Drew Crawford Is the Key to a Northwestern Tournament Bid

Joe SlowikCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2010

Things looked bleak for NU in the first half of yesterday's game against Michigan. They were down 34-14 with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. Michigan was ripping their 1-3-1 defense to shreds and the Cats were struggling to find the net.

Then Drew Crawford started shooting.

With a barrage of threes, a pair of made free throws, and a couple of deflections that led to steals, he almost single-handedly made the game interesting again.

NU's defense stepped up in the second half as the Cats came back to score a crucial road victory. Crawford finished with 25 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the floor.

Even in one of his biggest games there is one major thing that stands out to me when I look at his box score line: he only had nine field goal attempts.

This isn't the first explosive game in Drew's career. He exploded for 35 in a rout against North Carolina A&T and scored 22 in a win over Liberty.

The problem is that he hasn't consistently been aggressive on offense. Crawford also has five games where he finished with a single made field goal.

Despite the fact that he has the best field goal percentage among Northwestern's rotation players by a wide margin, and has the most raw talent of anyone on their roster, he is only attempting 7.5 shots per game.

Northwestern needs him to be a more consistent factor on offense if they want to be successful. They can't afford to have him defer to other players with such regularity, especially in games where John Shurna or Michael Thompson is struggling.

I understand that he's a freshman and it's asking a lot for him to shoulder a large portion of the scoring load.

However, given the makeup of the roster, it really has to be Crawford who steps up to complement Shurna and Thompson. The rest of Northwestern's regular rotation is much better suited as role players.

Jeremy Nash is a terror defensively on the wings, but he doesn't really have the offensive talent to be a featured scorer. One need only look at his 36 percent mark from the field to confirm this.

Luka Mirkovic can occasionally make a good post move inside, but does not finish with enough regularity to be considered a top-tier option. When he tried to force the issue against Illinois and Michigan State, he finished 5-for-22 from the floor in those two games. He's far more effective when he focuses on defense and rebounding and only takes the relatively easy available shots on offense like he did against Michigan (6-for-8 from the floor).

Kyle Rowley is even more limited offensively, shooting under 40 percent on the year and turning it over at a rather high rate for someone that barely plays 10 minutes per game.

Alex Marcotullio is the last of the players who get at least 10 minutes per game whom I haven't mentioned. While he is a dangerous shooter with great range and can be a real pest on defense, he relies very heavily on his outside shot (83 percent of his attempts are threes) and he makes some typical freshmen decisions that backfire.

That leaves Thompson, Shurna, and Crawford as the players who have to do most of the scoring. While the two veterans have performed quite well, Crawford could be more consistent.

He has the talent to be a bigger factor on offense. He has shown that he is a solid athlete who can finish at the rim and bury three-pointers at a solid percentage. He has also shown flashes of the ability to take defenders off the dribble and hit mid-range jumpers as well, though he hasn't done it consistently.

If he can step up and be a big factor on offense, Northwestern will be much more difficult to beat. So far, teams have only had to worry about Shurna, Thompson and the three-pointer. Drew has to give another dimension to their attack. That would take some pressure off their other top scorers and give Northwestern more margin for error on offense.

Crawford made Michigan pay yesterday, but if NU wants to go dancing he has to do that regularly.