It feels like we just did this story. Well, we did, only just over 2 weeks ago it was in response to the De’Ron Davis injury. While Juwan Morgan’s ankle injury doesn’t appear to be nearly as serious as the Achilles tendon injury that ended Davis’ season, we don’t yet know whether Morgan will miss any time. We may not know until Morgan either does or does not come out to the Branch McCracken Court for warm-ups on Monday night.
Coming into the season, IU’s front court depth was a major concern. If Morgan misses games, things go from concerning to near crisis mode. Indiana would have no proven commodities in its front court beyond Collin Hartman — if you really want to call him a true front court player. Sure Justin Smith has shown flashes of brilliance, but the freshman has been far from consistent thus far.
The timing couldn’t be much worse either. With Morgan in the lineup, Indiana’s next two games looked winnable on paper. Without him, all bets are off. And these are two wins that Indiana needs, with the three following games against Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State.
Irrespective of whether IU could afford to lose Morgan or how it lines up with their schedule — there will be a game on Monday night against Maryland. The good news for Indiana is that the Terrapins have had their own front court injury issues. Maryland lost Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender for the season earlier in the year. Nevertheless, Maryland has formidable size that IU will have to contend with.
THE MARYLAND FRONT COURT
The Terrapins play four people in their front court:
- 7-1, 250 lb Senior Center Michal Cekovsky starts and averages about 18 minutes, 7.5 points, and 3.5 rebounds
- 6-10, 245 lb Freshman Forward Bruno Fernando starts and averages about 20 minutes, 10 points and 6 rebounds
- 6-9, 220 lb Freshman Forward Joshua Tomaic averages 10 minutes, 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds
- 6-9, 250 lb Senior Center Sean Obi play roughly 6 minutes a game.
All will play more minutes than their averages on Monday due to the Jackson and Bender injuries.
WHAT TO EXPECT IF MORGAN CANNOT GO
Under the assumption that Morgan does not play, let’s take a look at what is likely to take place as it relates to the Hoosiers’ rotation and game plan.
Maryland will generally have two front court players on the court. That means some combination of Justin Smith (6-7), Clifton Moore (6-10), Freddie McSwain (6-6) and Collin Hartman (6-7) will need to be on the floor as well. That is, unless Archie Miller opts to insert crowd favorite Tim Priller into the lineup.
The main question is who will be tasked with guarding Cekovsky. The Maryland center tends to stay under the basket — so whoever gets that job will need to contend with him in the post.
When IU has the ball it will be interesting to see if they try to get the ball to anyone in the post, and if so, who? Plan B would seem to be the 2015 stretch-5 approach that was used with Collin Hartman at center.
It isn’t all bad news if Morgan cannot go. Extended Big Ten game action for freshman forward Clifton Moore is a good thing. No player is likely to be more impacted by Morgan’s absence than Moore. Indiana really just has very few alternatives. While he’s looked tentative on the floor, he’s also shown flashes, such as his 2 blocks against Northwestern. And that’s really what the Hoosiers need from him right now – length, which can at least put a hand in people’s faces and slow down the dribble penetration of everyone not named Miles Bridges. Against Maryland, Moore’s length will be needed against Cekovsky. Look for Moore to play 12 to 15 minutes and guard Cekovsky when he’s in the game.
Will the graduate forward finally get a start? It seems like a toss-up between him and Freddie McSwain. If Hartman doesn’t start then you have to believe he still has lingering health issues. He’s been slumping as of late, hasn’t cracked the starting lineup and hasn’t played much more than 20 minutes per game. In 2015 Hartman had a huge game with 15 points against Maryland effectively playing center and forcing the Terrapin big men to guard the perimeter. Indiana could certainly use something similar Monday night.
The senior forward has shown flashes of being able to finish at the rim off the dribble and take care of the ball. There’s definitely been improvement there for sure. But it still doesn’t feel like he has a complete enough game for starter’s minutes. If the distribution of minutes in the Michigan State game is any evidence of what to expect, he’ll still see a substantial increase in playing time whether he starts or not. We’d expect right around 20 minutes for the game.
Smith is likely the least impacted by the injury, beyond just getting more minutes. He had already been starting after Davis went down. We’d expect him to continue to start and play 25 to 30 minutes. If Indiana wants to at least present the threat of having someone catch the ball in the post and attack the rim, Smith would seem to be the most viable option despite his recent troubles finishing.
If the Hoosiers experience foul trouble involving this core group of four front court players and need to look elsewhere, it would seem that the primary alternatives would be to ask Zach McRoberts to play bigger than his 6-6 guard frame, or of course there is always Priller Time. We continue to believe that asking Race Thompson to come off his redshirt season is not in even the worst case scenario plans.
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Photo – Alex McIntyre | Herald-Times