It’s just the season of The Pritch
Watch that again. Watch it again. You know you want to.
OK, now pay attention.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????
Well, actually, I’ll tell you what’s going on. Indiana, and in this particular instance, Tom Pritchard, is figuring it out.
‘It,’ that elusive one-word coach’s answer when explaining the inexplicable, when praising or complaining about everything and nothing at the same time.
There have been moments for Indiana, just as there have been moments for Tom Pritchard, when the hustle and the head finally met, when all the necessary factors — positioning, awareness, whatever — came together to make one impressive moment of basketball.
More often than not, only some of the aforementioned necessities showed, creating an awkward scene, like someone getting stood up before prom.
Over the last three games, however, these moments have suddenly been in steady supply.
Walk yourself through that video, frame by frame. It’s not just Pritchard’s put-back dunk. It’s Verdell Jones’ shot, which wasn’t a terrible one. It’s Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco crashing the boards, Capobianco in particular firmly bodying up Ralph Sampson III. It’s Victor Oladipo and Daniel Moore turning to move back and stop anything in transition. It’s a well-executed basketball play.
Wednesday night, Tom Pritchard knocked in 12 points and seven rebounds. Of the seven shots he took (five field goals and two free throws), he missed none. He had more offensive rebounds (4) than defensive (3).
“He’s playing major minutes, he’s got a lot of responsibilities, because we were mixing defenses tonight,” Tom Crean said of Pritchard after the game. “He took a mindset that he was going to try and dunk everything, and he darn near did.”
For the evening, Indiana shot below 40 percent from the floor and hit just 5-of-24 3-point shots. Jordan Hulls scored eight points. Christian Watford took in the game with his arm in a sling.
And yet, Indiana turned the ball over a paltry nine times, forced a worse overall field-goal percentage out of their opponent and had Blake Hoffarber, one of the conference’s best shooters, frustrated to the point of physical confrontation.
For most of Wednesday night, Tom Pritchard was arguably the best player on the floor, in terms of intensity and performance at both ends. For most of Wednesday night, Indiana was the best team on the floor, by almost every metric.
Make no mistake, these last three games have not been by coincidence. One win could be explained. A second successive strong performance is hard to ignore. But Indiana has been faced with two ranked teams and another immensely talented one in the last six days, and it has coming within one Jeremiah Rivers free throw of a three-game Big Ten winning streak, all done without some combination of Maurice Creek and either Christian Watford or Verdell Jones.
“It’s defensive intensity, I think, you know, everybody’s on the same page, communication has gone way up,” Pritchard said when asked what has changed between the embarrassment at Iowa and Wednesday night. “Maturity’s big right now. I mean, it’s just, everybody’s on the same page right now, and our defense, when we really bear down and lock down, it’s a pretty good defense.”
It’s not the most succinct answer, but it’ll do — Indiana has reached a new level of total team effort and understanding. It’s not Dao-ist philosophy, or some kind of vision quest finally revealed. Indiana has simply begun to discover how to harness and employ the tools that make it a better basketball team, and good performances are following thusly.
Wednesday night, Tom Pritchard wasn’t Tom Pritchard. He was The Pritch. And his team was no longer an also-ran. It was a unit capable of beating a Top 25 team, and making it look like they were supposed to.