Archie Miller wasn’t lying. Perhaps he was being a little coy, but he wasn’t lying.
The second year Hoosier head coach said this on Friday afternoon to a pool of reporters in response to a question on the health of junior forward De’Ron Davis:
“We’re looking at De’Ron as that February target of trying to get back in the mix, so I think he’s going to start to really try to jump back in, so to speak, into practice.”
He did say February target — and Indiana’s game against Michigan State was in February. But that sure didn’t sound like a coach who was ready to say that Davis might play big minutes the next day.
Of course it is possible that Davis woke up Saturday morning miraculously recovered.
Or more likely, Miller knew how valuable the Colorado native was to Indiana’s game plan — and wasn’t interested in letting Michigan State in on his little secret.
Davis wasn’t the only IU junior that returned to action on Saturday night.
Guard Devonte Green was cleared to return for the game against the Spartans after serving a three game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
While Hoosier fans were glad to see the return of both upperclassmen, no one could have imagined how critical they would end up being during IU’s stunning 79-75 overtime upset of Michigan State.
Davis had already made his surprising entrance into the game when senior co-captain Juwan Morgan went down in the first half with a shoulder injury. Whatever was expected of the Colorado native against the Spartans would have to be ramped up considerably with Morgan unable to go.
Meanwhile, starting point guard Rob Phinisee was having an off night. Dealing with likely All-American Cassius Winston, the freshman found himself in foul trouble and a bit out of sorts. Whatever Green was was capable of mentally and physically coming off of suspension would be tested.
While it was reasonable to question what you might get from the returning upperclassmen, the results really shouldn’t have been so surprising.
Because here’s the thing — Indiana (13-9) has only lost one game (Duke) all year when Davis and Green have both played five or more minutes.
To be sure, there haven’t been many of those games.
Green didn’t play against Arkansas. Davis didn’t play at Michigan, and gave it very brief trials runs against Maryland, Nebraska and Purdue before it became painfully clear that he wasn’t healthy.
Neither Green nor Davis played at Northwestern, at home against Michigan, or at Rutgers.
But they both did play meaningful minutes against Louisville and Butler, and now of course, against Michigan State.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter recently said this when he was asked about his recent run of success against the Hoosiers after a win over IU last month:
“You have to keep being old in this business, and when you can’t, it’s hard.”
Indiana was a relatively young team coming into the season, but with the injuries to Davis and Green and the suspension, the Hoosiers had become really young in recent weeks. According to KenPom, Indiana has put the 282nd oldest team in the country (out of 353) on the floor this year. That number is significantly impacted by the extended absences of Davis, Green and others like Zach McRoberts.
The Davis/Green duo has a year under their belts in Miller’s system and they’ve been through the grind of the Big Ten. For the entirety of the seven game losing streak, one or both of them, and all of that experience, has been sitting on the bench.
Oh, and they are both pretty good too.
Davis has always had a soft touch around the basket, and this year he is making more than 60% of his shots. At 6-foot-10 and 255 pounds, he is able to bang with opposing big men which frees up Morgan and helps keep him from getting fatigued.
While not known for his prowess from the stripe, apparently Davis is a pretty clutch free throw shooter too.
You know all about Green’s potential by now. He entered the 2017-18 season with high expectations that he has only lived up to in brief stints thus far. But oh those moments, like his 19 point, 9 rebound, 6 assist and 4 steal game against Central Arkansas in December.
Green provides another ball handler — something the Hoosiers desperately need, and at 39%, he is the second best three-point shooter on the team. You might have heard that IU could use a little help in that regard.
Are Davis and Green All-Big Ten talents? No they are not. But their value to this team has been grossly underestimated.
Some will say that constant harping on injuries is an excuse. Others will say it is the story of the season. But one thing is for sure after Saturday’s stunning win over the Spartans — injuries have significantly derailed this season in a conference race with little margin for error.
So does this now mean that the Hoosiers are about to go on another seven game winning streak? Don’t bet on it, although IU does finish with six of their final nine at home. But that win in East Lansing is about as quality of a win as there is in college basketball this year.
If Morgan’s shoulder is fine, and the speculation seems to be trending in that direction, then the Hoosiers suddenly look like a completely different team than they did even just a few days ago.
The reason is upperclassmen. And Archie Miller’s secret is out.
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