Crawford carries heavy burden

It's the final stanza for Northwestern senior forward Drew Crawford, and it's off to a sluggish start. As the leader of a young, unproven Wildcat team, Crawford shoulders a heavy burden this season. He must improve his play, and quickly.

Juice Thompson is remembered as a fan favorite, a key part of Northwestern's turnaround. John Shurna left his legacy with the sweet stroke that made him the program's all-time leading scorer.

What does history hold for Drew Crawford? It's time to write the final chapter of the senior forward's Northwestern narrative.

Like Thompson and Shurna before him, Crawford will be the answer guy for Northwestern. He is the leader of a young, unproven team. When the Wildcats need a big shot, the ball will be in Crawford's hands. After each game, he will be credited for the victory or blamed for the loss. It comes with the role.

This is Crawford's team. He entered the season with 100 starts—more than the rest of the starting lineup combined can boast. Crawford has seen his scoring average rise each season, reaching 16.1 points per game last season.

This season, though, has been a struggle for Crawford. His scoring average has dropped while his field goal mark sits at 40.2 percent—far below his norm. In trying to boost his team, Crawford is instead hurting it.

Crawford's early-season skid was spotlighted during Northwestern's 20-point loss to Maryland, in which he had just 10 points while posting 4-of-14 from the field. The senior leader tried to do too much.

"He's definitely pressing," NU head coach Bill Carmody said after the loss. "He's a good player, he'll break out of it. Right now, he's definitely pressing."

While the raw Wildcats continue to seek their identity, consistent play from Crawford is especially imperative. In playing weak nonconference opponents, sluggish performance is excusable, though a talented Terrapin team exposed Crawford's slump. When NU opens its Big Ten slate, he must be in full form.

The conference is stronger than Crawford's career can attest to. Six Big Ten teams rank in this week's AP Poll, including Nos. 1, 3, and 4. The run through January, February, and into early March will be adverse. In past seasons, with Thompson and Shurna leading the team, Crawford was but a complimentary piece. This time, the burden is on his shoulders.

When push comes to shove, Crawford must be his team's leader. He must fill the stat sheet each game and provide the punch Northwestern needs.

Crawford carries a lot of pressure. Northwestern could be poised for an NCAA tournament berth with a consistently strong performance from its top gun.

The final chapter of Crawford's story could be memorable, but he first must grasp the pen.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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