It helps to hear it from an outside, independent voice.
Indiana’s players elected two guards as their captains for the 2019-20 season. Senior Devonte Green and junior Al Durham each have two years of experience in head coach Archie Miller’s system.
But the straw that stirs the drink that is this year’s Hoosier squad is likely going to be in the front court. BTN’s Dave Revsine clearly saw that when preparing to speak with Miller prior to Wednesday’s Big Ten Media Day in Chicago:
“One of things that stands out to me as I was thinking about what I wanted to ask you today is the different front court pieces that you have this year,” Revsine said on the BTN set. “It feels like this could be one of the best front courts in the Big Ten.”
Miller took things a step further when he addressed the media earlier in the day. At least on paper he sees a group that can set it sights even higher.
“I think with what we’ve got going on right now, I like it. I think that there’s a group that should take some pride in us having one of the best front lines in college basketball.”
Whether it is one of the best in league, the country, or both, the potential is clearly there.
First, from a sheer numbers standpoint, that’s where IU has the most bodies. Seven of the eleven scholarship players on this season’s roster are forwards.
But this is about more than just warm bodies. Unlike years past, Miller sees seven guys with size that can play.
The third year Hoosier head coach also sees something that has been seemingly hard to come by in Bloomington — legitimate Big Ten size.
Recent vintage IU teams have seen the likes of Juwan Morgan, Freddie McSwain and even Collin Hartman manning the five spot at times. The Hoosiers have seemingly always been an injury or foul trouble away from a size crisis in the paint.
This year should be different with seven guys at 6-foot-7 or taller, and three guys 6-foot-9 or taller.
That length was one of things that Miller spoke about back in May when he addressed the media.
“Adding Trayce and adding Joey to what we have really for the very first time, we have Big Ten size inside,” Miller said at Huber’s Winery.
Now that he has had more time to process things, and more additions to the stable, Miller sees a team that is going to be front-line driven.
“I think the strength of our team and some of the experience level of our team and talents, it really starts on paper with the size and the ability to hopefully play an inside game,” Miller said on Wednesday in Chicago.
What that should mean, at least on paper, is a team that is less dependent on knocking down perimeter shots.
That’s a welcome sign for a program that has finished 307th and 311th nationally over the last two years from behind the three-point line, making 32.2% and 31.2% of shots from long range in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively.
While Miller pointed out two of his forwards, Damezi Anderson and the recently cleared Jerome Hunter, as front court guys that IU will look for to knock down three-pointers, this year’s squad is set up to play with different points of emphasis.
“This team is built a little bit differently,” Miller said last week. “Our versatility is more inside out than it is outside in.”
Although no one wants to be labeled as a center in the modern game of basketball, the truth is that IU has three ready to play guys that best meet the description of a traditional back to the basket big man.
With De’Ron Davis, Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis, Miller has three big bodied and capable guys manning the paint at 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-9, respectively, with all three clocking in with at least 245 pounds.
One interesting dynamic with that trio will be whether there are combinations within the group that can be on the floor at the same time.
Matchups will likely dictate that in part, including whether any of three can show the ability to extend their game out on the perimeter on both ends of the floor.
Clearly there is going to be a competition for minutes at the five spot, and Miller spoke to that yesterday.
“We have a lot of guys that expect to play,” Miller said. “Our staff expects them to play. So I think one, competition. Earn everything is always the best way to do it. That’s always how we’ve done it, and I think there’s great competition level to get on the floor and to play minutes.”
With so much depth in the paint, any other forward that wants to see the floor is going to have to show an ability to play on the outside.
Miller spoke about Hunter and Anderson as potential three-point threats, and that leaves Race Thompson and Justin Smith as the remaining pieces to the puzzle.
Smith, now a junior, has of course has played extensively over his first two years, including starts in 32 of 35 games last season. He has appeared in every game as a college player.
The Buffalo Grove, Illinois product seems like a good bet to begin this year as a starter once again, but Miller will be looking for Smith to really focus on recognizing how he can best impact winning as an upperclassman.
“What we need from him is more of that blue collar approach,” Miller said. “I think he can be as good as anybody in our league defending multiple positions.”
“Offensively he’s gotta play to his strengths. His gotta get out in transition which means he’s gotta run hard. He’s gotta attack the glass, which when he does really impacts the game.”
Miller believes those are the areas that will allow Smith to realize his highest value to the team.
“He’s gotta try to be who he is, and at the end of the day, play to win.”
Playing to win is of course the top order of business as IU attempts to get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
At least when it comes to its size and potential in the front court, Indiana appears to have the pieces in place to make it happen.
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