Last season’s frontcourt was something of a mixed bag, with young talents like Christian Watford and later Derek Elston emerging as legitimate scoring threats, while Tom Pritchard struggled most of the season with foul trouble and inconsistency.
So what to expect from this season’s edition of the Indiana frontcourt? There’s not much gone, although losing Tijan Jobe and Bawa Muniru does mean the subtraction of the Hoosiers’ two tallest players from a year ago. But the meat of IU’s depth chart down low returns, a year older, presumably a year stronger, perhaps a year better? Let’s take a look at a few important storylines.
+ Will Watford even be a post player next year? No, this isn’t more transfer speculation. (Quick note on that subject: Let’s be fair to Watford, who has said he wanted to stay — there hasn’t really been a whole lot of factual basis for the transfer rumors, mostly chat room speculation.) This is whether we’re going to see Watford operating in the post that often this season.
The player certainly has the skillset and the disposition to play on the wing as well, and being honest, that’s really his most natural position. It was a rough-and-tumble freshman year for Watford, who often found himself outsized down low, where he was asked to operate time and again. Still, it’s hard to sniff at a 12-and-6 points/rebounds average over nearly 30 minutes per game from a freshman. It was harsh, really, that he wasn’t at least an announced Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate.
So where on the court is Watford’s future in an Indiana Hoosier? If it’s down low, then he’ll need to have spent this offseason bulking up significantly. If not, someone needs to step up for IU instead.
+ What should we expect from Tom Pritchard? Former IDSer Jordan Cohen alerted me to a striking statistic regarding Pritchard not long ago. In his first 16 career games, Pritchard had five double-doubles. In the next 46 and counting: none.
Now, that statistics ought to be put in some context. Four of those double-doubles came against IUPUI, Northeastern, TCU and Northwestern State, and expectations on Pritchard, thus far, have probably been far too heavy. But it’s also fair to expect progression, not regression, from a player’s freshman to sophomore year, particularly given how much court time Pritchard got in his first year. Instead, minutes, points and rebounds all went down, while average fouls per game stayed at a heavy 3.2.
Pritchard’s importance to this team isn’t just in his individual progression. Indiana needs a player like Pritchard or Bobby Capobianco to provide consistency and solid minutes in the post so that players like Watford and Elston can move into positions in which they can be more comfortable and, perhaps, more productive. Tom Crean needs Pritchard to emerge in his junior year as the Hoosiers’ primary post, if for no other reason that so that other players don’t have to.
+ So what do we expect from Elston? Which Derek Elston is the more likely candidate to show up in November? There was the Elston that never looked comfortable inside or outside, made questionable decisions with the ball and just generally looked isolated too often on the court. Then there was the Elston that averaged more than 10 points per game over the Hoosiers’ last five, hitting for double figures in four and appearing much more like a player who had started to figure out his role in his team.
It seems awfully tempting to pick the second, because Elston really did look like a player who had somehow gotten the right stuff to click on the court. He looked confident and willing in attack, and better — although still noticeably deficient — on defense.
Like Watford, Elston is probably more of an inside-outside player than a true post, and his defense still needs work. And like Watford, he’s still going to be expected to fill plenty of time down low this season, at least until IU develops a true post presence. But the flashes were there, and they ought to show up again.
+ And what do we make of this Guy-Marc Michel guy? Indiana’s newly-minted 7-footer from Martinique is nothing if not a mystery right now. He’s more well-known that was Tijan Jobe when he arrived in Bloomington, and current Hoosiers who have played with Michel have given him the stamp of approval.
At the same time, Michel is fighting perception. He’s not the first unknown big man Crean has hauled to Bloomington, and he doesn’t bring the most reassuring junior college stat line (seven points, seven rebounds, according to our friends at the H-T) to Bloomington.
The former Gonzaga recruiting target came to IU because he said he wanted lots of quick playing time. If he earns it, then he’ll give Indiana that post presence that it so desperately needs. Expectations probably ought to be more tempered than that, but Indiana could still use much more out of Michel than it ever got from Jobe or the now-departed Bawa Muniru.
+ Let’s not forget Capo: What role does Bobby Capobianco play? Probably something similar to the one he filled last season. No one expects Capobianco to start rolling in double-doubles, but with an offseason to get stronger, faster, etc., his role as a thumper and a physical post off the bench ought to keep growing.
Could he supplant someone ahead of him? Absolutely. But Capobianco’s best asset as a Hoosier right now is his strength and willingness to mix things up. Learn to do that without fouling so much, and Capo could be quite the important piece this winter.