Replacing the Irreplaceable

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.

  • Coach Roy

    Crawford steps up, but who takes over Crawford’s role as the alternate when Shurna was covered?

    Two candidates on my list: Jershon Cobb and Jared Swopshire.

    Cobb is about due to have a breakout season, especially if he’s over his underclass injury bug. Swopshire has something to prove and listening to the few interviews that hit the web, seems to know what he wants and how to get it.

    Now if we can just find some rebounding…?

  • NU Cat ’95

    PRR: Are you sure you have the numbers right here? According to this page (, Crawford took 148 three-pointers last year — not 346.

    • Philip Rossman-Reich

      Good spot. Don’t know where I got that 346 number from. Percentage is still a gaudy 36% of his shots from beyond the arc.

  • aari

    Why isn’t Kale Abrahamson mentioned in this post? When the rest of the recruits are.

    • Philip Rossman-Reich

      Got so excited about the big men, I forgot about him! An embarrassment of recruiting riches is a good thing, I guess.

    • the ranch lives!

      I agree. I happened to come across some of his video highlights on YouTube and while yes, those vids certainly highlight his best, I was impressed with his game. He’s got a nice low post and nice mid-range 10-15 ft jump shot, (something that we could have used desperately this year) plus he runs the floor. He could be a real sleeper.

  • wcgrad

    Question mark for me: How effective can Drew be when going to his left? I think I heard a scouting report sometime last year that if you force him left he’s just not the same player. Also, can Cobb/Crawford/Swop provide the athleticism and knowhow to get baskets with the game on the line? NU’s athleticism disadvantage may become an advantage on the perimeter, still waiting to see whether that changes on the inside. Unless NU can generate and exploit an individual mismatch late in the game, we’ll be looking for prayers of 3s to go in. That’s not a recipe for consistent success.

    The good news is that if Drew draws the opposing teams best individual defender, there will be a mismatch created on Cobb, Swopshire, Olah/Abramson/Cerina or maybe Sobolewski or Demps.

    Any news on whether the summer contact time will have the new guys ready to run the PO early in the season?

    • Chasmo

      Thanks to the variety of zone defenses allowed in college basketball, teams doesn’t depend nearly as much on trying to create one-on-one physical mismatches to score as the pros do.
      NU’s recipe for success always will be: “make shots.”
      Making three-pointers is the only way to succeed with a Princeton offense because without that outside threat, the backdoor cuts don’t work and driving lanes don’t open up.

      • wcgrad

        I understand the need for NU to make shots, and I realize that we’re not going to have a dominant back-to-the-basket scorer that we’re just going to feed 20-30 possessions a game. On the other hand, late in games, last year, no one was able to break down opposing defenses in key situations. I attribute that to NU’s overall lack of athleticism more than anything else. Having perimeter players who are able to put it on the floor should be able to force opposing defenses to collapse and leave them vulnerable to ball rotation. Running the PO in the last 2 min of games hasn’t been very successful in creating good shot opportunities.

  • Chasmo

    John Shurna might not be difficult to replace because NU just has to replace his numbers. He was never the “put the team on his back and dominate down the stretch” type of player whose consistent toughness and clutch play IS hard to replace.
    Shurna’s rebounds and defense should be replaced by Swopshire. Shurna’s scoring should be replaced by committee.
    Crawford has the talent to average 18 ppg or more. Cobb, if he can stay healthy, has the talent to average 16 ppg. So if both stay healthy, NU has its familiar one-two scoring punch.
    Now all NU needs is two more guys per game to score in double figures to equal last year’s team’s ppg total.
    Marcotullio, Sobo, and Hearn each proved that he could score 10 or more points in a Big Ten game. Yet none could do so consistently, so NU often struggled when two or all three had a bad game.
    Let’s assume that Abramson, Demps, and Swopshire is each capable of scoring in double figures but also can’t do so consistently. It’s not far fetched to assume that a top 150 recruit (Abramson), a player who beat Sobo out for the 2011 season opener starting PG job (Demps), and an experienced role player on a Final Four team (Swopshire) can do so.
    Last year, NU needed two of three guys to step up and score. Now NU needs just two of six guys to do it. The odds are in NU’s favor that all six won’t struggle on the same night.
    NU can be as good an offensive team next year despite the loss of Shurna thanks to better depth and NU can be a better team overall if it improves its rebounding and defense with Cerina/Olah, Swopshire, Crawford, Cobb, and Demps in the starting lineup.

    • wcgrad

      In addition NU’s foul trouble, fatigue woes shouldn’t be as pronounced as (in particular) last year.

      Hopefully guys like Crawford/Cobb are playing 30min/game with the other starters getting a healthy 20-25min/game. That leaves 65-80min for other guys to play. It will be interesting to see how (and whether) Carmody establishes rotations.

  • bandcat

    The work on the Boards my biggest concern for the next campaign..