is the unquestioned leader of this team now. He is the player the team and the fans will turn toward to get the job done this time.
It is not an easy position, replacing an all-time great like Shurna. Crawford though has the talent to do so and the talent to get Northwestern to that next level.