(Photo via Peter Stevenson on TwitPic)
Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our attempt to make some sense of the 2010-11 season. Sit back. Relax. Grab some popcorn. Get your read on. Today: Tom Pritchard.
Final Stats (31 games): 2.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, 59.0% FG, 34.8% FT in 18.2 minutes per game
So is it me, or was Tom Pritchard one of the most quietly impressive Hoosiers on the court this season?
Granted, his offensive game was just as stop-and-go (putting it lightly) as ever. But Pritchard was quite possibly Indiana’s most improved and most consistent defender, and a significant minority of fouls he committed this season were in covering for a teammate that had lost his mark.
We also started seeing some of the Pritchard that Tom Crean and other Hoosiers have talked about – the one with strong footwork, underrated athleticism and some actual swagger around the rim.
This rather emphatic, ridiculously surprising putback dunk not withstanding, when Pritchard was assertive and aggressive on the offensive end, his teammates fed off that energy more clearly and efficiently than perhaps anyone else on the team.
Looking back, it’s probably fair to say that, in a sense, Pritchard came out of his shell a little bit, and began to define the final product he’ll become. Though it’s hard to picture him becoming a scoring force in his senior season, it’s certainly not beyond even the adventurous imagination to see him put up nicely improved numbers next year. And as his strength has improved, so has his rebounding, a significant need for Indiana next season as well.
All of this swells up to create the potential for Pritchard to play a critical role on the 2011-12 Indiana basketball team: foil to Cody Zeller.
No one doubts Zeller’s talent, particularly on offense or on the boards. But Rivals lists the senior big man at 215 pounds, and it’s rare to see a frontcourt player come in and make an immediate impact, barring exceptional physical development, like something in the mold of Jared Sullinger.
Zeller will be an important member of next year’s squad, no doubt, and will probably be an early frontrunner for Big Ten freshman of the year. But he’ll only do that if Pritchard can work as his protection, manning up against larger, more physical players and taking a lead on low-post defense.
Pritchard has to protect Zeller as much as he has to nurture him – he needs to be the muscle to Zeller’s exceptional talent, while the latter goes through some of the growing pains associated with developing strength to play at the college level.
Shining moment(s): The dunk. And the aforementioned improvement on defense.
Bottom line: Right now, Pritchard has to be one of the names penciled into next year’s first starting lineup, a position well-earned, particularly in the latter half of this season. But he also needs to work hard in the offseason to gel with Zeller. The more quickly Indiana’s potential starting forwards can develop a working rapport, the closer the Hoosiers will be to being able to boast, if nothing else, a productive frontcourt for the first time in quite some time. By nature of his status and his story, Zeller will get the headlines. But it will likely be up to Pritchard to make the partnership work, a challenge he appears ready to take up this summer.