Northwestern announced Drew Crawford will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Bill Carmody said Crawford’s injury is similar to the one that Tre Demps went through last year where had an injury before the season and tried to play through it.
Carmody said in the release that Crawford aggravated a previous injury in September and tried to play through it. That obviously made things worse. Crawford is eligible for a medical hardship and it appears Northwestern will seek a waiver and give Crawford an extra year of eligibility.
[Eds. note: the rest of this post was originally planned for this afternoon and has been edited to reflect today’s news… sorry if anything got by my careful eye]
This is obviously a big hit for Northwestern. Many expected Crawford to be the star and take over for this team. That seems to be how college teams are built. Underclassmen fill in the new roles left behind. Development of freshman and underclassmen for ascending to these roles is how programs like Northwestern have to survive. And it is how the team will have to survive now with Dave Sobolewski now becoming the team’s top player and Reggie Hearn likely its secondary offensive option. Freshmen like Alex Olah and Michael Turner will have to grow up.
When Michael Thompson graduated, Northwestern needed John Shurna to come in an fill both the production left behind and the leadership he had in the team. Shurna did that, becoming Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer and getting the program to the precipice of the NCAA Tournament. Drew Crawford used the attention diverted to Shurna to average 16.1 points per game and shoot 48.4 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc — an impressive 55.9 percent effective field goal percentage.
This all seemed to point toward the fact that Crawford would be able to ascend to the role of senior captain and become the team’s go-to scorer. Knowing the athleticism he had and his ability both to hit the long-range jumper and get to the basket, he could be that great improviser Northwestern always seems to be missing in its lineup.
It only made sense.
Through the first 10 games, it does not feel that is happening. And now we know why. Playing with a torn labrum is nothing to laugh at. It certainly seems in the big games the Wildcats have played, Crawford has faded into the background more than he has taken control. The injury may have been a part of that.
When Crawford played well and scored, Northwestern was as tough to beat as any other team. Against Illinois State in the championship game of the South Padre Invitational, Crawford scored 20 points on 6-for-20 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds in that grinder of a game. Against Baylor, Crawford had 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, proving efficiency could still exist as he helped NU build an 18-point lead.
His offense seemed to disappear once Baylor increased the pressure and made the comeback that would have ended all Northwestern blown leads. At least for basketball. It was similar to the recent “big games” where Northwestern struggled and Crawford struggled along with his teammates. Now we have to ask how much injuries played a role in Crawford’s struggles.
Against Maryland, Crawford scored only 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Against Butler, he was completely shut down for six points on 1-for-8 shooting. It was almost like he was not even on the floor as Butler’s physical defense threw him out of whack.
Granted, Crawford was one of the few players to do anything positively in the loss to UIC with 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting and, yes, 4-for-4 shooting from the foul line.
Looking at these numbers, it should be no surprise that Northwestern plays better when Crawford is making shots. That much should be obvious on most nights. Efficiency does not appear to be an issue either. And Crawford is getting his shots.
What is to explain then this seemingly disappearing Drew Crawford? What explains why Crawford cannot get himself going. The injury is certainly a part of that.
It may have made him tentative being aggressive and getting to the basket. It affected his usage rate.
Usage rate is a measure of how many possessions a player “uses,” in other words how many possessions where the final action — a shot or turnover for the most part — occurs. You can usually take a look at field goal attempts and get a sense of how many possessions a player is using. You can see in many of the games described above, Crawford has gotten up plenty of shots and just has not made them (except Butler where he was taken out of the game virtually entirely and no one could step up to help relieve that pressure).
This season, Crawford is taking 12.0 shots per game. Last year, Crawford took 12.2 per game. His field goal percentage is already down significantly so far this season and so having a supposedly more featured role or relying on Crawford to do more when the number of shots he actually takes have gone down is concerning.
Further, according to StatSheet, Crawford is posting a 23.3 percent usage rate so far this season. Last year, his usage rate was up at 23.8 percent. Again a slight decrease in usage rate, just like the slight decrease in field goal attempts per game. This is surprising with all the expectations heaped on Crawford to ascend to Shurna’s leadership (on the floor and in the state book at least) role.
For the record, Shurna averaged 14.9 field goal attempts per game and posted a 26.6 percent usage rate. Those are not numbers you expect from a true superstar-type player, but they are gaudy numbers for Northwestern’s spread the ball around Princeton Offense.
Crawford though is clearly the team’s leader and its best player.
To beat some of these “higher ranked” teams and get the wins necessary to reach the NCAA Tournament, particularly with such a young squad, Northwestern will need someone to step up and fill the void.