With the best start since the 2013-2014 season, the 5-0 Hoosiers continue their month of tuneup games against some of the KenPom’s lowest ranked opponents. Although Indiana may not yet have been tested to the fullest, we can already extrapolate and project for this squad from the young season so far.
Here are five things that we have learned about this team through five regular season contests.
1. Indiana is 11 deep and all scholarship players will get minutes
Last year’s Hoosiers will never know the full potential they could have reached. Jerome Hunter sat out the entire year due to a leg condition, both Race Thompson and Rob Phinisee missed extended periods due to concussions, and don’t forget Devonte Green‘s three game suspension right in the middle of Indiana’s losing streak. We later learned that Romeo Langford played through a wrist injury that he later fixed through surgery after the season.
The injury bug has already bit this season, specifically with injuries to Indiana’s backfield, but the difference has been that these injuries are short-term. In fact, all 11 scholarship players have already played in a game this season and with November’s relatively easy schedule, right now is the best time to “manage their minutes.”
As Archie Miller has stated on multiple occasions, the silver lining behind the injuries is the ability to give minutes to players like Armaan Franklin, Damezi Anderson, and Jerome Hunter. And all three have taken advantage of that opportunity to prove themselves as college players and to also show that Indiana might be one of the deepest teams in the conference.
Take Franklin for example. He filled in for the Hoosiers backfield right away and has started every game this season, which was not the original day one plan. The freshman has played above the expectations of the staff through his ability to run the floor, initiate the offense, and minimize turnovers. He still has his freshman moments, but Miller has been very impressed with what he has seen out of the Cathedral guard. With just Phinisee, Green, and Durham as the other guards on the roster, Franklin will surely get his time on the court.
You get sustainability through injuries with 11 scholarship players that have proven they can all give you valuable minutes. This will come into play later into the season.
2. The Hoosiers’ front court is the real deal
Indiana has notably excelled in the front court, which comes to no surprise for anyone that has been following the program. Indiana added five-star McDonald’s All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis, graduate transfer Joey Brunk, and they returned redshirt sophomore Race Thompson and senior De’Ron Davis. That set of bigs are extremely important for how Archie Miller wants to run the offense this season.
Those four have been Indiana’s primary options in the paint. Jackson-Davis continues to shine as a true freshman. He has stepped in day one for the Hoosiers and he has been surprisingly ready for the college game. The combination of his bounce and athleticism has made him a focal point of the Hoosier offense right away this season, averaging 13.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. On defense, Jackson-Davis has handled smaller opponents fairly well and he even held his own against Princeton senior Richmond Aririguzoh, but he will need to continue to improve as Indiana begins planning against tougher opponents and eventually conference play.
While Brunk will likely not be the most athletic player on the court, he adds value through hustle and persistence on plays. He showcased those qualities in Indiana’s most recent game against Princeton, where Brunk tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in his best game wearing a Cream and Crimson jersey. When he has the rock, he has developed the necessarily footwork to throw opponents in the paint off-balance for an open look at the rim. Brunk has not been particularly great at finishing his shots, but he is always there fighting for the offensive rebound if he misses.
Among the returnees, Davis has had the slowest start to the season among the four. Between dealing with some minor injuries, Davis has not been able to establish himself in any of the first five games. He has provided great minutes and he is the bruiser than Indiana fans remember from the Duke game; however, he seems to be lower on the depth chart at this time.
Thompson, on the other hand, has been a refreshing surprise and he has found a way to earn significant minutes within a crowded front-court. Don’t let the box score deceive you – the Minnesota native has been impactful for the Hoosiers in all of the areas except scoring: defense, rebounding, second-chance points, etc.
3. Indiana will eat at the free throw line
The Hoosiers are ranked top five nationally in free throw rate, which calculates the number of times a team goes to the free throw line relative to the number of field goals they take. Currently, Indiana has a free throw rate of 50.5%, meaning they go to the once for every two shots they take on the floor. 24.5% of Indiana’s total points is coming from the free throw line. Think about that, almost a quarter of the Hoosiers’ points are earned by shooting freebies.
Indiana is only behind Murray State, Western Michigan, Kentucky, and New Mexico in that category.
What is causing the increased free throw rate? Well, first it’s because of what we mentioned right above: Indiana’s bigs. The front court has been very hard for smaller teams to deal with considering their size. Instead of guarding Jackson-Davis or Brunk straight up, the first five opposing teams have resorted to fouling as the main defense.
To amplify the impact of free throw even further, Indiana’s free throw shooting percentage has also improved significantly. They are converting 75.5% of free throws on the season. Of course, that number may decrease as the Hoosiers begin to play road games in tougher environments, but it has been promising to watch players like Jackson-Davis and Justin Smith shoot over 70%. Even Thompson has been quietly shooting 92.9% on 13 of 14 free throws.
For reference, Indiana shot around 65% in the first two years under coach Miller. Albeit, these numbers are high for an Archie Miller coached team. Miller’s teams have only shot above 70% at the charity stripe just three times in his nine-year head coaching career.
4. This team is trending to become the best rebounding group among Archie Miller teams
Rebounds and turnovers. According to Miller, if the Hoosiers can control the glass and reduce turnovers, Indiana will be a successful team. Otherwise, they’re “done.”
The new-look Indiana frontcourt has immediately brought size into the paint, and with that, they have been successful at battling for rebounding position. It also helps that Brunk, Jackson-Davis, and Thompson are particularly skilled at hounding the ball after shots.
Indiana is currently averaging 40.2 rebounds per game and is giving up 28.4 to their opponents. In the offensive rebounding percentage category, the Hoosiers rank in the top 20 in the nation at 37.8%. That number is the highest for Miller across all of his teams that he has coached.
Archie Miller seems to have changed his philosophy on offensive rebounds. In the past, he has been known to prefer players to run and get back on defense after a shot. The priority was to defend the fastbreak, rather than stick around on the offense end to fight for the board.
For this team, Miller is deviating from one of his past core coaching philosophies and willing to adapt to the roster of players he has at his disposal.
5. Balanced scoring might be IU’s best chance at a deep run
For a team without Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, the only true scorer on the team right now is Devonte Green. What we have learned during Green’s time off the court is that this Indiana team is able to facilitate the offense through their entire group of scholarship players.
In fact, Indiana has had at least ten Hoosiers score in each of of their first five games with the exception of the Portland State game where only eight Hoosiers scored. Considering Indiana has not been at full strength with at least one scholarship player sitting in each game so far, that means that the staff has gotten the whole team involved.
The simple truth is that the Hoosiers do not have any stars. Whether you check preseason All-Big Ten lists or rankings of the top players in college basketball, Indiana does not have any single player that truly stands out like Langford did last season.
But that’s not a bad thing, and in fact, one can argue that it could even be a good thing. Now, the team is no longer reliant on a single star like Morgan to get you 20 points for a single game. By not having all of your scoring eggs in one basket and by having a team that’s as deep as they’ve shown, Indiana can better endure off-games by certain players. If the backend of Indiana’s depth chart continues to impress through the conference season, the Hoosiers’ balanced scoring can be a difference maker in March.
Expect box scores on a given night to have anywhere from eight to ten Hoosiers between six and 18 points.
Featured Photo: IndianaHQ / Anna Tiplick