On Monday Northwestern takes on Texas State. It’s a game Northwestern should win, but if that was a certain result a few hours ago, it’s less certain now. Continuing a long line of major injuries, and one that’s been especially notable in recent years, Drew Crawford will miss the rest of this season with a shoulder injury. Crawford hadn’t played well for the majority of this season and I’d say we at least now know why, but his injury is still something that makes me refer back to the idea that Northwestern basketball seems to have unbelievably bad karma. I don’t know who in NU hoops history walked under far too many ladders or blew up a mirror factory, but someone has to take blame for this program’s incredible bad luck. It could even be a something. I mean the Cubs blame a goat.
Without Crawford I’d look for Kale Abrahamson and Tre Demps to see more playing time. It would also help if Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Marcotullio could get back to 100%. Lumpkin was said to be the best of NU’s freshmen, but his case of mono has kept him off the court for all but two minutes this season. Marcotullio would probably step into Crawford’s starting spot if he were 100%, but based on his lack of playing time part of me wonders if he’ll be inquiring about a medical hardship year in the same letter to the NCAA as Drew Crawford. As far as filling the spot, Demps has a little more experience than Lumpkin or Abrahamson and looked good late in the Butler game. Still, I like Abrahamson’s size at 6-7 and his willingness to shoot the ball. It hasn’t always gone in, but I think if he gets his feet set when he shoots he’ll make more shots than he’ll miss. Of course, now that NU has to play slow maybe we don’t want Abrahamson and his hot potato style of play on the court.
The fact is NU’s strategy has to change without Crawford and I think it needs to change right away. Texas State is only 4-5, but NU’s mindset needs to alter regardless of the opponent. NU needs to go all slow down on offense. If they shoot before 10 seconds are left on the shot clock that’s got to be a problem for the coaches. Every game NU plays needs to be in the 50s (or even the 40s) for the ‘Cats to have a chance to win. The defense needs to be super-intense and physical and other teams need to feel frustrated when facing the ‘Cats on both ends of the court. If the rest of the team plays like Dave Sobolewski NU still has a shot. The ideal of model would be the late 1990s Wisconsin teams which won with defense and long possessions on offense and seemed filled with Sobo like players in guys like Kirk Penny and Mike Kelley. Can NU be that type of team? It’s possible, but such a style of play means you also need to shoot a very high percentage from three because you won’t be getting that many shots and need to maximize the ones you get. The good news is that Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn who are NU’s best shooters thus far should be getting more shots with Crawford out. NU also really needs Nikola Cerina to take some of Jared Swopshire’s minutes or for Swopshire to regain his early season form and hit some outside shots. That outside shooting ability is why I expect you’ll see more Kale Abrahamson as the rest of this year goes along.
I know people will say this is a blessing in disguise as NU will potentially be able to play Crawford along with JerShon Cobb and incoming top-100 (by some services at least) recruit Jaren Sina together next year, but right now I think we should focus on this season because NU’s athletic department won’t cancel the rest of it and there are still at least 22 games left to play.
Prediction for Texas State: Texas State has two key players in Matt Staff (16.2ppg and 6rpg) and Joel Wright (15.2ppg and 6.2 rpg). They’ve both got nice size as well with Staff being 6-10 and Wring 6-7. It’ll be another good challenge inside for Alex Olah who while he’s had some tough games has to be learning a lot because he hasn’t faced many teams that haven’t at least had one 6-10 player. I think Northwestern does the classic rally together during the first game the star is out and wins this game by about seven points, say 64-57. However, I worry that after this game we could see some real struggles. Next week will be a good week to learn as not only does NU have Texas State on Monday, but they’ll face a Stanford team on Friday that is probably equivalent to some of the middle tier Big Ten schools (say Iowa and Nebraska) if they can beat Stanford there might still be hope for NU to at least keep their streak of postseason births alive (even if it’s the NIT or CBI). If not watch out. I’m going to try to stay away (at least for awhile) from discussing how this impacts the future of NU’s coaching staff, but to be frank, if NU has a terrible record Drew Crawford being injured shouldn’t be enough to save their jobs. If NU ends up 10-22 then if Jim Phillips wants to make a change he should feel free to do so. I hope, though, that the staff pulls things together and makes a great statement about their ability to coach because if they end up 17-15 with what they’ll be running out there each night that’s coach of the year level stuff for Bill Carmody.