The case for Crawford

Star wingman Drew Crawford is rumored to be pursued by Marquette and Missouri. Leaving Northwestern, however, would be a mistake.

Chris Collins has begun tapping into the Chicago recruiting pool. He's compiled a staff, continues to develop a relationship with the program and watched the Jaren Sina saga come to a close.

There's just one thing left on the new head coach's agenda before a whirlwind month for Northwestern basketball finally simmers down: retain Drew Crawford.

It's a tall task for Collins, who will be competing with perennial Tourney teams Marquette and Missouri. It's an important one, too. Without him, the Cats lack a No. 1 scorer off the dribble, a viable perimeter threat, and most saliently, a true senior leader. Should Crawford leave, the only seniors on the roster would be James Montgomery III and Nikola Cerina.

As a Golden Eagle, Crawford would pick up hype as a replacement for Vander Blue, developing his professional brand at one of the nation's biggest basketball schools. As a Tiger, Crawford would join Frank Haith's rotating cast of transfers in a high-speed offense.

Both teams will likely make the NCAA Tournament next year, and both teams will be competitors in major conferences. Heck, both schools will enjoy warmer weather than that of Evanston.

But leaving Northwestern, even in the face of such enticing offers, would be a mistake.

Professionally, Crawford's already built a name with the Wildcats. This would be his team, period. No amount of Chris Collins excitement would overshadow Crawford's return. Playing in the undisputed top conference in the country, Crawford would be continually exposed to the nation's best opponents on a nightly basis.

As Collins mentioned in his introductory press conference earlier this month, Northwestern's offense will not be defined by a preset system, as in past years. It will cater to its players.

With this in mind, Crawford will likely be able to accentuate his strength off the dribble and mask his weaknesses with other rotating options. After averaging more than 16 points per game in his junior season, sharing shots with John Shurna and Reggie Hearn, Crawford's stat line should go through the roof next season.

Despite his talent and proven history, Crawford wouldn't be the main option at Marquette or Missouri. Neither team would implement a system for Crawford by any means. Forced to learn an entirely new offense, who's to say he would look good on a better team? With spring workouts already heating up, Crawford would have to adjust on the fly.

Crawford's campaign for a career beyond the NCAA would be bolstered by potentially averaging 20 a night and becoming the first true leader of the Collins era. But it goes beyond that. There's a visceral attachment to a program after four agonizing years.

Crawford's seen the lowest of the lows, the highest of the highs, and everything in between. He was there when the Cats knocked off then-No. 6 Michigan State last season; he was there when they lost by two to Ohio State just a month later. Entering his final year of eligibility, Crawford will likely want to see this thing through.

With noted close relationships with Tavaras Hardy, Jershon Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin, Crawford touches on another emphasis of the Collins era: family.

Returning for one more run at the Tournament means more than stat lines and ESPN clips; it means coming back to teammates, friendships and a whole lot of close goofy moments that wouldn't happen with one-year teammate bonds at other schools.

Ultimately, there's no way to analyze Crawford's situation without getting a little corny. But staying at Northwestern makes sense for all of the right reasons, even if the sparkle of a name like Marquette or Missouri isn't quite there yet.

Walking off the floor of the United Center–arm in arm–Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio were visibly emotional in their final night as Wildcats back on March 7. Northwestern had just been knocked from the Big Ten Tourney in a convincing first-round loss to Iowa. But a sense of family and commitment from the two seniors spoke louder than any scoreboard.

You have to think that Northwestern comes a little closer this season. And you have to think that Crawford wants to be arm in arm with someone when it goes down.

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