Chicago Colleges: Drew Crawford
After playing 10 games last year, Crawford used a medical redshirt because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He could have transferred to another program by taking advantage of the NCAA rule for fifth-year graduate students.
Crawford's decision was made tougher when Bill Carmody was fired after last season. Crawford had been recruited by and played under Carmody for four seasons. Carmody recently was replaced by Chris Collins.
"I can't wait to be on the court with my Northwestern teammates again this upcoming season," Crawford said in a statement. "Coach Collins has brought great energy to the program and we all believe in his vision. I have loved my experience here at NU and I'm proud to call it home. I'm ready to do all I can to lead this group and make my last year at Northwestern a great one."
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Here are five immediate objectives for Collins to start his tenure:
1. Move on from the past and create a winning mentality: You saw this when John Groce took over at Illinois and it worked to perfection. The message is important right away. Collins has to first convince his current players, then recruits and the fan base, that Northwestern is done with its past and is moving on to a brighter and winning future. Luckily for Collins, he might just have enough quality pieces to make a run at the NCAA tournament next season. If he can somehow get the Wildcats into the tournament in his first season, he can really get the program rolling. The first part of achieving that is to sell his team on the idea that it’s possible.
2. Convince Drew Crawford to stay: Next season’s fate likely depends on whether Crawford decides to stay at Northwestern for his fifth year or take advantage of the graduate school loophole and transfer to another program. Crawford, a 6-foot-5 guard, medically redshirted last season and had surgery to repair his right shoulder. He’s one of the more gifted players Northwestern has ever had. He’s a big-time scorer and team leader, but he also can rebound and defend. He was an All-Big Ten third-team selection as a junior, averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals.
3. Re-recruit Jaren Sina: Sina, a 6-foot-3 point guard, was ranked in ESPN’s top 100 in the Class of 2013 when he originally committed to Northwestern. He’s since dropped in ranking, but he would still be a major recruit for the Wildcats. He asked and was released from his letter of intent when Bill Carmody was fired. Sina’s father, Mergin Sina, said the family would still explore Northwestern as an option when a new coach was hired. Sina has reportedly also been contacted by Alabama and Seton Hall. Northwestern has a steady point guard in Dave Sobolewski, but Sina would add depth at the position and be the team’s point guard of the future.
4. Establish relationships with local high school and club coaches: Northwestern has to recruit nationally to fill a roster, but the Wildcats should still be able to pull players from the state whenever they fit their criteria. In the recent past, Michael Thompson, John Shurna, Crawford and Sobolewski are among the players Northwestern has recruited from Illinois and the Chicago area. Getting those players from the state is key for the program’s future as well.
5. Keep Tavaras Hardy on staff: Hardy, who was an associate head coach under Carmody, is the full package to get Collins going at Northwestern and recruiting the state. Hardy starred in high school in Illinois, played at Northwestern, coached at Northwestern and has been the program’s main in-state recruiter. He knows Northwestern inside and out. He also can quickly open for Collins a lot of doors to the state’s high school and club coaches. Collins is likely to bring an assistant or two with Duke ties, and that could helpful in a lot of ways, but it’s also vital to have someone who knows Northwestern and the state.
The Wildcats went scoreless for the first 7 1/2 minutes of their 73-59 loss to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday night.
For the Wildcats (13-19, 4-14 in Big Ten regular season), it was a fitting swan song to a lost season and for Carmody, a 13-year tenure that resulted in zero NCAA tournament appearances. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips is expected to make a decision soon on Carmody's future. He has one year remaining on a two-year contract extension.
Northwestern missed its first seven shots and had three turnovers as Iowa went ahead 11-0. Nikola Cerina's layup put the Wildcats on the board with 12:32 left in the first half.
"I think at the beginning we weren't executing our offense very well," said senior guard Reggie Hearn, who led Northwestern with 19 points and 10 rebounds in his final game. "We had some guys out of position, we weren't communicating well about what the play was and our offense was kind of stagnant and I felt at times when we're not going on offense, it affects our defense. And we obviously weren't playing defense well initially and we just got in a big hole."
The Wildcats never led, but got their deficit down to 15-9 before Iowa answered with a 14-2 run.
The undermanned Northwestern team had a rough season after preseason expectations of finally making the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Northwestern lost two key players to injury, Drew Crawford in December and Jared Swopshire in February, and one to an academic suspension before the season in JerShon Cobb. The remaining players would've been more at home in the Ivy League.
"It was really difficult, especially for the senior class," senior guard Alex Marcotullio said. "But that's basketball. You're going to have to deal with injuries and it's really tough for us being our last year and having all these little fluke things happen to us. But it's no excuse."
Give the Wildcats credit for making it hard on Iowa in the second half. The Hawkeyes had a 36-22 lead at the half, but shot only 28.1 percent in the second half as Northwestern sank into a 2-3 zone.
The Wildcats cut their deficit to single digits a handful of times in the second half, getting as close as 50-43 with 8:27 left, but Iowa never let them make a serious run.
"We knew we had to give it our all," Marcotullio said. "We had one last run in us, maybe a couple. We just said to each other, are we going to leave it all out here or are we going to give up? And it seemed like we came together for a few minutes there and we brought it back to seven.
"And a couple missteps here and there and then they increased the lead. So that was kind of deflating. But I'm proud of the way we fought. Just a few things that we needed to clear up and we didn't take care of really early."
How it happened: The undermanned Wildcats didn't have a chance. Northwestern went scoreless for the first 7½ minutes, going down 11-0, and never got closer than within six points after that. Northwestern shot 32 percent from the field in the first half and 36.7 percent for the game. The Wildcats kept it interesting in the second half, trimming the deficit to single digits several times, but couldn't save their season. Iowa plays Michigan State on Friday.
Player of the game: Reggie Hearn, a former walk-on, scored 19 points and added 10 rebounds and three blocks.
What it means: Northwestern coach Bill Carmody might be fired after 13 seasons, none of which resulted in an NCAA tournament berth. This team was promising before JerShon Cobb was suspended in September and Drew Crawford had shoulder surgery in December. The Wildcats finished 13-19 with a 4-14 record in the Big Ten regular season, their first losing season since 2007-08.
What's next: Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips likely fires Carmody and begins a "national search" for his replacement. Whether that hire works out is anybody's guess.
Crawford is eligible to seek a medical hardship waiver and could return for a fifth season.
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Overview: Northwestern and Maryland played equally bad in the first half, but the second half was a completely different game. The Terrapins were better than Northwestern in every way in the final 20 minutes, as Maryland outscored Northwestern 49-31. Maryland’s Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Alex Len all finished in double figures while Northwestern’s star Drew Crawford had a rough night, scoring 10 points and shooting for 4 for 14. Maryland’s size also played a difference as it outrebounded Northwestern 42-15.
Turning point: After an ugly first half by both teams (they combined 18-of-53 shooting), Maryland came out a different team in the opening minutes of the second half. The Terrapins outscored Northwestern 19-10 over the first six minutes of the second half and ran away with the game. Wells and Len combined for 11 points during the run.
Why Maryland won: The Terrapins’ size was just too much for Northwestern. Len, who is 7-foot-1, led the way with a game-high 13 rebounds, but it was a team effort for Maryland on the boards. Six other players had three or more rebounds.
Why Northwestern lost: The Wildcats’ inside play was a huge factor in their loss, but their offense relied way too much on the 3-pointer as well. Northwestern shot 6 of 25 from 3-point range. Maryland hit five 3-pointers in 13 attempts.
Star(s) of the game: Len and Wells each played a big part in dismantling Northwestern in the second half. Wells finished with a game-high 23 points. Len had 13 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
What it means for Maryland: The Terrapins continue to build a strong start to their season. Their lone loss remains to Kentucky by three points in their season opener. Otherwise, Maryland has won its last five games pretty convincingly. Its smallest margin of victory has been nine points.
What it means for Northwestern: The question that will surround Northwestern all season is whether it is a NCAA tournament team. Tuesday was not a good sign. The Wildcats trailed by as many as 21 points on their home floor.
What’s next: Maryland faces George Mason in the BB&T Classic on Dec. 2. Northwestern will host local team Illinois-Chicago on Saturday. The Wildcats have a tough upcoming schedule with Baylor and Butler following UIC.
The college basketball season tips off on Friday, and here are my 10 predictions for the hoops year in Illinois:
1. This is finally the year for Northwestern to reach the NCAA tournament: The Wildcats don’t exactly have the star power of John Shurna, but they’re deeper than they have ever been. Depth has been one of the main reasons Northwestern has fallen just short of the tournament in the last few years. Senior swingman Drew Crawford will take over Shurna’s role and was among the Big Ten’s top scorers last season. Even without shooting guard JerShon Cobb, who is ineligible this season, Northwestern has a deep backcourt in sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski, redshirt freshman point guard Tre Demps, senior shooting guard Alex Marcotullio and senior shooting guard Reggie Hearn. Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, a 6-8 forward, gives Northwestern size and skill in the frontcourt. TCU transfer Nikola Cerina, a 6-9 forward, will help on the boards, another weakness in recent years. Plus, 7-foot, 275-pound center Alex Olah could be a legitimate difference-maker this season. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody could also turn to a few others off the bench.
"Last summer was super busy," Crawford said leading up to Friday's first day of practice. "It was hard to have a ton of time for basketball."
Crawford decided to do things differently this past summer. He opted to not pursue another internship and devoted his time to his game. He was in the gym either at Northwestern or with Evolution Athletics trainer Jeff Pagliocca in Buffalo Gove, Ill., constantly this summer.
Crawford and those around him expect that dedication to pay major dividends in his final collegiate season.
"This summer was great in terms of just having the time to get into the gym whenever I wanted to," Crawford said. "I was able to do that all the time. I was in the gym every day.
"Toward the beginning of the offseason, I really focused on things I wanted to get better at. It was just my motivation all summer. I'm not working an internship. I have no reason to not be in the gym. That was my driving force."
Carmody got a vote of confidence from athletic director Jim Phillips and has multiple seasons left on his contract. The announcement on March 22 meant he would return for his 13th season. Carmody could have easily been sacked after the Wildcats finished 8-10 in the Big Ten, 19-14 overall.
Then, as if a gift had been placed at their Evanston doorstep, 6-8 Louisville senior Jared Swopshire (3.4 ppg, 3 rpg in 13.1 mpg) decided to transfer and play for the Wildcats immediately since he could seek a waiver as a graduating senior with a year left of eligibility.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- There are various levels of disappointment with the most painful being the one at which you’re so close to success, but still end up in failure.
Thursday’s 75-68 overtime loss to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament was that for Northwestern. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, it was hardly the first defeat of that nature this season.
2011-12 has been a season defined by them. There may not be another team in the country that has been so close to success, but still so far from it.
Here’s a quick look back at Northwestern’s myriad gut-wrenching disappointments this season:
• 57-56 loss to Illinois on Jan. 4
• 66-64 overtime loss to Michigan on Jan. 11
• 58-56 loss to Purdue on Jan. 28
• 71-66 loss to Indiana on Feb. 15
• 67-55 overtime loss to Michigan on Feb. 21
• 75-73 loss to Ohio State on Feb. 29
• 75-68 overtime loss to Minnesota on March 8
Despite ending up on the wrong end of so many close calls, Northwestern’s spirits haven’t been crushed through it all. The Wildcats consider themselves fighters, and that’s what they’ll continue to do.
“This team’s tough,” Northwestern sophomore JerShon Cobb said. “We come back. We fight through adversity. But sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.”
While each disappointment has been difficult for the Wildcats to endure, what will make them even harder to swallow if they’re the reasons Northwestern is kept out of the NCAA tournament again. If Northwestern wins any of those games, it may just be on the right side of the bubble.
Northwestern junior Drew Crawford hoped the NCAA tournament selection committee didn’t evaluate it simply based on wins and losses and saw there was more to its résumé. He felt the Wildcats left no doubt they could play with anyone in the country with so many close games in the Big Ten. They just haven’t won them all.
“It’s a game we should have won,” Crawford said of the Minnesota loss. “It was a tough game that we weren’t able to win. At the same time, we’re a tough team. I think that we showed throughout the entire year. So I just hope other people understand that and able to see that we’re a tough team, capable of playing with the elite.”
As I watched Ohio State grab rebound after rebound on Wednesday, it made me think all Northwestern was missing was a big man like Illinois’ Meyers Leonard.
That thought led me to this: If you could assemble one team (starters and bench) from all three of the state’s high-major teams, who would you choose?
Here’s my team:
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Was it too much to ask?
Was it too much to hope that just one time -- this time -- would be Northwestern's turn as fate's chosen beneficiary? Was it too much to think that maybe, despite all the reasons to believe the contrary, the Wildcats might just catch a break? Could Northwestern fans, besieged constantly by reminders of their program's historic futility, finally feel the freedom of belief?
The short answer? No.
"It's very tough," Northwestern guard Drew Crawford said.
"Disappointing," forward John Shurna said. "Kind of a tough way to go out."
Wednesday night was Shurna's senior night, an honor he shared with Davide Curletti, Nick Fruendt and Luka Mirkovic. Shurna & Co. are the school's all-time winningest class, one that also set a school record with three consecutive postseason appearances.
Of course, none of those postseasons has been of the NCAA tournament variety, which is why Wednesday night's game was so much more than a disappointing loss, so much more than an emotional senior night spoiled by a 75-73 defeat.
Part of that came with Curletti dealing with reality. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody has never seen him as a starter and his job for the Wildcats hasn’t been to contribute a double-double like he did as a high school senior. His role has been to be an energy player off the bench, or as Carmody puts it, “the Energizer Bunny.”
It’s not the most glamorous of roles, but then again, the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Curletti isn’t the most glamorous of players. He doesn’t out-jump opponents for rebounds; he out-works them. He doesn’t out-maneuver defenders for buckets; he out-thinks them.
So no one, not even Curletti, could have predicted his performance on Saturday. Making only the second start of his career, Curletti scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists, stole two balls and blocked one shot in 36 minutes while helping Northwestern to an 81-74 upset of No. 7 Michigan State.
Because Curletti has become such a team-first kind of guy throughout his career, he was even careful of how he accepted everyone’s praise on Saturday. Although inside he was feeling pretty good about himself, he made sure everyone knew he wanted the win to be about the team’s play, not his own.
“It’s not about trying to be cocky or anything like that, but it’s just that it feels really good and I’m glad it happened,” Curletti said. “Obviously, I hope it happens again, but at the same time you got to think beating the No. 7 team out-trumps all of that.
“Last year my best game was against Wisconsin where I had a similar game, but we lost. When someone asked me of my favorite game of my career, I said last year’s loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. I later realized I didn’t even think about Wisconsin. Big wins do really matter in the long run.”
Curletti did confirm that Saturday’s game leaped that overtime loss to Ohio State and became his No. 1 career highlight. And of all the individual plays Saturday, Curletti will never forget his backdoor cut which led to a wide-open dunk to give Northwestern a 57-50 lead with 12:27 remaining. As he flushed the ball, Northwestern’s bench and nearly everyone wearing purple jumped off their seats at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“It was great,” Curletti admitted. “It was really awesome.”
So how did Curletti go from being a career role player to a star in one of the program’s biggest wins? He claimed he did nothing different.
“It’s kind of like you work hard and some games you’ll get only one offensive rebound and you’ll get maybe two points, but other games, if you stick with it, you’ll have a night like this,” Curletti said. “For me, coming off the bench, you always have to have energy. That’s what I try to do. That’s kind of what my role was the last couple years, so that’s what I’m just going to keep on doing.
“I like working hard, and I consider myself a hard worker. I feel my best way of contributing on this team is do that. You always need a guy like that on a team.”
You also need stars like Northwestern’s Drew Crawford and John Shurna, and those were the names rolling off Michigan State’s tongues leading up to Saturday’s game. Afterward, it was all about Curletti. Spartans coach Tom Izzo took a stab at pronouncing Curletti’s first name (DAH-vuh-day), but he got his last name perfect.
“Curletti was the difference in the game if you ask me,” said Izzo, who had been quite pleased with his big men prior to Saturday’s game. “He’s the one who snagged those [rebounds] when we had them, and he took them and scored on them. Curletti was a big difference in the game and deserved the play and credit he got. I thought it was a brilliant move by Bill to start him.”
Carmody’s brilliance actually was a last-second decision. He opted against starting a smaller lineup with Shurna at center and went with Curletti at the 5. Curletti’s one and only other start came against Ohio State as a freshman on Feb. 18, 2009. He finished with two rebounds on that day.
When Curletti discovered just before the game he was starting, he didn’t jump for joy. He understood he needed to play as he’s always played.
“To be honest, it didn’t really matter to me,” Curletti said. “It has been a while [since I started.] I’m also a senior now. I have to put the team ahead. I can’t be nervous. I have to play my game.”
And so he did.
Crawford averaged 24 points and six rebounds and shot 57.4 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from 3-point range in the Wildcats' three wins at the Charleston Classic.
Crawford was named the tournament's MVP.
Crawford scored 28 points against Tulsa in the semifinal on Friday and followed that with 27 points against Seton Hall in the championship game on Sunday.
This is the second time Crawford has been named the Big Ten Player of the Week. He also received the honor during his freshman season.