There are two Thomas Bryants.
There’s the Bryant we all know and love, the jubilated, emotional Hoosier fulcrum who lifts his arms to the banners as the IU zealots cheer on. He yells and dunks with the energy of 1,000 men, an NBA prospect with the enthusiasm on the court of a child after he makes his first basket.
Then, there’s the Bryant from the 1:32 mark of an atrocious IU loss to a Nebraska team that just lost to Gardner-Webb. Up one point, Cornhusker guard Glynn Watson Jr. lofted up a tough shot from behind the arc as the big man trudged down the paint awaiting a rebound. Watching the ball and not his man, Bryant immediately reached as forward Ed Morrow easily caught the ball and laid it back up for two points.
This was an opportunity for the Hoosiers to retake the lead. Instead poor positioning by Bryant led to a Nebraska basket and the opposition never looked back.
We all have had many excuses for Bryant’s poor play as of late. He plays to his competition and the recent string of cupcakes weren’t doing him any good. Let role players Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis shine before the Big Ten season begins. He’s working on skills that will be crucial later in the season: long-range shooting and passing from the paint.
Now we see where the team is truly at. The big man hasn’t been himself since the North Carolina victory and without him at his apex, IU just isn’t good enough.
His stat line’s fine: 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists. Looking at the box score, one would assume that he did everything he could for a Hoosier victory; it just eluded his grasp.
On a team without senior leadership due to forward Collin Hartman’s preseason injury, this is Bryant’s team. And on the night of Dec. 28, he wasn’t good enough.
One of the main qualms with No. 31 is his passiveness. It obviously doesn’t show in the highlight reels or on the Vines and gifs as he posterizes despondent onlookers. But Bryant seems content with drifting around the 3-point line from time to time and relying on his athleticism instead of boxing out around the rim.
Yes, IU is predominately a shooting team — one that relies on its ability to come away with three points — but there has to be a threat inside to open up the court for junior guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson.
I recently wrote that IU has the potential to repeat as Big Ten Champions, a column whose shelf life seems shorter than the gifts bought on the bridal registry of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries. I still believe what I wrote to be true. The impending NBA star-power is there with Bryant, Blackmon and Anunoby. The pieces are all there, yet it doesn’t matter if the big man doesn’t play like a man possessed.
Just under the 10-minute mark, Bryant caught the ball posting up in good position. He dropped his right foot, spun counter-clockwise and threw the ball over the rim on a wild shot. He watched as the ball was volleyed around until Nebraska caught it and made its way across the court for an easy fast-break layup.
A little more than a minute later, Bryant made a similar move from the opposite side. He dropped his foot, spun clockwise this time and attacked the basket without abandon. He absorbed the contact, finished the bucket and puffed out his chest for all of Assembly Hall to see.
That’s the Bryant that IU needs all of the time and it’s that Bryant that makes his lapses so infuriating.
The Hoosiers are now 0-1 in the Big Ten with a loss to one of the conference bottom-feeders. With games against No. 6 Louisville and No. 14 Wisconsin on the horizon, IU doesn’t have the time to lick their wounds.
Everyone has to step up, especially the man in the middle and animated lightning rod Thomas Bryant.
Without him at his best, this supposed top team in the Big Ten will have more losses on the way.
There’s still time, but Bryant either has to wake up or watch as the Hoosiers take an enormous step backward from last year’s success.