Drew Crawford

Drew Crawford ‘announces’ his return in Chris Collins’ first win at Northwestern

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Northwestern has never reached the NCAA tournament. Never. They’ve come close on a few occasions, but the Wildcat faithful have never seen their team’s name show up on television when the brackets are announced. That’s the task that first-year head coach Chris Collins is faced with, to strengthen the program to the point where it can not only be in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid but ultimately know that they’ll be playing in the Big Dance.

Accomplishing said feat will be difficult this season given the Wildcats’ standing within the Big Ten, but in fifth-year senior Drew Crawford the new head coach has a piece most new hires aren’t fortunate to have at their disposal. And after playing in just ten games last season due to a shoulder injury, Crawford showed no signs of rust in the Wildcats’ 72-55 victory over Eastern Illinois as he accounted for 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Crawford, who was a third-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011-12, gives Northwestern an offensive option who can shoulder much of the scoring load and that was something they sorely lacked last season. But Crawford wasn’t the only Northwestern player to perform well after a long absence from the court Saturday, as JerShon Cobb tallied eight points and a game-high eight assists in his first game action since the 2011-12 season. Cobb missed all of last year for academic reasons, and his return gives the Wildcats another versatile (and experienced) option on the perimeter.

As a team Northwestern assisted on 16 of its 20 made field goals, and a high assist rate will need to be the Wildcats’ calling card if they’re to improve on last season’s 13-19 record. We’ll learn a lot more about Northwestern next week when they visit Stanford, with the Cardinal having some talented options (Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle and Josh Huestis being three) who will prove far more formidable than Eastern Illinois.

Last season such a contest may have been a recipe for disaster, but the return of both Crawford and Cobb will help matters as Collins looks to take the Northwestern program to a level it has yet to reach.

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67) at Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37), 6:30 p.m.
LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) at George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ben Simmons, LSU get tested at South Carolina; more important bubble matchups

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: LSU at South Carolina, 7:00 p.m.

LSU attempts to stay atop the SEC standings when they travel on the road to face South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been very tough at home this season and they’re trying to form a potential four-way tie in the conference standings if they’re able to win this one (and Texas A&M wins tonight). It will be intriguing to see how Ben Simmons fares against South Carolina’s stingy defense.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: Saint Joseph’s at George Washington, 7:00 p.m.

An important game in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Joseph’s heads to the Smith Center to play surging George Washington. The Colonels have won three straight games as they try to stay with VCU and Dayton and make a move to tie the Hawks in the league standings. CBT’s Rob Dauster will be in the building for this one, so make sure to follow him on Twitter for updates.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. No. 21 Baylor will have a tough one in the Big 12 when they go on the road at Kansas State. The Wildcats just knocked off Oklahoma and the Octagon of Doom is a very tough place to play, even if Kansas State is struggling in the standings.
  2. No. 16 SMU will try to stay in the lead in the American as they host Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane could really use a road win like this for its postseason chances.
  3. An intriguing Pac-12 contest tips as Washington heads to Utah. The Pac-12 standings are a mess right now, but these two teams still have a chance to make one final move for the regular season title if they start building momentum now.
  4. In the SEC, Alabama hosts No. 15 Texas A&M, a team that has lost three of its last four games. The Aggies will be favored in this road contest, but this one could be interesting because of Avery Johnson’s unique connection to Texas A&M. Avery Johnson Jr., a transfer guard sitting out this season at Alabama, played for the Aggies last season, so he could have some useful tips for his dad on slowing down Texas A&M’s potent offense.
  5. No. 20 Providence will be looking for revenge when they head to Milwaukee to face Marquette. The Golden Eagles currently sit eighth in the Big East standings, but they did win on the road by a point over the Friars earlier this season.