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A barometer for Indiana’s success: The importance of a veteran Rob Phinisee

A year ago, a common notion surrounding the Indiana men’s basketball team was that the Hoosiers would only be as good as senior guard Devonte Green could be.

Green, known for his fancy playmaking, strong ability to shoot from 3-point range and his unpredictability, was an enigma for Indiana. On his best days, Indiana played at its best. But on days that he looked sluggish or uninterested, so too did Indiana.

Green truly was the barometer for Indiana’s level of success last season.

Rob Phinisee looks back during last year’s loss against Maryland inside Assembly Hall. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

When examining IU’s roster this season, one might anticipate a similar situation with junior point guard Rob Phinisee.

Although Phinisee’s game and playing style are far different from Green’s, this year, Phinisee’s production output could be indicative of Indiana’s success, similar to Green last season.

Due to Green’s graduation, the Hoosiers are left with 10.8 points per game and a 35.8% 3-point field goal percentage that need immediate replacing. Phinisee has the ability to fill that void, and perhaps even surpass that.

Make no mistake, Phinisee has been vital to IU the past two seasons and is a big reason why Indiana has seen its win totals increase under head coach Archie Miller. But, he’ll need to be even better in his third season.

Without a doubt, he’s been the only true point guard on the roster the past two seasons and has moved the ball very well, averaging 2.7 assists per game in his collegiate career.

Phinisee has had other teammates who have shared ball-handling responsibilities, such as Green, Al Durham and Armaan Franklin, but none of them were traditional point guard guards. They couldn’t impact the game the way that Phinisee has leading the offense.

Durham, Green and Franklin are all more geared to be shooting guards. Equipped with a scorer’s mindset, Green and Durham had significantly more shot attempts, 282 and 211, respectively, compared to Phinisee’s 182. Franklin, on the other hand, is 6-foot-5 and has never really been a point guard throughout his basketball career due to his size and skillset.

Phinisee’s career assist average is also noticeably larger than all three of them, with Green’s at 2.1 assists per game, Durham’s at 1.8, and Franklin at 1.3. In just two seasons, Phinisee already has more career assists (187) than Durham does in three seasons (173).

Playmaking aside, Phinisee has also shown flashes of being a capable scorer, knock-down 3-point shooter and a lockdown defender.

Although he’s averaged just seven points per game in his IU career, Phinisee has proven to be a scorer when necessary. He’s finished 15 games scoring in double figures and is a career 32.1% 3-point shooter.

As the Hoosiers bona fide floor general and leading assist man, Phinisee consistently ignites the offense. The ball movement is also noticeably better for Indiana when he is on the floor.

Phinisee has always been a good defender, too, and he’s arguably Indiana’s best on-ball defender entering this season. Players who can’t defend well often don’t see the floor under Archie Miller. That Phinisee has been a starter since he stepped foot in Bloomington, says a lot about Miller’s trust in his point guard.

The junior has proven his defensive value time and again by drawing the opposing team’s toughest guard assignment.

In 2018, he guarded prolific Purdue scorer Carsen Edwards and held him to just nine points and a 4-for-24 shooting performance. Late in his freshman season, he defended Michigan State star Cassius Winston and locked him down in the closing seconds of the game. Phinisee forced Winston into a very difficult, midrange, baseline jumper that resulted in a miss and sealed a 63-62 home win over then-No. 6 Michigan State.

Rob Phinisee drives toward the basket during last year’s win against #11 Ohio State in Bloomington. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

But where Phinisee shines brightest is in late, close-game scenarios. That is, he simply makes winning plays when it matters.

Early in his freshman year, Phinisee hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:22 remaining against Louisville at home. The shot put Indiana ahead for good, 60-58, and the Hoosiers eventually pulled out a 68-67 victory.

In the same season, Phinisee made a game-tying 3-pointer on the road at Arkansas with 48 seconds left. Indiana wound up losing, 73-72, but it was by no fault of Phinisee’s.

And then there was his iconic buzzer beater in 2018 to defeat Butler in the Crossroads Classic — one of IU’s bigger moments in recent seasons.

However, for all of Phinisee’s strengths, he’s also faced tough luck with injuries at IU, which has slowed his development and consistency. As a freshman, he missed three games and then five more games in his sophomore campaign.

These injury struggles have hindered what many fans think Phinisee can be.

This year, though, he’s entering the season fully healthy and has two years of experience under his belt. If Phinisee can truly take the next step and elevate his game, it will also heighten Indiana’s overall potential as a team.

It’s no secret Preseason All-Big Ten Team selection and budding superstar Trayce Jackson-Davis will be Indiana’s best player. An upperclassman Phinisee could be the spark that IU needs, though, to raise its ceiling and chances to win in March and beyond.

If you add up all his skills and intangibles, with added development and improvement in the offseason, it’s only a matter of time before Phinisee puts it all together. He already has the experience, maturity and talent to do it.

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