He was named Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year last season and was the Memphis Tigers‘ top three-point shooting threat. His remarkable showing in the C-USA Tournament helped propel the Tigers to yet another conference title.
I am, of course, talking about senior shooting guard Chris Crawford.
Crawford was an intricate part of a Memphis team that went 31-5 and won their third straight conference tournament championship. He finished the season with career highs in points (10.4), rebounds (3.8) and three-point percentage (40 percent).
His most dazzling streak came in the C-USA Tournament, where he set a conference tournament record with 19 three-point shots made. Crawford finished the Tigers’three games in the tournament averaging 25.7 points per game, earning MVP honors. His heroics in the championship game against Southern Miss, in which he scored 20 of his 23 points in the final 13 minutes of play, lifted Memphis to its seventh C-USA Tournament championship in the last eight years.
As a senior, Crawford will be a key piece for head coach Josh Pastner and his Tigers as they enter their first season in the American Athletic Conference.
Coming out of high school, he was rated as one of the best shooters in the country. He showed flashes as a freshman and sophomore, but he was very streaky, having multiple games in a row where he would seemingly disappear. He made a a big leap last season as a junior, and though his three-point percentage rose by only 0.1 percent, Crawford was a much more consistent threat for the Tigers.
That can be seen in his jump in production, going from 9.1 ppg in 2011-12, to 10.4 last year. What makes that even more impressive is that he saw a drop in minutes played per game (28.5 to 27.3) and made 14 less starts than he did as a sophomore. Crawford embraced his role coming off the bench and provided Memphis with a huge spark off the bench.
His shooting could be the difference in many games.
Memphis’ move to the AAC brought a much tougher schedule with it. The days of blowing teams out on a regular basis are gone. The Tigers will have many games that will come down to the final seconds, and having a guy like Crawford who can hit shots with the pressure of a win or loss coming off the tips of his fingers is a huge plus. After all, he isn’t known around the Bluff City as “Clutch” Crawford for nothing.
He sank the big shots when Memphis needed it time and time again last season. He also showed that if he gets in a rhythm, he can take over a game at the drop of a dime. He did just that with his 20 points in 13 minutes, as mentioned, against Southern Miss when it mattered most.
Being able to take and hit the big shots really isn’t something you can teach a player. Some have the ice water coursing through their veins and some just don’t. Crawford is undoubtedly one of those guys that can hit the game-defining shots.
With an array of play makers in the backcourt, including fellow seniors Michael Dixon, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson, Crawford should get even more open opportunities from downtown this season. The Tigers should have many games come down to the final possession, which will be very nerve racking. But, knowing they have Crawford lurking on the perimeter must make Pastner and the fans a little more at ease.