Injuries, FSU challenges don’t deter IU; Hoosiers just want to get games

Report by Indy Star’s Zach Osterman:

In a normal season, with packed nonconference schedules and a rush to get games in before Big Ten play, a week off in early December to rest and focus internally would be a godsend. 

But, after a spring shutdown, a stop-and-start summer and a fall’s worth of uncertainty, Indiana just wants to get on the floor. 

“Every team in college basketball right now is almost in slow motion. You want to keep it going, you want to keep your momentum going, you want to play,” IU coach Archie Miller said Tuesday. “With what we’ve done in terms of downtime in the offseason, pauses and downtime during the preseason, we’ve been chomping at the bit to get to games. Once you get the taste of playing the games, you only want to play more games.”

Miller’s team is among the lucky ones. The Hoosiers have played four games already in a season still waiting for some programs to begin. 

The Hoosiers battered Tennessee Tech in their opener Nov. 25, before going 2-1 with wins over Stanford and Providence in last week’s Maui Invitational. They’ve since had a week off, the result of compressing four games into eight days in a season that only allows for a seven-game nonconference schedule. 

It’s given Miller’s team time to recover physically from the stresses of Maui, senior guard Al Durham’s ankle perhaps the Hoosiers’ biggest concern coming out of the Asheville-based tournament. Durham is a game-time decision, while grad transfer center Joey Brunk’s back is becoming a long-term issue. 

“We have to be smart with practice. We’ve been very limited with our bodies here coming out of Asheville,” Miller said “Joey hasn’t participated in anything and I doubt he’ll be available here in the near future, just because we’re trying to figure out what the best plan of action is for him. We’re not planning on having Joe right now or in the immediate future, unless something changes.

“Al has been very slow on his recovery. He, realistically, had a tough ankle sprain, and it’s been about a week. He’s started to increase his activity. He did a little bit more yesterday in practice, which was a live practice, but his live action wasn’t very much.”

Brunk’s absence is not new — he has yet to play this season. Durham’s status would be more immediately impactful either way, given Florida State’s length and willingness to pressure full court. 

Outright ACC regular-season champions a season ago, the Seminoles have changed some personnel but maintained a reputation for athleticism and defensive toughness that, coupled to their pressure defense, make them difficult to manage, especially at home. Florida State — which will allow a limited number of fans into the Tucker Center for Wednesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown — is 66-3 in its last 69 games at home.  
 
“They stun you when you look at them. From top to bottom, it’s got to be one of the biggest teams in college basketball year in, year out. Not just inside but perimeter guys,” Miller said. “They’re very similar to what they were a year ago. In talking to a lot of people, I’m not speaking for them, but it feels like Florida State has a chance to compete for another ACC championship.”

Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest, the Seminoles’ top two scorers a season ago, are now in the NBA, as is Patrick Williams. But they’ve been replaced at least in part by outstanding freshman Scottie Barnes, who stretches to 6-9 but can distribute the ball like a more traditional guard. 

Florida State’s season to date presents the smallest possible sample size, an 86-58 home win against North Florida to open the season Dec. 2. Some of the numbers from that game remain impressive nonetheless. 

The Seminoles rebounded more than 47% of their misses against North Florida, and forced turnovers on 33.2% of possessions. Senior guard M.J. Walker scored 17 points and, while Barnes didn’t match his scoring, Florida State’s talented freshman registered six rebounds and six assists. His single game assist rate was a staggering 39.5%. 

“He’s got to be 6-9-plus, but he’s got great ball skills,” Miller said. “When you’re playing him at the point, that’s a different matchup. We played Stanford the other day and they had (freshman) Ziaire (Williams), he was maybe similar size, but not the same guy with the ball. Scottie does a lot more facilitating for them.”

But perhaps the greatest concern — for a team that struggled with similar issues against Texas in a 66-44 loss in the Maui Invitational — will be managing FSU’s combination of talent and ball pressure. 

“Really it’s just their focus in practice,” junior guard Rob Phinisee said. “Coach has emphasized it with the scout team, the way they’ve guarded us.”

Ultimately, the opportunity Wednesday comes in getting in another game, another chance to add a quality win and more time for Miller to steel his team for the winter ahead, whatever the challenge.