‘What ifs’ from an incomplete ’19-20 basketball season

On what would have been Selection Sunday, the NCAA answered the last remaining question of basketball season.

There would be no forthcoming announcements of honorary men’s and women’s tournament fields, in lieu of actual tournament games. With many of the nation’s conference tournaments left incomplete following a swath of coronavirus-linked cancellations, the selection committee didn’t find it plausible to fairly pick 68 teams.

“There is not an authentic way to produce tournament fields and brackets at this point without speculating,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement, “and that isn’t fair to the teams that would be positively or negatively impacted by manufacturing March Madness.”

For a school like Indiana, that’s a difficult reality. Through three years as IU’s coach, Archie Miller has yet to make an NCAA tournament. Seniors De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green have officially become the first IU class since 1972 to miss March Madness all four years, even if there is a large asterisk by their names.

There are so many “what ifs,” so many could-haves. What never happened that could have, if the games went on?

What if Devonte Green scored 46 more points?

The senior guard took to Twitter to express some frustration with how close he came to 1,000 career points.

“46 more points … ,” Green wrote, with a facepalm emoji providing emotional context.

If the mercurial guard had a matchup with Penn State last Thursday, and perhaps a game or two in the NCAA tournament, there is a decent chance a 53rd name would have been added to IU’s list of 1,000-point scorers.

He would have needed to average 15.3 points over three games — a few notches above his season mark of 10.8 — but as Green showed with outputs of 30 and 27 versus Florida State and Iowa, respectively, it was more than possible for him to make that career points climb in chunks.

With Green falling short, the 2016 recruiting class becomes the first in nine years to not produce a 1,000-point scorer. In 2007, the Hoosiers had a one-and-done in Eric Gordon (669 points), along with Eli Holman, Brandon McGee, Jamarcus Ellis, Jordan Crawford, and DeAndre Thomas (totaling 657 career points combined).

From 2008-15, a line of 1,000-point scorers passed through the pipeline, including Verdell Jones III (1,347), Jordan Hulls (1,318), Victor Oladipo (1,117), Christian Watford (1,730), Will Sheehey (1,120), Cody Zeller (1,157), Troy Williams (1,115), Yogi Ferrell (1,986), James Blackmon Jr. (1,235), Robert Johnson (1,413), and Juwan Morgan (1,374).

But more could be coming. Justin Smith sits at 821 points. Al Durham has reached 742 (with 312 this season).

Considering the ups and downs in Green’s career, the fact he came so close is impressive in itself. He was ranked by recruiting services as the 197th-best player in his senior class, the 38th-ranked point guard. His freewheeling style could be frustrating at times, but it energized the masses at Assembly Hall more than a few times, as well.

A tournament berth and a spot in the 1,000-point club would have been nice, but Green did crack a couple of career lists at IU. Of course, the fearless shooter finished in the top 10 in 3-point attempts, taking 435. That tops the previous No. 10, Kyle Hornsby, who took 430.

Green’s 164 3-point makes also tied with Watford for 12th all-time, just two short of Damon Bailey at No. 11. Hornsby, at No. 10, was just a little bit further away at 178.

What if Trayce Jackson-Davis blocked six more shots?

It was already an historic season for the 6-foot-9 forward from Greenwood, who broke Noah Vonleh’s freshman record for rebounds with 270.

He needed all 17 of his boards versus Nebraska in IU’s unexpected finale, because Vonleh’s record was 269.

But Jackson-Davis, who led the Hoosiers in seven statistical categories, was oh-so-close to breaking another freshman mark. D.J. White had 64 blocks in the 2004-05 season. Jackson-Davis finished with 59 in ‘19-20, well above Alan Henderson’s second-best freshman total of 50.

There is only one player in IU’s freshman record book that leads in more than one category. That’s Gordon, who captured the program’s records for points, field goals attempted (425), 3-point attempts (208), and free throws made and attempted (231-of-277).

With an average of 1.84 blocks per game, Jackson-Davis would have theoretically needed three games to at least tie. Then again, he had four blocks in his last contest versus Nebraska, so it’s really just about how a would-be opponent would have, potentially, attacked the rim.

Of course, Jackson-Davis has more years to hunt for swats. But he would have to pick up the pace to register in IU’s career top 10, especially if he ends up leaving early like Gordon. Andrae Patterson (1995-98) sits at No. 10 with 127 career blocks. The all-time leader is Jeff Newton, who finished with 227 from 2000-03.

Those rebounding and blocked-shot figures underscore why Jackson-Davis is an intriguing pro prospect. In the meantime, there is plenty to work on — midrange shooting, dribbling, passing, etc. — to become more versatile.

What if Rob Phinisee dished out two more assists?

The sophomore’s opportunities this season were more limited than last, because injuries reduced Phinisee’s games played (from 32 to 27) and may have lingered in ways that conspired to hamper his overall production.

But the 6-1 guard still dished out 93 assists this time around, just under the 94 from his debut season. Very near a new career-best, despite the circumstances.

His assists per game were up (2.9 to 3.4), along with shooting overall (36.1 percent to 37.4) and from 3-point range (30 percent to 33). Those shooting numbers could stand to improve, as well as his turnover rate — which spiked from 1.28 per game as a freshman to 1.92.

But this is where a lack of additional tournament games really hurts: Phinisee, and other young players like him, were improving. His turnover rate was down to one per contest in his last six. Phinisee logged seven assists and zero turnovers in a four-point loss to Wisconsin.

Redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter (15-of-35) was hitting 42.9 percent from 3 in his last 14 games (30.2 percent on the year). In IU’s last seven games, redshirt sophomore Race Thompson posted a rebound-per-minute average that, if stretched to match Jackson-Davis’ court time, would equate to a team-best 8.5 boards per contest.

The pieces on IU’s roster were just starting to reveal themselves more clearly. There’s no guarantee it would have resulted in added wins, but the postseason experience would have been invaluable as the Hoosiers continued to build toward a more promising future.

More than numbers and records, that’s probably the biggest “what if” from this missing postseason. But like every other team in the NCAA, the Hoosiers will just have to move on.

Miller related as much in an interview with Jeff Goodman over the weekend, when he was asked about Green and Davis missing the tournament. He put that to rest.

“I told those two guys, look, in my book, we’re in the tournament,” Miller said. “You made it.”

9 comments

  1. Still quite amazing to see Eric Gordon’s single season scoring numbers (his only one-and-done year) of 669 points.

    Does anyone know if that’s an IU record for a freshman?

    Beg to differ with Archie, but I don’t think the tournament was a lock. We lost three of our last four regular season games including getting spanked by our instate rival, a missed opportunity at Illinois and a choke job at home against Wisconsin. Our only win was against a Minnesota team with a gutted roster.

    This was not a team deserving of an NCAA bid. Please stop being a spin doctor like your predecessor, Archie. It’s not admirable trait to emulate. Maybe we should print a t-shirt…? “We’re BACK …off the bubble!”

    Good luck to DeRon and Devonte.

  2. Well, Green only has himself to blame. God knows it wasn’t because he didn’t get enough shots. And if he’d have hit 2 of the 100s that Phinisee passed to him both would’ve been satisfied.

    God help me if they re-instill another year of eligibility for Green as part of this NCAA speculation. I’ll need an IU coronary specialist.

  3. I find the idea being floated by the ncaa to be somewhat reprehensible. Exactly why should seniors be given another year of eligibility? Because a handful of players lost the opportunity to play maybe 6 or 8 more games??? The reality for most college seniors was they would play one more game in their conference tournament, their team would lose, then their college basketball career would be over. This idea being floated is nothing more than a very shortsighted PR move by the ncaa.

    If we do give them another year, are the scholarship roster maximums going to be increased? If so, how do you govern that? Some schools, like IU, might only have 2 departing seniors. Other schools might have 5 leaving and 5 freshman coming in. How do you handle that? If this had been at the first of the year, I could understand, but this was at the end of the year and the regular season was done. Only thing missing was the post season tournaments, and as I said, how many seniors were going to play more than one more game?

    1. I agree with you on this subject. If I am currently a sophomore and the only reason I am not starting is the senior now getting ready to graduate and I now have to wait another year, then I am hitting that transfer portal today to see if I can get to a team that can have me as a starter. Or I am so upset at that point, not sure the point in playing. If they do it, they would have to reclassify everyone, not just the seniors. Then that opens up the whole grad transfer thing. You could then see a record number of grad transfers in one year. Athletically they have another year, but academically they are graduates. Yikes!

  4. IUBB had no embarrassing bad losses and owns several coveted tournament making wins + attaining the 20 W season. They were strongly in.

  5. I sort of find it reprehensible that any team from any conference with a sub .500 conference record even gets a bid for the NCAA tournament.

    And this is why the NCAA should have submitted a Selection Sunday bracket. A lot of teams have walk-on’s ….I think there would have been plenty of room to honor seniors a chance to return for a final year if their team had qualified for the tournament.

    We always talk about ‘4-year’ guys…or guys who put team and banners ahead of personal financial gain. Some of these seniors passed up a chance to go into the draft last season for the rare opportunity to play in March Madness. If they were on a qualifying team, then I do believe giving them a chance to comeback is the right thing to do. The tournament can change a life.

    Or get inventive….Maybe a “Senior Madness” tournament for men’s and women’s teams this summer? Take all seniors from teams across the country…Form a North, South, East and West senior game à la All-Star game…Allow each senior to wear his/her school jersey. Give these dedicated seniors some limelight. Allow them to get back on the court and make some memories….Maybe even make some new teammates and friends for life.
    Pick four coaches who were in the running for ‘Coach of the Year’ to lead the teams. Assistants could come from each region.

    Why can’t the NCAA have an ‘All-Star’ game? It would probably break the ratings roof.

  6. For all the reasons listed above, some NCAA personnel’s idea to give seniors another season of eligibility is really stupid. It represents the extension of the mentality that caused adults to start giving every child a trophy for participating. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair.” Well life is not fair, get over it and move on. Does anyone think the young men whose athletic careers were eliminated or cut short by WWII were whining about it being unfair? Give me a break.

    People proposing these kinds of ideas at a time like this is an indication of just how decadent some segments of our society have become. Instead of pondering such nonsense, people in the NCAA should be thinking about how they can serve their community and contribute to those trying to solve the problems created by this dangerous virus. Some “experts” have estimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans could get sick and/or die from the Corona-virus. And we have officials in the NCAA considering this nonsense. The NCAA is FUBAR.

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