Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tough Guy – Indiana’s Watford Shows He Has The Right Basketball Stuff

So what is Christian Watford's ceiling? How good can he become by the time he leaves Indiana?

Perhaps the best indicator is not the impressive numbers he's put up but the toughness he's shown the last month or so.

Take the 21 points and five rebounds he had against Michigan State while playing with a busted left hand. He came back after surgery to fix that hand and led the Hoosiers in scoring with 14 points in 22 minutes at Michigan last Saturday, and was a huge part of a rally that nearly turned defeat into victory.

Coach Tom Crean has talked about Watford’s potential and how he will push the 6-9 forward to reach it. Well, it looks like, however hard Crean pushes, he can’t match how hard Watford pushes himself. He not only came back from surgery about as fast as humanly possible, but he thrived in hostile road conditions.

Watford wasn’t cleared to play until Friday, but being cleared and being ready to play aren’t necessarily the same thing. Watford had a live practice on Friday and again on Saturday morning. It’s important to note that IU’s Saturday morning session wasn’t just a put-up-a-few-shots-and-talk-about-the-game-plan session. It was active and rigorous and it let Crean and his staff know that Watford was ready.

“He really wanted to come back,” Crean said. “That is a big part of this because he couldn’t do anything with his hand. Hopefully this is good for him in the sense this like getting a week and a half vacation right in the middle of the Big Ten season…

“He did all the things to get him ready and it just came down to that healing process.”

Team doctors and trainers did what they could to accelerate that healing, and Watford did everything he could to follow their instructions. The fact the injury came to his non-shooting hand helped.

Remember, Watford is a guy who basically averages 17 points and six rebounds a game. As a freshman his numbers were 12.0 and 6.0. He's shooting better overall (43.0 percent from 37.5 percent), from three-point range (38.9 percent from 31.9 percent) and from the line (83.5 percent from 80.0 percent). His assists are way up (31 from 18) and his turnovers are down. He isn't blocking quite as many shots, but that's because he's playing more of a perimeter role this season.

Oh. Watford rivals Jordan Hulls for the Hoosier you most don't want to foul. Hulls has made 30 straight free throws.

With Watford back and Verdell Jones recovered from his inflamed knee the Hoosiers are back at full strength. Check that. They are back as much as they can be without Maurice Creek, who is out for the season after knee surgery. Still, this will help down the stretch.

IU (12-14) has five more games remaining, three at home. None of these games will be easy. Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin are at home. Ohio State and Illinois are on the road.

Winning will require effort and tenacity. It also will require following the game plan. Crean said the strategy against Michigan was to attack the rim. The game started and IU launched a couple of three-pointers.

Granted, the Wolverines’ defense dictated some of that, but opposing defenses always try to dictate. You can’t let that happen. With Watford back, maybe the Hoosiers can do more dictating of their own.

1 comment:

  1. Bye bye NIT. It pains me to say it, but if we were to have any hope of making the NIT we needed this win. Now we would have to take 4 out of 5 to go into the BTT with a winning record. Three out of five, and 2-1 in the BTT gets us an even 17-17 record, but I just don't see that happening. I really like the progress we have seen with this team this year, and extra post season practice would have helped even more.