Seven is Hoosiers’ lucky number

Call it lucky number seven.

Indiana has used seven starting lineup combinations this season, and with the campaign winding down, the Hoosiers recently found the one that works best.

Devonte Green, Robert Johnson, Zach McRoberts, Juwan Morgan and Freddie McSwain have combined to author some of IU’s best basketball of the season during the past five halves of action.

Each of those Hoosiers have brought a unique skillset to the floor, giving Indiana a chance to close the regular season better than it opened it.

“I would say that’s our best five right now in the season,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “That’s why they’re in there together.”

Miller has toyed with mixing and matching lineup combinations all season, sometimes out of feel, other times out of necessity.

Now, Miller has identified the five players that have most earned the opportunity to play starter’s minutes.

And he’s running with them.

The formation of this group began early last month when McRoberts, the gritty walk-on, forced his way into a bigger role at the start of the second leg of Big Ten play. Although Justin Smith received the bulk of De’Ron Davis’ minutes after the latter suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in January, McSwain took over last week.

Smith originally brought athleticism and upside, but he didn’t provide the kind of rebounding production Indiana needed from his position. Enter McSwain, who plays bigger and taller than his 6-foot-6 frame suggests.

While extremely limited from a scoring standpoint, McSwain has a knack for taking over on the glass. McSwain’s leaping ability makes him an asset in the paint, and get this: if McSwain played enough minutes to qualify, he would rank third nationally with a offensive rebounding percentage of 17.5.

“It’s definitely a different look,” Morgan said. “Being able to play at my natural position at the four and be able to just give help where it’s needed with Freddie because he holds his own every single game, (helps). Just being able to provide that help and still be able to do my own job for the team, it’s definitely a different look, but I think it’s been helpful for us.”

The final piece was Green, who has brought more playmaking capabilities to the point guard position.

The Hoosiers simply weren’t getting enough production from former starter Josh Newkirk to justify the minutes. Now Green is showing off the most composed and electric play he’s offered to date, while also seemingly removing the burden from those around him.

“We’re just clearly trying to play in rhythm with a group that’s playing well,” Miller said. “If they’re playing well, we’ll go with them. … Freddie’s brought a rebounding mentality. He’s brought another blue collar guy that’s playing hard right now. I think you’re starting to see him be a little bit more confident offensively. He’s an athlete on the glass. That’s been big.

“Devonte clearly has established the playmaking ability here recently that’s given us a little different dimension. To me, that five gives us the best chance. That’s why we’re working with that five right now to start the game.”

Throughout this season, Indiana has struggled out of the gates. With this group, the Hoosiers are consistently getting off to good starts.

It began with the second half of the Feb. 3 loss to No. 5 Michigan State.

Indiana trailed 32-24 at halftime before outscoring the Spartans 8-5 in the first three minutes before Newkirk replaced McRoberts as the first sub at the 16:51 mark.

In last Monday’s win at Rutgers, the lineup helped the Hoosiers outscore the Scarlet Knights 22-6 across the first 11 minutes of the first half. IU then won the first four minutes of the second half, 5-2.

In Friday’s victory over Minnesota, Indiana built a 12-4 lead approaching the first media timeout, then opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run that forced Golden Gophers coach Richard Pitino to call a timeout.

Suddenly, Indiana has the combination it has searched for.

“I thought our guys were locked in ready to play,” Miller said after Friday’s game. “They continue to establish the intensity level that we like.”

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