Hoosiers shorthanded entering season opener

The offseason saw Archie Miller pondering how he might utilize a deep and versatile rotation, one that featured at least a dozen players vying for their niche.

On the eve of the regular season, simply getting his 10 best players practicing simultaneously has been a struggle for the second-year Indiana coach.

When IU opens the season Tuesday night at 6:30 against Chicago State, it will do so short-handed. The core players — Juwan Morgan, Romeo Langford and Zach McRoberts — will be there. They are fine. It’s the supporting cast that has functioned as a mix-and-match unit during the past month, a theme that will continue into the much-anticipated first week of the campaign.

“It’s become a little bit problematic,” Miller said. “… Hopefully we’ll get a couple guys back here sooner rather than later and that will help. But it’s prevented us from playing, I would say, our top 10.”

Last week, guard Devonte Green (thigh), wing Jerome Hunter (foot) and forward Race Thompson (groin) missed Thursday’s exhibition against Southern Indiana. Holding them out was largely a safeguard for a regular season schedule that ramps up quickly, featuring games this month against Marquette (Nov. 14), at Arkansas (Nov. 18) and at No. 4 Duke (Nov. 27).

Green, a junior, yielded starting point guard duties to freshman Robert Phinisee in the exhibition and practiced only in non-contact scenarios over the weekend. Miller said Green was cleared to practice on Monday and is expected to be available against Chicago State.

“That will be a big help for us, especially last game having Rob and Romeo basically having to play as many minutes as they played,” Miller said. “They played too many.”

Indeed, Langford logged more than 31 minutes, while Phinisee played just over 28 minutes in the tuneup game. Part of that was due to IU losing sophomore guard Al Durham late in Thursday’s first half due to an unspecified injury.

Both Durham and Thompson are not likely to play in either of Indiana’s two games this week, which is capped with a matchup with Montana State on Friday at 8 p.m.

“We’ve got some other guys with some knicky-knack stuff that are going to have to either push through or we’ll have to find ways of getting a little bit more rest, because I think once these games start they’re not going to stop,” Miller said. “It’s just one day after another. We’ll have to be ready.

“So it’s a concern of ours right now. Clearly you don’t want to go into the season banged up, but we’ve sort of hit a little speed bump here in the last seven days with some stuff that’s pretty much knocked some guys out of practice, which has hurt us.”

The good news is that while injuries have taken away some of Miller’s options, he still has plenty more.

Last week against Loyola Chicago and Southern Indiana, Phinisee continued to stake a claim to the starting point guard duties. Phinisee scored 13 points and dished four assists without committing a turnover on Thursday. Across both contests, Phinisee was one of four Hoosiers to average double figures at 10.5 points per game.

Phinisee showed his command of the offense in both games, while earning the trust of the coaching staff and impressing Miller.

“He’s well ahead of probably any point guard as a freshman that I’ve coached, just in terms of his demeanor, his smarts — and it’s on both ends,” Miller said. “He’s got to get better clearly, but he’s definitely made the most of his time.”

With Hunter nursing his foot — and quite possibly playing only a limited role this week, if he plays at all — Anderson is also set to occupy the available minutes.

The freshman sharpshooter scored a game-high 14 points against Southern Indiana, and will continue to receive playing opportunities as IU strives to return to full health.

“Without question right now we’re planning on having to play him a little bit, especially as Jerome is going through some of his health stuff,” Miller said. “So Damezi is a guy that has to step up and be ready.”

5 comments

  1. Golden opportunity for some of these guys. The unexpected availability of minutes will be beneficial down the road. Just hope the injuries are short time issues. IU, Duke and Marquette games are televised tomorrow. Life is good.

  2. The core players — Juwan Morgan, Romeo Langford and Zach McRoberts — will be there.

    Where will Justin Smith be? You don’t consider Justin Smith a core player? Appears you’ve once again forgotten him. Wow… Before all is said and done this season, I think the super-athletic Chicagoan may be just as integral to our success as Romeo. Guess we’ll see…but I don’t put Roberts(though I like his grit) ahead of Smith in the ‘core’ of our fortunes.

    1. I agree with your opinion on Justin. He is number 3 after Romeo and Juwan sharing # 1. Devonte must earn the right to share # 4 with Rob. Then Zach and Evan share # 6. Then Damezi and Jerome and DeRon. That makes 10. But no door closes for Al, Jake, Race or Clifton. Many minutes are left for any player to show his claim for floor time!

  3. I’m also very high on the St. Mary’s transfer, Fitzner….Gives us some added size and can actually shoot the long ball. Remember all the hype around Cody potentially being a long ball threat? ‘Fitz’ may just give the opposition fits. He appears pretty lethal from outside…and he doesn’t shoot it from his waist as if launching a medicine ball. He’ll also bring some California ‘Surf City’ vibe along with added maturity/upper class stability.

    Really like the mix of talent and personality on this team. I think we’re going to be far more dangerous and deep in our offensive abilities than most pundits anticipate.
    And we could be a real gem defensively. The team is pretty long in the backcourt and Archie demands earning time via effort on both ends.

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