Tom, Derek, Bobby — it’s time to step up.
Other than freshman forward Christian Watford, there has been little to no consistency from the members of IU’s front line.
Each of IU’s “bodies” has had his moments, but collectively there has been limited production from the Hoosiers playing opposite of Watford at the “5.”
Against Michigan State on Tuesday, IU’s four big men outside of Watford combined for five rebounds in 48 minutes of action.
Junior guard Jeremiah Rivers, meanwhile, had 6 boards alone in his 28 minutes.
That must change for IU if it wants to go on the road and complete the season sweep of Minnesota.
In the narrow overtime defeat of the Golden Gophers at Assembly Hall on Jan. 17, it was the Verdell Jones show down the stretch.
The sophomore guard scored 13 of the Hoosiers’ last 18 points, including a number of big shots and key free throws.
Aside from the 24 points from Jones, IU got a tremendous boost from its post players. Watford had an impressive stat line in 16 points and 10 rebounds. But more significantly, the Hoosiers’ three other big men combined for 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Sophomore forward Tom Pritchard scored 7 points, while freshmen forwards Derek Elston and Bobby Capobianco had 5 apiece. But the key number was their combined 15 boards.
Despite 19 points from Minnesota’s centers — 17 from sophomore Ralph Sampson — the Gophers’ two tallest players grabbed only 6 rebounds.
“We would have never won the game without rebounding,” IU coach Tom Crean said after the game.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith saw it, too.
“I thought all day, Indiana did a great job of working hard and getting on the boards,” Smith said. “That’s where the game was won. They really did a great job of attacking the glass.”
In the eight games since the Minnesota win — seven of which have gone in the loss column — IU has played as many as five different forwards or centers alongside Watford.
Not once in that span has that group of Pritchard, Capobianco, Elston, senior Tijan Jobe and freshman Bawa Muniru pulled in more than 13 total rebounds.
Pritchard continues to be the most curious case of the big men, having averaged 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a year ago but just 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds to date.
He played the half of his life on Feb. 4 versus Purdue, scoring 13 points and bringing in 3 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
But in the 100 minutes of playing time since, encompassing his 17 second-half minutes and IU’s four most recent games, Big Tom has gone for a meager 14 points and 10 rebounds.
With Minnesota guard Al Nolen academically ineligible, that’s one less guard to key on for the Hoosiers.
Therefore, Smith’s game plan will likely run through the post even more than it did in January’s contest at Assembly Hall.
Whereas Watford continues to be reliable at the 4, Crean and the Hoosiers will need more help from Pritchard and his teammates at the 5.
Certainly the Gophers will focus heavily on Jones, so elevated post play will be critical for the Hoosiers if the team hopes to emerge victorious on Saturday.
“Playing through contact, being physical, being on the glass, being willing to take shots, being willing to get fouled — those are all a big part of it for us,” Crean said after beating Minnesota in January.
Those same factors will be in play at The Barn this weekend.
So, Tom, Derek and Bobby, let’s see what you’ve got.
Cohen's prediction: Minnesota 70 - IU 63
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