Through nine games, Indiana has had a player reach double figures in points 25 times.
Only four of those efforts have come from senior guard Al Durham and his former fellow starter in the backcourt, junior Rob Phinisee.
All the college basketball clichés — getting old and staying old, having a veteran backcourt — pointed to a promising season for Indiana as the Hoosiers appeared primed to put a veteran group around Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Now just two games into the Big Ten season, one of the veteran guards has lost his shooting stroke, and the other, his spot in the starting lineup.
Head coach Archie Miller told us last season that he would only make a change to his starting lineup if it was “a movement of strength not out of a movement of weakness.”
We’ll take the coach at his word and accept that right now he believes his team is in a net better position by getting younger and starting freshman Trey Galloway. There is certainly a lot to like about Galloway’s game and the outlook for his career.
But no change happens in a vacuum.
Galloway’s insertion into the starting five of course meant that Phinisee became a reserve.
Phinisee was by no means completely benched. He saw 17 minutes of action on Saturday at Illinois as a sub. But that was a substantial step down from how Phinisee started the season.
Through the first two games the Lafayette, Ind. product was averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 assists per game while committing no turnovers and shooting 9-of-13 from the field. Since then Phinisee has just 11 assists against 9 turnovers over the last seven games.
Phinisee has only scored 5.3 points per game over those last seven contests while making just 10-of-37 from the field (27 percent) over that stretch.
While the move to insert Galloway into the starting five might have been one of strength in the aggregate, part of the equation is undeniably Phinisee’s slide. That is something that Miller was willing to acknowledge on Monday night.
The bottom line? Phinisee’s slump is dragging him down — and because he is so important, in some respects he is taking the team with him.
“It’s not so much with his offense, or how many points did he score, but it’s Rob’s mindset and how he’s playing,” Miller said on his radio show on Monday. “You can tell when Rob really has an impact on the game on both ends. He makes guys better. He gets transition going. Defensively he’s making things happen. You can’t let not making a shot or not playing that well impact other things. We need Rob doing a lot for us.”
Indiana could likely have absorbed a Phinisee slump and avoided its current run of four losses over its last seven contests.
But his fellow backcourt veteran Durham has been dealing with his own challenges.
Since he left the Texas game with a sprained ankle, Durham has made only 4 of his last 19 attempts from three-point range.
“I think Al will come around,” Miller said. “I think sometimes you worry a little too much about your shot. He’s not shooting the ball particularly well right now but when guys stick with it that will usually come around and be a big pickup for us. We need Al to step up his scoring just a little bit for us just to give us another guy that can shoot the ball.”
There is hope that the Georgia product can shoot his way out. Durham had 3-of-16 and 3-of-13 stretches last season and still managed to emerge from those slumps and shoot 38.3 percent from long range for the 2019-20 campaign.
But if Indiana wants to avoid an 0-3 Big Ten hole, or worse, Miller needs both of his veterans to snap out of their respective funks right now.
“There’s no question about it that Rob and Al have got to get rolling here,” Miller said. “In terms of their consistency, number one, and I think in terms of their production, it has got to be overall solid play. Both guys right now aren’t playing their best, and it’s probably a little bit more confidence than it is anything right now.
“I think Al’s attitude is great. I think Rob’s working hard. But we need both guys to raise it up, because they’ve played the most minutes on the team. They have the most starts on the team. There isn’t anybody that’s older. And we need those guys to play like that. I think that’s where we’re at with them — and they know that. I think both guys came ready today (Monday), and I thought both guy’s attitudes and mindsets were good.”
As it stands, Indiana is a little too easy to defend right now.
Jackson-Davis has been in double figures every game, and Armaan Franklin five of the last six contests. But as a team, Indiana’s offense has been inefficient and they’ve lost 4 of their last 7 games.
Whether it is Phinisee, Durham, Galloway, or someone else, Miller knows that others are going to have to step up their production levels and leave a bigger imprint on games going forward.
“We need three or four guys to play solid and good basketball for us,” Miller said. “Especially our veteran guys. And that will really raise our team’s profile in terms of who you have to stop and what you have to do to beat us.”
Indiana has seemed to wear down over the course of its first two Big Ten games, and Miller hinted that an expanded role from its bench — including freshmen Anthony Leal, Khristian Lander and Jordan Geronimo, is part of the solution going forward.
“There’s no question as we get into Wednesday night, we expect every single guy on our team to get in there and help us,” he said. “We’re going to need more guys, and I think it’s very, very important for our team’s growth.”
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