Measuring the progress of Tom Pritchard

  • 01/28/2010 7:43 am in

Remember when Tom Pritchard was the future?

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.

First, let’s be honest. No, Pritchard has not looked good through most of this year.

I got the chance to join the good folks over at the H-T (well, Dustin moreso than Korman [implied]) for their post-at Michigan ScoopTalk episode, and the first question Chris posed to me asked what Pritchard has been missing this year. The first and most obvious answer is confidence, Pritchard just hasn’t looked as assertive or as sure of himself as he did last year. Yes, his production tailed off as 2009 wound down, but that had far more to do with depth and his simply being worn down than with confidence.

And yes, it’s entirely fair to expect Pritchard to improve from one season to the next. That’s the evolution of basketball—of all sports—and Pritchard seems to be defying that process. Where we might run into problems is in the assumption that having extra big men on roster who could hold their own would help Pritchard, when it’s probably hurt him just as much.

I’ll admit, I’m as guilty as anyone. I figured Pritchard would be a mainstay in the IU offense this season. He had a year to get his fitness up, and yes, he was going to have some help down low. All of that = more points, rebounds and minutes from Tom Pritchard.

But in all honesty, I wonder if the sudden competition down low hasn’t hurt Pritchard more than it’s helped. I mean, consider what he’s now working with.

Christian Watford is easily the best of the bunch, although obviously he’s not a died-in-the-wool big. Watford is a comfortable ‘tweener, and the best overall player by some distance, which makes him the most adaptable and prolific in this offense. Then comes Bobby “The Situation” Capobianco, (I don’t understand) who’s probably cut Pritchard’s minutes as much as anybody, and Derek Elston, who has made enough impressive bench cameos to have some fans screaming for more him and less Pritchard.

Well, duh, you say, of course sharing court time with other talented post players will decline Pritchard’s production, and it surely has. But let’s also remember that Pritchard was a three-star prospect whose other offers came from Penn State and Miami (Ohio). He was a Kelvin Sampson project, a down-the-line starter who would have the time and protection-by-depth-chart to stay out of the glare until he was ready for it.

I understand many of you are getting tired of that sort of excuse, and I understand. But that doesn’t change the fact that Pritchard, like his team, is young and still in the midst of growth under most trying circumstances. It’s been a tough year for the big man—and I’m through trying to predict how this team will turn out, it leads me to dark places—but I think Pritchard deserves at least 12 more months to prove his mettle.

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