This season’s crop of freshman talent has been well-documented.
There is, of course, plenty of gushing over Kentucky freshman John Wall, who is both “preternaturally poised” and a “point guard prodigy.” And Kansas’ Xavier Henry has gotten his share of love, as well. (From the Kansas City Star, after Henry’s 31-point game Saturday: ”Those ready to crown Kentucky freshman sensation John Wall as the best rookie in college basketball should reserve judgment for now.”)
With the way they’re playing, Henry and Wall – along with others, like Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors and UK’s DeMarcus Cousins – deserve their props. They are indeed sensational, and the ensuing publicity is expected and – based on their performance thus far – justified. To put that quartet in perspective, they have a combined two single-digit scoring games, both from Cousins.
But there is another freshmen, one playing in Evanston, who is playing pretty well himself. Not on the John-Wall-Xavier-Henry level. Darn good, though.
With his 35-point outburst* again North Carolina A&T, a 90-65 Northwestern win, NU freshman Drew Crawford solidified his place among the nation’s better freshmen. It was Crawford’s second game with at least 20 points – he scored 22 against Liberty – and the 35 points are the high-water mark for the aforementioned freshmen this season. (Wall dropped 25 against UConn, Henry netted 31 last weekend against La Salle and Cousins had himself a 27-point showing in mid-November.)
* Crawford’s game was even better than the 35 points. Other key stats: He was eight-of-13 on three-pointers** and four-of-four on two-point shots. He also tallied five boards, three assists and two blocks.
**You can read about it in this recap from NU Sports, but Northwestern’s 20 three-pointers marked a school record. Michael Thompson hit five-of-11, Jeremy Nash had a pair, Alex Marcotullio nailed three. (Marcotullio, who has hit some big threes for NU this season, found a way to hit a monumental three in this one, too, even though it was a blowout: He canned the record-breaking triple. Dude has a flare for the dramatic.)
One thing that is noticeably different between Crawford and some other freshman studs are his minutes. While he has started all eight games this season, Crawford is averaging just 22.6 minutes. Wall is averaging 35, and Henry 27. That may be partly because Bill Carmody doesn’t yet trust Crawford to play huge minutes. Or, more likely, it’s because Carmody simply doesn’t give a lot of guys a lot of minutes.
*Only three players – point guard Michael Thompson (38.4 minutes), second-leading-scorer John Shurna (33.2) and senior leader Jeremy Nash (34.6) – are averaging at least 30 minutes per game. Luka Mirkovic is the next highest with an even 23. This is how Carmody always divvies up playing time.
The lack of minutes – be it because Crawford isn’t quite ready for more or because Carmody simply likes the current rotation – means that Crawford’s cumulative stats aren't quite up to snuff compared with Wall and Henry.
But let's play with the numbers a little. Here are the per-40-minute totals for the trio.
6.0 REB, 3.7 AST, 1.9 TO, .89 ST, 1.77 BLK, 16.6 PTS
52.9% FG, 63.6 % FT, 42.4% 3-point
4.7 REB, 8.1 AST, 4.9 TO, 3.2 ST, .68 BLK, 20.6 PTS
54.0% FG, 78.%7 FT, 36.8% 3-point
4.1 REB, 1.8 AST, 3.0 TO, 2.67 ST, 1.19 BLK, 26.7 PTS
55.6% FG, 82.4% FT, 53.3% 3-point
You can probably guess which one is Crawford – yeah, it’s the first one. (Wall is second, Henry third.) The points-per-game difference is pretty conspicuous, despite the 35-pointer against North Carolina A&T. Crawford opened the season with a pair of two-point games, and had zero against Notre Dame, which has hamstrung his points-per-game average. It should be noted here that, while neither Henry nor Wall have reached 35 points, they also haven't been held to less than 11; Crawford has six games with less than 11. Also elevating Henry and Wall above Crawford is the fact that Crawford has scored a combined five points in NU's four toughest games: Butler (two points), Notre Dame (one), Iowa State (two) and NC State (zero).
In real life* – sans the per-40-minute math – Crawford averages 9.4 compared to Wall’s 18.0 and Henry’s 18.1.
* Crawford does have some favorable real life numbers. He has a better assist-to-turnover ratio – 1.9 – than either Wall or Henry, and he gets more blocks. Plus his 42.4 percent three-point shooting is also nearly eight points better than Wall.
Some people might think it’s asinine to compare Drew Crawford (from little Northwestern) to John Wall (from might Kentucky) and Xavier Henry (from just-as-mighty Kansas). And maybe they're right. But that 35-point show on Sunday suggests that Crawford belongs in the discussion of the nation’s elite freshmen.
You’ve probably heard of Bill James, who was featured prominently in Michael Lewis’ bestseller Moneyball. James, an author himself, is responsible for a great deal of the evolution of baseball statistics, and maybe we can apply one of his baseball theories to Crawford’s performance on Sunday.
James coined the idea of “signature significance.” As Baseball Prospectus writer Rany Jazayerli described it, signature significance refers to “a performance so dominant and rare that, even though it occurs in a small sample size, it presages a degree of quality in that player. It is the ‘signature’ of a great player, and only a great player, to have such a performance.”
Well, you can argue that an eight-three-pointer, 35-point outburst from a freshman – age is a factor in James’ theorem – is a performance that indeed has “signature significance.” And Crawford did it IN 25 MINUTES! Indeed, you could argue, with a straight face, that Sunday's game proves that Crawford is in the upper echelon of 2009-10 freshmen. You might get laughed at if you made that argument, but still.
If a freshman hits three or four or five or six threes, or if he has a 15-point, 15-rebound outing, that’d be a great game. Does it, however, transcend the signature significance plateau? Probably not. You don’t have to be great to have a double-double or to get hot from downtown. You need to be good, sure. But not great.
Crawford’s game on Sunday seems to have “signature significance” written all over it. To score 35 points in 25 minutes, well, that’s pretty incredible. And to do it in one’s eighth collegiate game, well, that makes it even more incredible.
Crawford may not be as good as Wall and Henry. But like his assist-to-turnover ratio, his hype-to-production ratio is among the best for any freshman in America.