Despite some disappointing efforts of late by Indiana’s starting five, don’t expect any changes when the Hoosiers host Penn State on Wednesday evening.
IU has used the same starting lineup — Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, Miller Kopp, Parker Stewart, and Xavier Johnson in all but one of its 19 games this season. The lone exception was a game that Stewart was ostensibly suspended from playing in for the first half.
While Indiana is 14-5, it is fair to say the first five has been erratic throughout the season, unable to string together consistent performances — especially against high major competition.
They let a 12-point halftime lead largely built up after subs came in turn into a 5-point lead just two minutes into the second half against St. John’s. They dug a 7-point early hole at Syracuse that put the Hoosiers on their heels.
Indiana fell behind by eight at home against Nebraska to open the game. The results were mixed at Wisconsin as IU got off to a good start in the first half but the starters were ineffective after the break. Indiana only finally pulled away to beat Ohio State and Minnesota with subs on the floor in the second half.
Over the last two games you can go further. IU’s starting unit has been bad.
Before Indiana’s initial first half substitution against Purdue, the Hoosiers trailed 12-8. Trayce Jackson-Davis was forced out with a third foul just 2:12 into the second half, and already the starting five had been outscored 7-2 after halftime. That’s a combined 19-10 deficit to start halves in a game IU won by three.
Indiana was down 14-7 in the first half before its first substitution against Michigan, and the starting five was outscored 12-6 before subs entered the game in the second half. This time their collective deficit as starters was 26-13, accounting for most of the final 18-point margin in the game, in just 10:24 of time off the clock.
Despite the early half hiccups, head coach Mike Woodson says he is sticking with his starters for now, while acknowledging their poor play.
“In our last seven games our starters have been awful from a plus/minus but we’re 5-2,” Woodson told Don Fischer on his radio show on Monday evening.
Indiana is actually 4-3 over those contests, and slow starts to halves have been a strong theme if not an absolute over that span.
“I’ve got to get these guys to understand that we’ve got to get off to better starts,” Woodson said. “I’m not in no panic mode or anything like that. The bottom line is, it ain’t who starts, it’s who finishes games in terms of helping us win games, and our starters have just gotta pick it up, and if not, then I have to make a decision.”
Woodson’s point about finishing games is reflected in the minutes. Trey Galloway (21.3) and Rob Phinisee’s (21.5) minutes per game have been about the same as Kopp (20.3) and Stewart (22.5) over the last six contests since Galloway returned from injury. Galloway and Phinisee have seen larger roles in the second half and have often been on the floor at crunch time.
According to EvanMiya.com, the starting five of Jackson-Davis, Thompson, Kopp, Stewart and Johnson is just IU’s eighth most effective lineup with 20 or more possessions when measured by efficiency margin — adjusted offensive efficiency minus adjusted defensive efficiency. The problem with that data as it stands is that the starting five has a massive sample size and the other lineups do not — so they are only theoretically more effective. It is also worth noting that the starting five is going up against the other team’s best five most of the time.
Of lineups with at least 20 offensive and defensive possessions, the best unit is Jackson-Davis, Thompson, Galloway, Phinisee and Johnson. That group is averaging 1.22 points per possession while allowing just .38. The quintet is easily IU’s best defensive unit according to the data and has been used as Woodson’s closing five at times since Galloway returned from injury.
Jackson-Davis is part of all seven lineups better than the starting five, Race Thompson six, and Xavier Johnson five. Seemingly any new starting five would continue to include those three.
Rob Phinisee is part of four of the top seven, Tamar Bates four, and Trey Galloway three. They are the most likely candidates to replace Stewart and/or Kopp if an adjustment were to be made. Phinisee, while the hero against Purdue has been inconsistent on the offensive end however, and Bates has been in a extended slump of late.
Galloway is worth examining more closely, however, because he has only played in nine games, with seven coming against high major competition. The rest of his teammates have played a proportionately much higher percentage of their games against lower level competition, providing for many more opportunities to build higher efficiency margins when they have been on the floor.
If a change is made at some point, inserting Galloway for Kopp might be the best solution. Stewart and Kopp are Indiana’s best shooters among the main rotation players, but they are also the worst defenders. Getting them in separate lineups more often might help balance things out.
But change doesn’t appear to be on the immediate horizon.
Nor does additional minutes from the three on the end of the bench right now — Anthony Leal, Khristian Lander and Logan Duncomb.
Woodson was also asked by Fischer whether he might consider expanding the rotation.
“We’ve been playing nine guys,” Woodson said. “I think that’s more than enough. We played nine guys against Purdue and we were just fine. I’m sticking to my nine, I may go 10 here or there, it all depends on what the game presents.”
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