Purple Reign recently lauded hoops coach Bill Carmody for his candor in the wake of Kevin Coble’s season-ending foot injury. While there was no sky-is-falling panic (“It's not like I'm singing the blues,” Carmody said) there also wasn’t any nothing-has-changed baloney (“But I'm not positive what's going to happen,” he added).
Indeed, the rhetoric coming out of Welsh-Ryan was honest. You could tell that from the outset. But what you couldn’t tell at the time was just how prophetic it would end up being. At least this part:
“(Coble’s injury) changes everything,” Carmody told NUSports.com. “We'll wait and see. Maybe we'll figure it out on the fly. Maybe every game will be different.”
Maybe every game will be different. Touché, coach.
Through four games – an admittedly small but not irrelevant sample size – every game has indeed been different. And the most recent change in the script was freshman Drew Crawford’s 22-point outburst Tuesday night. The show by Crawford helped fuel a 69-53 Northwestern win, pushing the Cats to 3-1 with a big test against Notre Dame looming Friday night.
Crawford’s performance shows that, really, there is no script. Not yet at least. Unless you want to call unpredictability the script.
Evidence: In these first four games, three different players have had career-highs in points in the first four games. Three different players have led the team in scoring. Three different players have led the team in rebounding. Three different players have led in bench scoring. Three different players have led in three-pointers made.
And Crawford was the most recent to add his name to the list of players who have led the Cats this season.
Crawford scored a game- and career-high 22 against Libery, canning five-of-10 three-pointers in the process and connecting on eight-of-14 overall. What’s more, Crawford – who has started every game this season – had four rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block* in his 31 minutes.
* It’s nothing new for Crawford to fill up various columns in the stat sheet. He had two blocks against Butler, and against Tennessee State, he had eight rebounds – four on offense – four assists, two steals and another block. He only played 12 minutes in the opener against Northern Illinois, and the season is still young enough that a 12-minute, low-production game can deflate overall season stats. But Crawford can definitely do more than just score. In the last three games, he’s averaging 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks.
A freshman connecting on five threes is never commonplace, but this much is becoming old hat: Different players are capable of leading NU. Indeed, through four games, the Cats have been led by four different players.
In the season-opener against Northern Illinois, Jeremy Nash had a career-high 20 points – not to mention four steals – as NU cruised to 1-0. Nash, a senior and career reserve, has nary been called upon to do much but provide energy and defense off the bench, but against NIU – a mere few hours after Coble announced his season-ending surgery – Nash led the charge, scoring 20 points on just 10 field goal attempts (he was 10-of-12 from the line).
In the next game against Butler, the lone loss thus far, John Shurna was the main man. Now, Shurna didn’t dazzle, for sure. His performance wasn’t enough to keep it interesting, and his two-of-eight three-point shooing – couple with Butler’s timely performance from downtown – was part of NU’s demise. But still, he had 14 points (off five-of-12 shooting) and nine rebounds. He had more rebounds, field goal attempts and field goals than any other Wildcat. And while simply watching Shurna operate against the Bulldogs may have been a hair underwhelming, he was nonetheless the most productive player in that one.
There is no need to qualify or rationalize who led the Cats against Tennessee State. Michael Thompson went off for a career-high 31 points, including 14 in the final 5:55. He spearheaded a 12-1 run with nine points – two threes and three free throws. It’s safe to say that NU would’ve lost this one without Thompson, and really, an early-season loss to Tennessee State* – which had only 12 wins last season and, currently 0-3, lost its first two games this season by an average of 22 points – wouldn’t have looked good. At all. But Thompson, obviously, wasn’t going to let the Cats lose.
* No, that game should not have been so close. NU shouldn’t have been trailing by eight points with five minutes left. NU should have done Tennessee State like Northern Illinois did Tennessee State and pound them by about 30.
But nonetheless, it was a win, and we all saw with the football team that it’s not always about HOW you win. It’s THAT you win. Remember Eastern Michigan? Northwestern needed a last-second field goal to beat Eastern Michigan – at Ryan Field, no less. That didn’t look good at the time, and the fact that EMU has gone on to lose every game this season doesn’t make it look any better.
The closeness of that game, however, obviously had little negative impact on the season. NU went on to win eight games, including road tilts against Iowa and Illinois. Now, if NU had lost to Eastern, then maybe the football season would have played out differently. But the Cats won, even if it was exasperatingly close. Maybe we’ll be saying the same thing about Tennessee State in a few months: “Wow, remember when Northwestern almost lost a home game to that downtrodden team…not that it matters now.”
And then there was last night’s performance by Crawford, who looks like he’s going to live up to his billing as one of the most athletic players NU has had in a long while.
Of course, there is still work to be done. No. 23 Notre Dame, 5-0, will provide a stiff test – Lake-Michigan-breeze-stiff – when Northwestern hits the road for the first time on Friday. And Northwestern’s first test of the season, that faceplant against Butler, didn’t go so well.
Northwestern will certainly need someone to step up in that game. Now, who that will be is anyone’s guess.