BLOOMINGTON — I’m sitting here in front of my computer, and trying to figure out what to write, and it is next to impossible.
We could touch on Tom Pritchard’s impressive day (Five blocks? Dang.), or Maurice Creek’s return to the top of the scoring charts (19), or the improved turnover numbers (just three in the second half). All would be acceptable, and easy to write, but we’re looking for more penetrating insight here.
So this will probably disappoint: Indiana is just a normal team, with some handy strengths.
The Hoosiers are now 4-0, with four wins that, overall, felt rather comfortable. Evansville took Indiana out of its offense Sunday afternoon, and the Hoosiers battled first-half foul trouble. But as it has thus far, the defense showed up, sparking a 22-0 run in the second half that kept the Aces at arms length the rest of the day.
Creek’s day was important, both in the moment (a run of 3-pointers early in the second half was the catalyst for Indiana’s run) and obviously, in the larger conversation about this season. It’s one half in eight, but glimpses of the old Creek will make for a happy Hoosier Thanksgiving.
Tom Pritchard’s haters aside, the big man had hands-down his best game Sunday, scoring eight with eight rebounds and five blocks. More than that, he played the entire second half with three fouls already on his line, and never committed another.
Verdell Jones rallied from a five-point, seven-turnover outing last Tuesday to score 18. He turned the ball over a team high-but-much-more-palatable four times.
If these storylines seem unexciting to you, it’s only because they are. And that’s sort of the point.
Thoughts on a 67-54 win over the Evansville Purple Aces:
Can the Hoosiers put it together for a full 40 minutes?
That’s the challenge heading forward.
After a first half thick with turnovers (12), fouls (three each for Bobby Capobianco, Tom Pritchard and Christian Watford) and only 25 points (thanks to Evansville’s defense taking away perimeter shooting which equaled minimal shot attempts for IU), the Hoosiers put together arguably their finest stretch of the season in the second half — at one point ripping off a 27-2 run on the Purple Aces.
Maurice Creek was a big catalyst. The sophomore hit three 3-pointers early in the second frame (after IU only attempted three the entire first half) and was fouled on another 3-point attempt in which he hit all three free throws.
Creek also scored on a nice left-handed runner off the backboard later in the half, along with another three with just under two minutes left to seal the deal.
For the game, Creek scored 18 points (5-of-10 from the floor, 4-of-7 from three, 5-of-5 from the line).
In addition, IU clamped down hard on defense and Evansville’s offense was stymied for most of the second half.
But most impressive was the way the Hoosiers took care of the ball. After giving it away 12 times in the first 20 minutes, only three miscues occurred in the second half for a total of 15.
BLOOMINGTON — Let it be pointed out that, on the night Tom Crean cemented his first-ever 3-0 start at Indiana, his team struggled.
The Hoosiers shot barely over 38 percent, Verdell Jones had more turnovers (7) than points (5) and Will Sheehey, of all people, starred. And for the briefest of moments, Indiana looked troubled, but it didn’t last.
This team is starting to build some constants, expected results upon which it can depend.
The defense continues to impress. Tuesday night, Indiana forced 23 turnovers and, while it also committed 17, won the points-off-turnovers battle 32-9. Mississippi Valley State shot just 34 percent overall and hit 7-of-21 threes, after shooting 10-of-17 in a near-upset against Georgia.
More than that, however — and as it has done in significant stretches this season — the Hoosiers’ defense covered when their offense was flagging. On a night where Christian Watford, Verdell Jones and Maurice Creek combined to shoot 9-of-31, their team rarely looked troubled, particularly in a dominant early second half.
Coming out of the break up just four, the Hoosiers limited their guests to just three points over the second half’s first 9 1/2 minutes, all while a 27-23 lead ballooned to 49-26.
“You’ve got to play through offensive lulls. You’ve got to play through bad offensive nights,” Crean said afterward. “To come out and play great team defense, to come out and get better defensively as the game goes on … that’s maturity.”
Watford also continues to be a rock. He still looks unsure of himself at times, growing into his new role operating along the wings and perimeter, but he hasn’t scored less than 17 points in any game — after a wildly impressive preseason — and is averaging eight rebounds per contest. Simply, he’s a kind of player Crean has never had at Indiana.
BLOOMINGTON | So no column tonight. I am robbed — devoid, even — of meaningful candor with regard to Night of the Living Red. Or, more specifically, you and I would both probably prefer we just throw some info out there and hit Halloween weekend in force.
So that’s what we’ll do.
First off, yes, Cody Zeller was there. Hanner Perea was too, as was Austin Etherington. No Yogi Ferrell, but the weekend is young, and he’s shown a penchant for IU football games this fall.
Talking to Cody and Co. was off limits per NCAA recruiting rules (Which make no sense by the way. Thanks NCAA.) so we didn’t get to chat him up. Got a lot of chat questions trying to gauge Cody’s state of mind, level of enjoyment, etc. A pretty good crowd turned out, and the scrimmage was actually quite entertaining as scrimmages go, but Zeller has been in this process literally for years at this point. He wasn’t going to see something earth-shattering at Indiana he’s never seen before. He looked like a kid taking it in, enjoying himself and hanging out with friends. So in all honesty, I wouldn’t waste too many worry lines on his demeanor.
On to the scrimmage. Christian Watford led all scorers with 24 points, and looked really good in isolation when plays broke down. One problem with that was that the Crimson team, made up of more likely starters than the Cream, had some troubles offensively. Watford said afterward that the Cream guys were overplaying their Crimson brethren some, knowing their plays, but that they needed to be more careful offensively. The Crimson turned the ball over 17 times to the Cream’s 11.
Guy-Marc Michel is not Tijan Jobe, and he’s not Bawa Muniru. Big man is strong, can control his body at both ends of the floor and looked confident offensively. Both Crean and Michel said afterward that Michel’s level of conditioning has improved immensely since his arrival in Bloomington, and they were pleased it showed Friday. Michel should and will get minutes, and to be honest, in a rather weak Big Ten at the center position, I’m having a hard time coming up with too many guys who can match Michel physically if he plays like he did Friday. Dallas Lauderdale comes to mind, but the list is short. Not saying he’s a double-double average kind of guy, just that his pure size will be hard to match if he plays like that.
It’s time for Inside the Hall’s player-by-player breakdown of the 2010-2011 Indiana Hoosiers. Today: Tom Pritchard.
Ah, the curious case of Tom Pritchard. Ah, the cliche of using odd, catchy movie titles as ledes. Which one shall we talk about today?
I choose Pritchard. So let’s talk about Pritchard, the Ohio native whose career started so well but hasn’t really taken off since, at least not in the way we expected it would. I’ll throw out what is a rather shocking stat, brought to my attention by old friend Jordan Cohen during the production of our season preview magazine:
Over his first 16 career games, Pritchard had five double-doubles, including two in his first two, making him at that time the only Indiana freshman ever to accomplish that.
Number of double-doubles in the 46 games since? Zero. Not one. Never even broke double digits in rebounding last year. Pritchard committed 98 fouls last year, better than three per game, and fouled out four times. Both were team highs.
So why am I feeling upbeat about Tom Pritchard in 2010? Well, for a number of reasons.
First, without trying to be clever, Pritchard has little else to do but get better. With a few rare exceptions, (Purdue, Bryant, Howard) Pritchard looked various combinations of slow, sloppy and lacking confidence last year. As the pressure to perform turned up, his performances often seemed to get worse, until he was essentially relegated to a secondary role in the offense. And this from a kid many thought was a primary part of IU’s future down low.
Second, I’ve gotten to see Pritchard up close a couple of times this offseason, and he just looks like he’s in better shape. Much better. He looks slimmer and at the same time more muscular. We won’t pretend that an extra say, 8-10 pounds of playing weight were the difference between night and day last season, but when they’re not there and they used to be, there will be a discernible difference.
Third, while I don’t believe in chalking up a poor season to some unquantifiable cliche like a “sophomore slump,” I do believe in experience. Tom Pritchard has it. All the criticism, the struggles, often it helps a player to have to go through that, and learn the value of always improving.
It recently came to my attention, through the technological wonder of our Disqus-powered comments section, that Beth Pritchard (or someone claiming to be Beth Pritchard, mother of Tom) dropped a note under the much-discussed open thread Alex composed about this coming season.
In fairness to Mrs. Pritchard, I won’t quote her directly, as I doubt she intended her post to be specifically on-record. But her message, a response to the open-ended question of expectations for this coming season, was basically this: Expect the Hoosiers, every one of them, to work hard and play hard every night, and appreciate them for that.
A simple message, really, and a predictable one. It’s completely fair for a parent to want to defend their child, and their child’s friends.
It also raises a valid point.
Yes, these kids have a burden of expectation placed on them. A basketball scholarship at Indiana does that.
But too often, it feels like we take out our frustrations on these players not because of what they do or do not do on the court, but simply because we need something to yell at. Indiana basketball isn’t Indiana basketball right now, and it’s frustrating, and we as human beings like to, want to, need to blame someone. There surely is no more visible target, outside of Tom Crean himself.
But is it Tom Pritchard’s fault that Indiana is where it is? No. Is it Verdell Jones’ fault? No. Daniel Moore’s? Absolutely not.
The current predicament Indiana basketball finds itself in is lamentable, whether you are a fan or not. It’s never pleasant to watch a castle burn to the ground, and thus is the way with a storied college sports program.
And it’s not the fault of any one person, but rather years — more than a decade, probably — of mismanagement and neglect. Set in motion by complacency, complicated by strife and ultimately done in by scandal, Indiana’s problems are far-reaching, and long-term.
Have their been missteps? Well, of course there have. And there are parties involved that bear the responsibility for those, if they set the program back.
But Indiana’s players haven’t really done much but turn up with shoes and shorts whenever they were told, and tried their level best. I would imagine there have been times each has perhaps not given everything they had, in that particular moment. But on the whole, this is a group that plays hard and looks, for the most part, like it’s at least trying to do things the right way.
So let’s stop punishing them for that which they cannot control. Let’s stop punishing them for something that just isn’t their fault.
So piggybacking off Alex’s good work yesterday in filling the summer malaise with some solid depth chart discussion as we hit July, let us open our textbooks to chapter two.
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.
When Tom Pritchard decided on September 17, 2007 that he would join the Indiana basketball program, he likely did so with the understanding that his playing time would be sparse early on.
The Hoosiers, after all, would be returning DeAndre Thomas, Eli Holman and adding Devin Ebanks to the front court.
The expectation, from the point of view of Kelvin Sampson and his staff, was that Pritchard would add depth as a freshman and perhaps challenge for a regular spot in the rotation down the line.
But sometimes, as is the case in all walks of life, things just don’t go as originally planned.
As a freshman, the 6-9 Pritchard was a pleasant surprise in a season of rebuilding. Thrust into a starting role more out of necessity than merit, the Ohio native put up respectable numbers in his rookie campaign: 9.7 ppg and 6.4 rpg in 29 minutes per contest.
With some hard work and improvement, Pritchard was likely on his way to a double figure scoring average and would be a solid contributor up front in Tom Crean’s second season, right?
Bloomington, Ind. — Assembly Hall reached perhaps its highest decibel level of the season at the 5:44 mark of the second half. The Hoosiers had just taken a 69-66 lead over Purdue on a Jordan Hulls 3-pointer.
Indiana had scored eight straight points. Matt Painter called for a timeout.
But what happened after that point will be incredibly tough for this Indiana team to swallow.
Indiana missed the front end of three one-and-ones. And the No. 8 Boilermakers, led by Robbie Hummel, played like a veteran team coming together at the right time in a 78-75 win, their fifth straight.
Verdell Jones scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Hoosiers (9-12, 3-6 Big Ten) and Tom Pritchard added 13 points and five rebounds.
For now, I’m headed to the media room to listen to Matt Painter and Tom Crean address the media. Ryan will chime in with The Minute After soon and I’ll have some postgame audio and video later.
No seriously, remember when he was the next prototype Indiana big man—not big or nimble enough to just dominate, but automatic to the point of getting his numbers every single night. Or at least that’s what he was going to be. Yea, that train has sort of sailed.
In a year that’s been up-and-down for Indiana basketball, Pritchard is like the kid in the last car on the roller coaster, getting the worst of every turn and the least out of every barrel roll.
Bad similes aside, it really has been a forgettable year for the big man from Westlake, Ohio. Pritchard wasn’t jaw-dropping last year, but he was consistent, and he had the distinct advantage of being a productive post player on a team almost completely void of them.
But now he has to share the frontcourt. There are other big bodies that Tom Crean can throw out on the floor, and suddenly Pritchard looks less like the next great hope and more like Sean Kline with two good knees. Minutes are down, fouls are up, points are down, fan displeasure is way, way up, and young Pritchard has too often looked like any combination of lost, timid, weak and confused. I’ll bet it won’t take 10 comments to find those words and more like it used to describe Pritchard following this post.
But is it fair? I mean, is it entirely his fault? Has Pritchard really fallen that far? Short answer: Probably not. Long answer: Glad you asked.