It ended sooner than anyone expected, but the end is in fact here.
Indiana (20-12, 9-11) will never know for sure if it did enough to make the 2020 NCAA Tournament, but all indications were that the Hoosiers took that step forward after a three season absence from the event.
As we did after each game during the season, today we take a look back at the 2019-20 campaign in its entirety with the final edition of “The Report Card.”
With wins over Florida State and Michigan State, Indiana showed that it could compete with the best. There were frustrating losses, and too many losses, but nothing that would be characterized as a “bad loss” by NCAA Tournament selection committee standards.
The next level is better protecting the home floor by finishing games. Home losses against Arkansas, Maryland and Wisconsin were contests that were all in hand before IU fumbled them away late. Win those games, and the entire narrative around this season and the program changes.
Indiana also needs to be much more competitive on the road. The Hoosiers finished the season just 2-8 in true road contests, all Big Ten games. Next year IU is likely to have more road challenges, including away games for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Gavitt Games.
Nothing came easy in the Big Ten on the road, with 12 of the 14 teams in the league in the KenPom top 34. But at times IU was abysmal away from home. The Hoosiers lost by an average score of 69-61, including losses by a margin of 15 or more points on four occasions.
Head coach Archie Miller finally got the Big Ten size he craved on his roster, and the Hoosiers often pounded teams on the glass and in the paint.
But did Miller go too big? A starting lineup that including Justin Smith, Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis was too easy to defend, with no perimeter threats in that trio.
This still wasn’t the kind of roster that Miller wants. The three-year head coach prefers long, athletic and fast players at all five positions. The midseason emergence of players like Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter provided a glimpse of what things might look like if Miller can find and develop the kind of players that fit his system.
Miller has everything trending in the right direction, but the progress has been slow. Indiana was a top 40 defense for the second straight season, but the offense, especially in the halfcourt, still leaves much to be desired.
Year four will be critical for Miller at Indiana. A top half conference finish and placing his team comfortably in the NCAA Tournament seem like logical and realistic goals for 2020-21.
At just .987 points per possession in Big Ten games, Indiana finished No. 12 in the league.
While the transition game and paint dominance led to productivity against smaller and less athletic teams, Indiana’s offense often disappeared versus teams that could match their size.
It was a parade to the free throw line early in the season for IU, as the Hoosiers were in the top five nationally in free throw attempts for much of the campaign.
But when the Hoosiers got to Big Ten play, the whistles stopped, and the opposition packed the paint and got back on defense. IU was mostly left to figure out how to score from the perimeter in the half court. While the Hoosiers started shooting the ball better late in the season, Indiana was still only 32 percent from behind the arc in Big Ten play.
The path forward seems clear. Big Ten officiating isn’t going to change anytime soon, and IU isn’t going to suddenly start beating teams down the court in transition.
Indiana has to find more consistent perimeter shooting, and more versatile players at the wing and power forward positions. Those factors will free up the paint and allow Indiana’s big men more one-on-one opportunities.
It was rarely the case that Indiana lost games because of its defense.
While their big lineups could be a hindrance on the offensive end, versatile defenders like Justin Smith and the late emergence of Race Thompson made IU difficult to operate against. Indiana only allowed more than a point per possession once during their last seven games, and it held four of those seven under .88 per possession.
In all games nationally Indiana was No. 26 in adjusted defensive efficiency, spurred on by their big, physical lineup. The Hoosiers were top 50 in both preventing offensive rebounds and blocking shots.
As was the case on the offensive end, the big lineup also created challenges, with Indiana’s big men often caught in mismatches on the perimeter.
While there was some concern about an extended three-point line compromising the pack-line defense, teams only shot 32.2 percent from distance against the Hoosiers.
Indiana wasn’t always great defending on the ball during the season, and that helped lead to shorter possessions than Miller would like. A preseason abdominal condition suffered by point guard Rob Phinisee lingered and no doubt played a role.
- Joey Brunk (B-) The graduate transfer was IU’s second leading rebounder (5.2) despite only playing 19 minutes per game. That average was a career best for Brunk, whose work ethic and motor was never in question. Indiana needs to do a better job putting Brunk in matchups and lineups that best fit his strengths next year, even if that means less minutes.
- Justin Smith (B-) There was a lot to like about Smith’s season. He shot better from distance, cut down turnovers, got to the free throw line more, improved his rebounding average, and was as reliable of a defender as anyone. But Smith’s challenge has always been that he is limited offensively, and that didn’t change substantially in year three.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis (A-) Scoring, rebounding, blocks, field goal percentage — Jackson-Davis led IU in several meaningful categories as he collected 12 double-doubles. The true freshman earned third team All-Big Ten while finishing second in the league in field goal percentage and seventh in rebounds and blocks. Next up for Jackson-Davis is to develop his right hand and become a perimeter threat. If he does those two things, he will be unstoppable.
- Al Durham (B) It was another season of growth for a player that just keeps getting better. Durham increased his year-over-year production in scoring, assists, and rebounds while shooting higher percentages from two, three and the foul line. But Durham was also more turnover prone and at times can be a liability on the ball defensively. With a second point guard on the roster next year, Durham should be more comfortable playing in his natural shooting guard position on both ends all of the time.
- Rob Phinisee (B-) For a second straight season Indiana’s point guard dealt with nagging issues. A lower abdominal injury was just one of several setbacks that slowed Phinisee’s season as he started just 16 games. All of the sophomore’s shooting percentages ticked up in year two, but they are still well short of what he is capable of. Phinisee’s assists were up this season, especially on a per-minute basis, but so were his turnovers. If he can stay healthy, Phinisee is a player that could make major strides as a junior.
- Jerome Hunter (B-) While the numbers don’t look great, the real story with Hunter is the progress. After not playing any organized basketball for a year, Hunter got off to a very slow start. But as evidenced by his 42.8 percent three-point shooting over the last 14 games, the redshirt freshman got his legs back and gained confidence as the season progressed. Hunter is one of the most critical players on the roster when it comes to Indiana having a versatile lineup, and his development of more offense off the dribble will only enhance his value.
- Devonte Green (C+) The highs and lows of Green are well documented at this point. Despite only starting 7 games and playing just 22 minutes per contest, Green was IU’s second leading scorer. But he only shot 36 percent from the field to get there. Indiana probably would not have won games like Florida State and Iowa without Green, but there were several more that they could have won with more consistency from the senior. It could have been out of necessity, but Miller gave Green the green light down the stretch, with mixed results.
- De’Ron Davis (B-) A good passer and efficient scorer, Davis also developed a respectable mid-range shot in year four. But injuries and in some respects the evolution of the game itself limited the senior forward who never really seemed the same after an Achilles tear two years ago. Davis really wasn’t a good fit for Miller’s defensive scheme either, as he struggled to recover on high hedges.
- Race Thompson (A-) The most improved player on the team. Not my words, that was Archie Miller towards the end of the season. Thompson gave IU a completely different look with more toughness and effort. He has a unique nose for the ball and he does a lot of things that both appear, and don’t appear, on a stat sheet. Thompson had the best defensive rebounding and steal rate on the team, and the second best offensive rebounding and block rate.
- Armaan Franklin (C+) It likely wasn’t the season that Franklin hoped for, but they rarely are for true freshman. While he struggled shooting the ball, Franklin gave IU a memorable moment in the win over Notre Dame, and he showed an ability to push the ball offensively and defend that will become strengths in the coming years. Franklin also got valuable minutes early in the season due to injuries that will serve him well down the road.
- Damezi Anderson (D) Anderson only saw more than 4 minutes of action once after Jan. 4, and never saw the floor again after playing briefly in mop up duty on Feb. 16. There were early moments when it looked like things might be clicking for Anderson, but an 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) season from distance for a three-point specialist tells the story.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you.