The Daily Hoosier spent the week down in The Bahamas in connection with IU basketball’s foreign tour and had several opportunities to see the team in action. Since nothing was televised and not everything was public, we are going to go player-by-player in jersey number order to share our thoughts on what we saw and what to expect from Indiana’s 2021-22 roster.
For the first time in his IU career, Rob Phinisee has serious competition at the point guard position. But even if the presence of Xavier Johnson means Phinisee is likely to see the floor less in 2021-22, he still might be a better player than who we’ve seen to this point. There are several reasons why, and Phinisee believes Johnson is actually one of them.
“Just being able to guard him at practice, he’s super dynamic, super quick,” Phinisee said of Johnson right before The Bahamas trip. “I feel like there’s not a lot of Big Ten guards like him once we get to playing.”
In the first game at the Atlantis on Friday night, Phinisee entered the game quickly off the bench in the first half with Johnson in foul trouble, and he really did look like a new player on both ends of the floor. At times Phinisee has been too passive on the offensive end, but he pushed the pace in transition and played with an attacking mindset in the half court. BC Mega’s defenders struggled mightily to stay in front of him and in many ways there seemed to be no drop off from Johnson as Phinisee looked as aggressive as ever. Phinisee also defended at a very high level. Fully healthy and often picking up the ball full court, BC Mega never got comfortable in their offense, and with Phinisee in the game IU started to pull away. He was +10 in the plus/minus at halftime.
But there were times on Sunday, especially during a first half scoring drought, where Phinisee seemed to take his foot off the gas offensively as he has been known to do. With BC Mega more determined to slow IU’s transition attack, Phinisee didn’t attack as aggressively and let BC Mega dictate the game’s pace.
After an early 12-2 IU lead, BC Mega closed to within 26-25 as the Hoosiers scored just eight points in nearly eight minutes. Most of that stretch was with Phinisee in the game, and it was a span where the senior point guard wasn’t looking to get downhill and get to the paint.
Those are precisely the stretches Phinisee needs to avoid if he wants to take step forward this year. And the reason that particular span was concerning is that it very much had the feel of both a physical, half court Big Ten game — and the way IU has struggled offensively in those game over the last few years. Collectively, Indiana was stagnant offensively, didn’t impose their will, and Phinisee couldn’t drag them out of the mud. He was better in the second half but the team was still -5 in the points column on the day with Phinisee on the court compared to Johnson’s +24.
But it doesn’t make too much sense to dwell on what Phinisee didn’t do at times as a playmaker when he produced nine assists against just three turnovers overall in the two games. You’ll take that production all day long, especially if we are talking about the backup point guard. And that two-game performance was on the heels of a six assist, zero turnover effort in a closed scrimmage in Bloomington.
So Phinisee is taking care of the ball and setting up his teammates. He just needs to keep pushing the envelope in terms of being aggressive — while not sacrificing too much ball security. Maybe what we saw was the engima that Phinisee has always been at IU, or perhaps he is a work-in-process, still exorcising the demons of Archie Miller’s offense. We will have to wait until November to know for sure.
If there was really something to concern yourself with when it came to Phinisee’s weekend it was his shooting performance. He said he came into the trip more relaxed and confident in head coach Mike Woodson’s system, and Woodson seemed to agree. But Phinisee’s 2-for-12 tally from the field including an 0-for-4 effort from behind-the-arc leaves you wondering.
On the plus side Phinisee genuinely looked confident shooting the basketball. There were no “what the heck was that” airball moments, and you expected his shots to go in until they didn’t. There is no reason to count Phinisee out until he plays his last game in an IU uniform, but it is reasonable to wonder if it will ever click for the career 36 percent shooter.
Phinisee’s defense doesn’t need much elaboration. As most Indiana fans know by now, he has excellent lateral quickness and is very effective guarding the ball.
Veteran BC Mega point guard Scoochie Smith was just 5-of-15 from the field with 7 turnovers over the two games. Obviously Johnson had a hand in those numbers, but Phinisee was every bit as impactful on the defensive end, if not better.
I can’t base it on anything specific, but I have a suspicion that Woodson’s more aggressive defense with a little less thinking in the half court is going to make Phinisee an even better defender. Perhaps he’ll even benefit by having fresher legs due to playing less minutes. It at least seems clear that IU is going to be a menace on the ball for 40 minutes.
Also, for what it’s worth, that picture at the top wasn’t just a lucky shot. I’ve been around Phinisee a lot over the last three years, and I’ve never seen him more loose and happy than what I saw over the last week, on and off the court. Perhaps it was just because it is August and he was in The Bahamas. But maybe like Trayce Jackson-Davis said, there is a whole new vibe on this team.
The bottom line is this when it comes to the Lafayette product. Even Phinisee does end up being the backup point guard, Indiana fans should feel pretty good about that. Few teams are going to have a better primary ball handler and on the ball defender coming off the bench.
If it turns out that way, Rob Phinisee vs. everyone else’s backup point guard should prove to be a major advantage for Indiana.
ROB PHINISEE’S STATS IN THE BAHAMAS
- Game one: 12 minutes, 4 points, 1-6 FG, 0-2 3FG, 2-2 FT, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnover, 0 blocks, 1 steals
- Game two: 17 minutes, 2 points, 1-6 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers, 0 blocks, 0 steals
- Averages: 14.5 minutes, 3.0 points, 16.7% FG, 0.0% 3 FG, 100% FT, 2.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 0 blocks, .5 steals
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