Photo by Craig Bisacre/Indiana Athletics

IU Basketball: Hoosiers’ 6-0 Start is Still Missing the Point

If it comes to it, Indiana head coach Archie Miller has a last resort option to get his point guard feeling better and back out on the court.

“I told him after the game, grab five Advil, get a piece of tape and tape them all over your body because maybe that’s the only thing we can do is tape it to him and he can absorb it, I don’t know,” Miller said on Monday night after Indiana’s 88-75 win over Louisiana Tech.

Miller was of course talking about sophomore Rob Phinisee.   The Lafayette product missed Monday’s game, he missed the game against Troy, and really, Phinisee hasn’t been 100 percent all season.

Dealing with an abdominal issue that occurred even before Hoosier Hysteria on Oct. 5, Phinisee missed most of IU’s preseason practices along with their exhibition games.  Widely understood to be the team’s starting point guard, Phinisee has yet to start this season and he has only played more than 22 minutes in a game once.

One of just four scholarship guards on Indiana’s roster and the only true point guard, Phinisee is not someone that IU can afford to be without.  Sure, they managed just fine against an early menu of cupcakes as IU has cruised out to a 6-0 start for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.

But Louisiana Tech was the first team that Indiana has faced this season that was ranked inside the KenPom top 100.

And on Monday night, IU had moments.  No point guard moments.

“You can’t go possession after possession of ineptness out there,” Miller said in reference to a stretch that saw his team commit nine turnovers in seven minutes to start the second half.

The third year IU head coach called out his co-captain upperclassmen guards as the culprits behind the frustrating stretch of inept play that saw the Bulldogs cut a 23 point lead down to 10.

“That’s where those two guys have to see the big picture of leadership, floor generals, command of the game. And that’s what I would like to see Devonte (Green) and Al (Durham), just talking to them after the game, whether you play well or you shoot the ball well or — there’s always that basketball-savvy, coach-on-the-floor type of mentality you have to have as a perimeter player,” Miller said.

While Green has played some point guard and Durham is a primary ball handler in training, neither truly fit the coach-on-the-floor description.

Mike Schumann / The Daily Hoosier

The only Hoosier that can comfortably make that claim was on the bench in a black sweatsuit.

“It’s related to a lot,” Miller said of the reason why Phinisee was unable to play on Monday night.  “He’s got a rib issue, an abdominal. He took a shot in the face last game…”

After falling way behind, Louisiana Tech stepped up their pressure defense significantly, extending well beyond the three-point line and aggressively denying passing lanes.

The Bulldogs’ defense brought to mind Big Ten foe Illinois, and a game where Phinisee shined as a true freshman on the road.  With 17 points, five assists and no turnovers, Phinisee handled the Illini pressure almost flawlessly back in March, and he no doubt could have gotten things under control on Monday.

Despite the fact that he is dealing with multiple ailments, Miller indicated that he was hopeful that Phinisee would be back and practicing “maybe by the middle of this week, Wednesday or Thursday.”

That’s good news for Indiana, because their shortcomings extend beyond the offensive end of the floor.

“I think you can see a stabilizing force being needed at times with our team on both ends of the floor, and that’s what he (Phinisee) is,” Miller said.

On the defensive end, Miller has been frustrated since day one with this team.  The Hoosiers have been slow to close out on shooters and late on help assignments.

An overarching issue has been an inability to extend opposing offenses late into the shot clock.

“You’re seeing very few long possessions by the other team, Miller said on Monday night.  “You’re seeing quick shots in transition. You’re seeing fouls. You’re seeing drives that relate to threes.

“The way that we play, our team has to be a team that makes the other team work on offense to get a shot.”

Over his first two seasons at IU Miller’s defenses have forced the opposition into 18.25 second possessions on average.  This year, that number has dropped to 17.1

While the difference may not seem like much, it translates to 168 spots (from No. 324 to No. 156 out of 353) in the national rankings according to KenPom.  In other words, when it comes to forcing longer possessions, Indiana’s defense has gone from being elite to mediocre.

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If you understand Miller’s pack-line defensive scheme, you know that having great on the ball defensive pressure is an underpinning of the system.

And if you know anything about Rob Phinisee, you recognize that on the ball defense was perhaps his greatest attribute as a true freshman.  Cue up memories of Phinisee getting late game stops against All-American Cassius Winston last season.

“Early in transition we’re not tough enough and strong enough to get the other team to their second side or third side. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re like get back, let’s try to guard the first side. We’re not anywhere near a Big Ten team on defense right now,” Miller said.

His defense isn’t where it needs to be right now, but Miller knows better than anyone what, or more accurately, who is missing.

“And do I think we can get there,” Miller asked himself rhetorically about his defense returning to form.  “Yeah, there’s some experience things we’ve got to get done. Rob helps that cause a lot with another guard in the back court. But we can get there and we’re going to get there. It’s just going to take some time. And we’ve got to keep obviously pushing it. It’s something we’re obviously very aware of right now.”

Miller is very aware of his team’s issues right now.

And he of course is also keenly aware of who is missing.

“He’s just had one of those unique runs, man, where he’s missed games not for one issue; he’s missed games on a number of issues. It’s not his time right now,” Miller said.

No, it hasn’t been Phinisee’s time yet during this still young 2019-20 season.

But fear not.

Desperate to get his point guard back in the fold and doing what he does best on both ends of the floor, his head coach has a plan to get Phinisee healthy.

If you see Phinisee playing on Saturday against South Dakota State and things seem to be operating a bit more smoothly, you know what did the trick.

Advil…and some tape.

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