College basketball in 2021 is all about offense and Indiana basketball has the opposite mentality.
No. 1 Gonzaga is on a historic pace for points per game. No. 4 Iowa is averaging 92 points per game. Teams are shooting 3-pointers at a higher clip all across the country.
Meanwhile, in Bloomington, the Hoosiers haven’t yet adapted to today’s game. When you watch Indiana basketball, both offensively and defensively, they appear to be stuck in the past. They want to win games by bullying opponents in the paint, without much explosion from beyond the arc.
As evident by the results, this isn’t working.
Indiana is now 8-6, and 3-4 in the Big Ten, and in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season (not counting last season due to the tournament’s cancellation). Now seems as good of a time as any to make some drastic changes.
It’s time to change the starting lineup. The revised starting five would feature Al Durham, Trey Galloway and Armaan Franklin, with Jerome Hunter and Trayce Jackson-Davis down low.
This doesn’t have anything to do with Race Thompson’s production. He has taken a huge step this season, averaging 9.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The issue isn’t in his game.
The issue is in the lack of depth for Indiana at forward, and its need to spread the floor better. Indiana is last in the Big Ten in 3-point makes per game (6.1) and second-to-last in 3-point attempts per game (18.7). Most importantly, Indiana is second-to-last in points per game (72.6).
Indiana can benefit off of a Hunter-Thompson switch for multiple reasons. First off, Hunter helps spread the floor with an extra shooter. Hunter is shooting 37% from 3 this season, but probably isn’t getting enough looks in the offense coming off the bench.
Secondly, it frees up space for the big men to operate in the paint. Jackson-Davis put up 25 points against Purdue and Thompson had a double-double, and yet Indiana was blown out. It might work best in this offense if the two of them can play on their own, with more room to operate in an unclogged paint.
Finally, with Indiana’s lack of depth, it could help its post players stay out of foul trouble and give them more rest if they are able to spell each other throughout the game. Indiana coach Archie Miller has stressed the fatigue issues this team has had, especially with Jackson-Davis, who is third in the Big Ten in minutes per game (34.0). The next closest “center” is Luke Garza, who averages 30.1 minutes per game, tied for 20th in the conference.
Imagine how much better Indiana’s late-game execution could be if Jackson-Davis’ minutes are just reduced four or five minutes per game. Think about Indiana’s losses this season. In the Florida State, Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin losses, they had at least a four-point lead with under nine minutes in the second half in all four games. Against Purdue last Thursday, Indiana was within four with 10:47 to play. The common result in all of those games: an inability to finish.
This matchup with Iowa might be the perfect time to change something up. The fanbase is outraged after an eighth straight loss to Purdue. They’re losing faith in a season that felt so promising not even a month ago. Iowa is going to score a lot of points, averaging 87 points per game in Big Ten games. In order to hang with the Hawkeyes, the Hoosiers will need to take and make 3-pointers and be able to stretch the floor.
Iowa will also play a high-paced game, making Indiana run defensively. Fatigue has been an issue all season for Indiana, with only 10 healthy scholarship players. Allowing Jackson-Davis and Thompson to give each other breathers could help them stay fresh longer.
It’s not a game that Indiana is likely to win, but Archie Miller showing the fan base he’s trying to figure something out by changing up the lineup might be a positive sign for an outraged Hoosier nation.
Miller has proven to be a defensive-first head coach, but in today’s game, it may be time to start searching for answers on the offensive end instead of always looking to shore up the defense. Miller is not known to tinker with his starting lineup much in his Indiana tenure, but he’s already done it once this season, subbing in Galloway for Rob Phinisee, so maybe he would be open to it again.
And who knows, maybe a change is the jolt Indiana needs heading into a grueling stretch of the schedule.