Hoosiers plan to end two-year NCAA drought
Archie Miller checked the first two boxes in his plan to reshape Indiana basketball.
Defense became a non-negotiable top priority. After a string of shaky moments before Christmas, the Hoosiers finished fourth in defensive efficiency in the Big Ten.
The bigger news was Miller’s recruiting success. He delivered a top-10 class that featured three in-state prospects. Miller promised an inside-out approach, placing a priority on building teams with Indiana high school products, supplemented by out-of-state players. One late April commitment cemented that narrative — five-star Romeo Langford, the state’s first Mr. Basketball to sign with IU since Cody Zeller in 2011. Langford should start. So should senior forward Juwan Morgan, one of the league’s most under-appreciated players. After that, there will be a 12-player scrum for playing time, leaving Miller with critical decisions to make at point guard and small forward.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Archie Miller
2017-18 RECORD (BIG TEN): 16-15 (9-9)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: None
F Collin Hartman (4.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
G Robert Johnson (14.0 ppg, 2.7 apg)
F Freddie McSwain (4.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
G Josh Newkirk (7.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.8 apg)
Morgan chose to return after leading Indiana in scoring, rebounding, blocks, free throw attempts and clutch plays at both ends of the court. He’s determined around the rim with excellent first-step quickness. Adding a consistent 15-foot shot and an improved free throw stroke would close the primary gaps in his game.
Justin Smith and Zach McRoberts rotated into the starting lineup. Smith is an acrobatic scorer who must upgrade his mid-range game, while McRoberts excelled on defense.
Center is a mystery. De’Ron Davis had a terrific game against Duke, but his availability and effectiveness are uncertain as he rehabs from a torn Achilles. If he can’t cover defensively, redshirt freshman Race Thompson, sophomore Clifton Moore and freshman Jake Forrester will get more minutes.
Langford and other freshmen dominated the offseason hype, but do not overlook Evan Fitzner, a 6'10" grad transfer. Fitzner made 41.4 of 304 3-point attempts in three seasons as a part-time starter at Saint Mary’s.
Freshmen Jerome Hunter and Damezi Anderson will fight for minutes on the wing. Hunter was ranked as the second-best prospect in IU’s class because of his ability to score on the attack or from 18 feet, while Anderson is celebrated for his 3-point shot.
Can Miller coach the careless tendencies out of Devonte Green and trust him to lead the Hoosiers, or will he transition the point guard position to freshman Robert Phinisee, a steady playmaker? That is the decision facing the coach who was a former point guard. Reports from Bloomington over the summer suggested that Green had started to embrace the value of simple plays over sensational misfires, but he averaged nearly two turnovers per game while shooting 36.4 percent as a part-time starter in 2017-18.
Aljami Durham retained the No. 1 that Langford wore at New Albany High School, but Big Ten opponents will notice more than Langford’s new No. 0 when he takes over at off guard. Langford’s ability to score from deep, mid-range or at the rim makes him a likely one-and-done prospect as the Big Ten’s best freshman. Durham will bring toughness and defense.
This team should end Indiana’s two-season NCAA Tournament drought and finish just below the league’s top tier. If Langford, Hunter and Fitzner provide outside shooting while Green and Phinisee settle the point guard situation, the Hoosiers could make a bigger move. Miller has the pieces to show solid improvement, although Indiana is likely a season away from a push to the top of the Big Ten.
Postseason Prediction: Two & Out
Big Ten Prediction: 4th