A quick look at the rosters of some of the title contenders in the Big Ten tell a frightening Halloween story.
Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson is 7-foot-1, 260 pounds. Purdue’s Zach Edey is 7-foot-4 and 295 pounds, and he dwarfs their other massive big man, 6-foot-10 and 255 pound Trevion Williams. Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn is 7-foot, 285 pounds. They all should figure prominently in the 2021-22 league race.
Michigan State doesn’t have a dominant big man, but they’ve got 15 fouls to throw your way in Marcus Bingham (7-foot, 230 pounds), Julius Marble (6-foot-9, 245 pounds), and Mady Sissoko (6-foot-9, 235 pounds).
Meanwhile Ohio State and Maryland had the same realization as Indiana — if you don’t have that kind of size, you better go find it. The Terrapins went out and got 6-foot-11, 245 pound center Qudus Wahab from Georgetown in the transfer portal, and the Buckeyes grabbed the player many thought would be IU’s answer to all this Big Ten size last year — 6-foot-11 and 255 pound Joey Brunk.
Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis is big at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, but he gives up several inches to many of these guys. He looks like a guard when standing next to Edey. Jackson-Davis is on the record saying Brunk’s season ending back injury stunted his own development last year, with no one in practice able to challenge him with size or length. And there were indeed times last season when Jackson-Davis struggled against size.
No one in the league has gone out and addressed their needs more in the transfer portal than Indiana — ask Archie Miller if you doubt that. A quick conclusion reached by the new IU staff led by Mike Woodson was that this 2021-22 edition of the Hoosiers was going to need to be able to match all of that size.
“As we navigate through the Big Ten you’ve got a lot of big bodies on all these teams and we’ve gotta be able to have big bodies to be able to match some of these big time players,” Woodson said at the Big Ten’s media day.
Indiana’s solution was South Florida transfer Michael Durr, Indiana’s first 7-footer since Cody Zeller. For his career in three seasons, he averaged 6.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots. He started 85 of the 87 games he played in for the Bulls.
Durr can return to Indiana for a fifth season in 2022-23, and his plan whether this year or next is to prove he can be a factor at the high major level.
“I feel like I got better every year. I improved my skills. I just need to prove myself in this conference,” Durr said at Indiana’s media day.
Officially listed at 7-foot and 250 pounds, Durr was pushing Jackson-Davis in practice before a knee injury put him on the shelf in the summer. But the benefits run both ways. If Durr does in fact prove himself at this level and go on to a professional career, no doubt part of the equation will be his development against someone of Jackson-Davis’ caliber.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Durr said of battling with Jackson-Davis. “You don’t always get a chance to play against someone who is really good in practice everyday. I feel like with that being the case, we’re both able to go hard everyday and make each other better, which is something the coaches wanted both of us to do from the jump and I feel like when we’re in practice we’re doing a good job of doing that.”
Durr didn’t play in The Bahamas, and he wasn’t part of Hoosier Hysteria, the two times the team has been seen by the public. While it won’t be a surprise if he continues to not be active as the team opens play on Nov. 9, there are no indications that Durr is dealing with anything long-term.
“He will play,” Woodson said. “He’ll be a great addition to Trayce, Race and big Logan in terms of pushing practice. I thought early on he made Trayce really have to work when he caught the ball down low, and you need that.”
When he plays Durr should be able to add a lot to Indiana’s rotation. Woodson wants to be a perimeter-oriented team, but there is some level of realization that playing to their strengths might at times necessitate a different approach.
“I mean, we can’t live by (the 3-pointer) — you got to have a mixture,” Woodson said. “The beauty about our team is we do have a nice couple of low post guys, three as a matter of fact with Race, Trayce and big Mike that can demand the ball inside some. We’re going to have to play some inside-out.”
In addition to giving IU a body against all that Big Ten size, Durr should also help Jackson-Davis stay out of foul trouble, and allow Indiana’s bigs to keep their minutes in check and thus optimized,
Although Durr made just 4-of-20 3-pointers last year, both he and his teammates believe he can also be part of the outside-in equation.
“I’m comfortable shooting mid-range and three,” Durr said. “I improved that last year and showed that I can do that last year. So this year I intend to to do the same thing and bring that to this team, being a big who can stretch the floor and score inside.”
Everyone on this team will be given a chance to show they can shoot from long-range, including Durr. If he can make them it will just be a major bonus, much like Max Bielfeldt in 2016. But that wasn’t why Durr was brought to Bloomington, and he knows that.
“I feel like I can bring a big guy that can score down low and rebound, and also play defense,” Durr said.
More 2021-22 Player Previews:
- Xavier Johnson can change the game with his speed.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis can improve even without the jump shot and right hand
- Race Thompson is expected to shoot the ball
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