IU looks for win No. 5 vs. Princeton

Through four games, the numbers say a lot about Indiana junior Justin Smith.

The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 16.3 points per game, fully embracing the transition game for high-flying dunks.

Smith has pulled down a team-high 12 offensive rebounds, and attacking the glass has been a consistent feature. Smith has had at least two offensive boards in each game.

IU coach Archie Miller recalled those aspects of Smith’s young season Monday during his radio show. But those points brought him back to a couple of other numbers.

Miller thought about Smith’s two shots versus North Alabama, a low total that didn’t seem to displease the Hoosier forward. It’s all about another number as IU (4-0) looks ahead to Wednesday’s 7 p.m. tip with Princeton (0-3).

“The big thing is to win the game and the most important number that everyone thinks about every day is No. 5,” Miller said. “We have our fifth game on Wednesday. We only have one this week. It’s like lock in, zone in on No. 5. The heck with all the other numbers right now.

“There’s only one that matters.”

The unselfishness of Smith speaks to something that’s going to be important for the entire Hoosier squad as they build toward the best version of themselves.

This isn’t a team built around one or two stars. Rather, it’s a squad with a myriad of pieces, which Miller hopes can be stronger together than they would be apart. That’s moving the ball, sharing the scoring load, and banding together on the defensive end.

IU’s last outing with Troy was one of its most complete performances to date. Perimeter defense, which hasn’t been the Hoosiers’ strong suit, was improved and the Trojans shot 20 percent from beyond the arc. While IU was missing sophomore Rob Phinisee to illness, senior Devonte Green returned from his hamstring issue and played 20 minutes.

Smith, after his 0-of-2 outing versus North Alabama, hit 8-of-9 from the field for 22 points against Troy.

Whenever Phinisee returns, the Hoosiers should have 11 scholarship players capable of playing significant minutes. Ten players are currently averaging 10 or more minutes per contest in the early portion of the non-conference schedule, and Miller intends to keep his rotations deep.

“A lot of guys are playing a lot right now, which is fine,” Miller said. “Sometimes it won’t be that way. Sometimes it will be foul trouble that puts guys into different situations. But the collective number, the strength of the numbers of this group, has to be our biggest gift.”

IU’s depth is particularly strong in the frontcourt, especially with the reinforcements of grad transfer Joey Brunk, freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis, and redshirt sophomore Race Thompson.

The latter had an injury-shortened 2018-19 campaign, but Thompson has been particularly effective on the glass. He is second only to Jackson-Davis in rebounds, with 25 boards to the freshman’s 38. Thompson, though, has pulled down his allotment in 32 fewer minutes of court time.

Not only are Jackson-Davis, Thompson, and Smith helping the Hoosiers on the boards, but IU’s large complement of forwards allows Miller to employ a more uptempo style.

They have all been rested and fresh.

“It doesn’t matter how fast your guards are,” Miller said. “Your break is only as good as your bigs.”

The frontcourt will be put to the test by the Tigers, especially on the defensive end.

Their best player may be 6-9 senior Richmond Aririguzoh, who is averaging 17.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest.

“This frontcourt guy we are getting ready to play against on Wednesday, he’s legit,” Miller said.

But the Hoosiers, by all accounts, are working hard to secure win No. 5.

Miller was actually a couple of minutes late to his radio show Monday because practice had run long.

“We’re trying to get better,” Miller said. “We have a group of guys that are competing right now against one another and I think they realize the more challenging every day is in practice and the better they work there, the easier it will be for them in the game.”

2 comments

  1. Yep, and we’re seeing a lot of that lately. And guys we’re missing on are signing with schools that are not traditional power-house bb programs. With the three players signed for 2020, it’s a solid class, but certainly not the type of class that is going to return IU to amongst the elite college BB programs.

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