Indiana Hoosiers season in review: Christian Watford.

Now that the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over, with only two Big Ten teams and one Indiana team remaining in the NCAA Tournament, it's time to take a look back at the 2010-11 basketball season.  This season was, by the ultimate measure of wins and losses, a disappointment.  IU improved from 10 wins to 12 overall but dropped from four Big Ten wins to three.  Still, I've said it before and will go into more detail later, this team was better in some important respects.  Before taking a look at the big picture, I'll be giving a rundown of the individual performances this season. 

Other than Verdell Jones III, perhaps no Hoosier has been the subject of as much disagreement in the IU fan base as Christian Watford.  Watford was the second-highest rated of IU's 2009 recruiting class, and because Maurice Creek has played in only 5 of 36 Big Ten games, Watford has been expected to be the star. 

Here is Watford's StatSheet page.  At first glance, Watford appears to have improved meaningfully.  Watford improved his scoring from 12 points per game to 16 points per game, his shooting percentage from 37 to 42, his three point percentage from 32 to 38, and his free throw shooting from 80 to 84 percent.  His rebounds, unfortunately, dipped by one per game, from 6 to 5. 

A look at Watford's stats from conference games only, however, provides more of a mixed bag.  In Big Ten games, comparing his sophomore year to his freshman year, Watford improved his shooting percentage just a touch, from 36.3 to 37.5.  He did show a meaningful increase in three point shooting, from 32 percent to 37 percent, and in free throw shooting, from 77 percent to a nearly automatic 85 percent.  His points per game increased to 14 from 12.  His turnover percentage went down slightly, but so did his rebounds per game.  Still, the tempo-free stats show that Watford played a bigger role in the offense as a sophomore than as a freshman.  His possessions used increased to 27 percent from 25 percent, and his "effective field goal percentage," a measure that takes into account points accumulated behind the arc and at the line, was 44.3, up from 38.6.  Still, that was only #36 in the Big Ten, which is a bit troubling for a player who led IU in scoring.  Finally, it's worth noting that Watford missed three conference games because of injury.

Watford is in many respects playing out of position.  The post players on the roster have underperformed, and the numbers and the eyeball test make clear that Watford is not a player who is terribly aggressive on the interior.  His rebounding numbers actually decreased this season.  In the long run, as an offensive player, Watford, at least in his current state, would benefit from being able to play on the perimeter to a greater degree.  He has a nice outside shot, and could create matchup problems for opposing defenders. On the other hand, based on what we have seen from Watford, is he ever going to be able to guard the 3 in the Big Ten with any effectiveness?  Are his ball handling skills good enough to play on the wing?

Unfortunately, even with Cody Zeller on the way, IU still will be thin on the interior.  A stronger Watford, one who can earn some more rebounds, would be a big help.  Watford's greatest strength as a player right now is at the free throw line.  If he becomes strong enough to hold his own inside, his strength at the line could make him very dangerous.  I suppose that is the big question with Watford.  Is he an interior player?  Does he want to be?  Will he be?  I really don't know the answer.  Watford is an intriguing talent, but he is in some respects, at least to my feeble mind, something of a man without a position.  Despite all that, he's a big guy with good shooting ability.  In all my time as an IU fan, I have never had more confidence in a free throw shooter who is as tall as Watford.  I still think big things could happen for him, but I'm not exactly sure how.

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