Help wanted. Must have basketball skills.
Drew Crawford must be sick of taping those signs all around campus in his mind.
He’s fought back from an injury that crushed the Northwestern Wildcats‘ chances to make the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and in his extra season of eligibility, he’s been forced to carry the entire load for a team that is not built to play in the system that new coach Chris Collins brought with him from Duke, where Collins was an assistant for 13 years.
Aside from JerShon Cobb — who is averaging 12.6 points per game this season after missing last season due to academic issues — Crawford is the only player on the Wildcats’ roster that looks like he belongs on the varsity team. It’s too bad he won’t have more than one season to learn from Collins, who has spent a lot of time developing future NBA players in recent years.
Crawford can play in Collins’ more conventional scheme because he can beat opponents off the dribble to create his own shot while being agile enough to play the pressure-oriented defense that Collins learned from legendary coach Mike Kryzyzewski in Durham. Unfortunately, his efforts are going to go unnoticed — he’s pouring in 16.4 points and adding eight rebounds per game — because Northwestern is going to finish in last place in the Big Ten Conference.
Collins deserves credit for doing his best to adapt his style to fit the team’s strengths. He does not want to play a 1-3-1 zone defense or run the Princeton offense, but the players he inherited from Bill Carmody are so athletically limited that Collins has to revert back to what the players know in order to avoid being completely wrecked in the Big Ten Conference this season.
It’s clear that Northwestern needs more athletic players if it plans to catch up to the rest of the college basketball world. Sophomore center Alex Olah is a 7-footer that plays hard and has good hands, but he is too stiff and slow defensively to help the Wildcats win enough games to make the NCAA Tournament. Olah did have 23 points tonight, but the majority came after Northwestern trailed 40-14 at halftime. During the first half, he stood around too often and watched Drew Crawford take on several defenders at once while the shot clock wound down.
Next year’s group of freshmen will bring more star power than Northwestern has ever seen in a single recruiting class, but it will be too little, too late to help Crawford. In the meantime, Crawford will keep putting up flyers around Evanston during the day and fighting to keep his team in games at night. Remember him fondly.