Ordinarily we would tell you to not overly concern yourself with the starting lineup.
In general, it’s often merely a suggestion, and doesn’t necessarily reflect what is to come throughout the game.
But then there is this:
- vs. Ohio State: 11-2
- vs. Iowa: 9-2
- vs. Michigan: 20-2
- at Purdue: 11-2
- vs. Nebraska: 26-9
- at Michigan: 30-13
- vs. Illinois: 25-15
- at Penn State: 9-0
Those are Indiana’s starts to 8 of their 13 Big Ten contests thus far.
To be sure, there were a couple good starts to games interspersed in that mess. But those bad starts should happen once or twice in a season. By and large, Indiana has been an unmitigated disaster from the opening tip this year, including their last two contests — both home losses where the starts likely cost them the game.
And at this point we don’t need to tell you — you should overly concern yourselves with the start of games, and what is now more than just a trend — it is a fact of life.
Due to a rash of injuries that in large part hijacked this season, Indiana has had very little flexibility in terms of making adjustments to its starting lineup.
That is no longer the case, and the time is now to make two changes.
DE’RON DAVIS SHOULD CLEARLY BE STARTING
If there has been any good news to emerge during a stretch that has seen IU lose 9 of 10 games, it is the return to health and good play of junior forward De’Ron Davis.
The Colorado native has been back up and running for three games now, and the trend is clear. Davis has played a total of 65 minutes in those three games, and his plus/minus is +21.
Now we would be the first to admit that plus/minus is a bit of a throw away stat, at least at a micro level like individual games. But at the same time, when that measure supports what we all believe we are seeing with our own eyes, it just further substantiates what is becoming clear —
Indiana is better with De’Ron Davis on the floor.
While it was too late, IU head coach Archie Miller seemed to acknowledge that after the loss to Ohio State:
“De’Ron I thought was a big added bonus for us in the game. Again, he continues to play good minutes for us, so to have him in the game there maybe in those last two or three minutes with Juwan could have potentially helped us in a couple of those situations, but we didn’t have him in there.”
Both the numbers and Miller back it up — Davis makes Indiana a better team. And there is no time during games that Indiana needs to be better right now than at the beginning.
The 6-foot-10 forward brings a lot of intangibles to the lineup. By drawing the assignment of the biggest player on the opposing team, he takes that burden off of Juwan Morgan, allowing Indiana’s senior co-captain to play his more natural four position and exploit mismatches. Rather than having a Jon Teske/Ethan Happ type on Morgan, he’ll have someone that he is more likely to beat in the paint, and IU can use high / low actions with Davis and Morgan to create those opportunities.
Davis has shown unique ability as a passer out of the post. With 13 assists over the last three games, he is far and away IU’s leader in that regard since returning from an ankle injury. With opposing bigs forced to respect his post skills, Davis can divert attention away from his teammates diving to the rim and he can also get the ball back out to the perimeter, forcing the defense to scramble into rotations.
More than anything — sometimes Indiana just needs a bucket. At 61.5% from the field on the season, Davis has shown repeatedly that he can be that guy.
DEVONTE GREEN SHOULD BE STARTING TOO
We say this one with less conviction. We know the mere mention of his name strangely upsets some people. You should get help for that. You really should.
The one clear issue at the start of these games has been the offense. Indiana needs to have its best five offensive players on the floor to start games right now. It’s just that simple.
Right now, those five players are quite clearly Green, Davis, Morgan, Romeo Langford and Al Durham.
This shouldn’t be read as a condemnation of Rob Phinisee. He is without a doubt the future of this program. We see him as a 15 point / 5 assist guy by the time he is a junior. But let’s face it. He has hit a wall. Phinisee hasn’t been the same since returning from a prolonged stay in concussion protocol.
The freshman point guard has just 15 assists in his nine games since returning, or less than two a game. From the field he is just 16 for 59 (27%) in those games.
The risk/reward with Green is well documented. He is clearly not a panacea here. There will be turnovers and other questionable moments.
But he has been hitting big shots lately, including against Michigan State and Ohio State. For the most part Green has returned from suspension with the look of a determined and confident player. Green’s energy on defense has been better recently as well.
The New York native is also the best player on the team at feeding the post, which plays right into having both Davis and Morgan on the floor at the start of games.
At this point, there is really no reason to continue on with the status quo. It is time to shake things up.
It is time to put three upperclassmen out on the floor at the start of games along side your leading scorer in Langford and your best energy guy in Durham.
The Phinisee and Justin Smith duo makes for a pretty talented combination to bring off the bench. Each of their games need a spark right now, and perhaps coming in as a reserve will do the trick.
While most likely agree with the notion of starting Davis, we suspect there is division as it relates to Green.
We can have that debate. However, after losing 9 of 10, one thing is clear.
Perhaps we are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic here, but at this point, there is nothing to lose.
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