By Eddie Cotton
Dan Dakich was right all along. It's not surprising knowing the normal precedent that comes with the label "out indefinitely," but De'Ron Davis is now officially out for the season after undergoing Achilles surgery. It's a big loss, quite literally, with Davis serving as the team's only realistic option at center. It's a big loss, but if the last two games have taught us anything, it's not a detrimental one.
What is Indiana missing without De'Ron Davis
The biggest thing Indiana will be missing in Davis' absence is on the defensive side of the ball. In High School, he broke the state of Colorado's career blocks record and that's a skill that has followed him into the college game. According to KenPom, when on the floor defensively, Davis has blocked 8.9 percent of the two-point shots taken by opponents. His block percentage ranks him at 58th in the nation. Now, without him in the lineup Indiana has to find a way to replace that defensive production without really having the size to do so.
In addition to Davis' defensive presence, the other facet of his game that needs to be appropriately replaced is his low-post usage. According to KenPom, Davis was utilized on 23.7 percent of plays while he was on the floor. Archie Miller's offense thrives off low post feeds and kick outs. Without him, someone has to replace that usage to keep this offense afloat.
Why Indiana has and will win without him
"Just play your heart out every play," Indiana senior Collin Hartman said. "Don't take plays off. We've got guys that are ready to go. And if you're not ready to go someone else is going to sub you in. So you just gotta come in ready. And that hard working and that scrappy mindset is what we have to have every day and carry over to these games."
Hartman's sentiment comes after Indiana won its second straight Big Ten game, defeating Penn State at home 74-70. His sentiment answers a problem that has always been much bigger for Indiana, rather than whether Davis can be effective. Hartman's sentiment attacks the issue of effort and understanding.
As valuable as Davis has and could have been for this team, he has never been the key to Indiana's success. Nobody has ever said, "Oh golly, if only De'Ron Davis could figure things out, then Indiana will be a tournament team!"
The key has always been about establishing chemistry and cohesion in a new system. The key has always been about getting effort out of everyone on the floor. The key has always been getting the most out of guard play and letting Juwan Morgan flourish. Davis was never going to win you or lose you a game. Now, Indiana has to rely on those that truly can do both.
Surprisingly enough, the emergence of Zach McRoberts has alleviated a majority of Indiana's effort based issues. Statistically, McRoberts' effort on the floor has actually helped to replace Davis' net defensive benefit to the team, but in a different nature. Davis' excellence with blocks maybe equivalent or even less valuable than McRoberts' ability to force turnovers. According to KenPom, McRoberts forces steals on 3.8 percent of all defensive possessions. That puts him at 56th in the nation, showing just how valuable McRoberts can be with added minutes even without putting up remarkable points numbers.
In addition, according to KenPom, McRoberts is grabbing rebounds at almost the same rate as Davis was. Davis has an offensive rebounding percentage of 10.7 percent and McRoberts is sitting at 10.6 percent. Davis has a defensive rebounding rate of 15 percent and McRoberts is sitting at 14 percent. With more minutes, McRoberts should be able to effectively and efficiently do the little things to fill in for Davis.
Juwan Morgan has been making a case for Big Ten Player of the Year since the season started. He is the unquestioned leader of this team and symbolizes one of Archie Miller's first great successes in development. He does everything for this team, averaging 16 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. The concern might be that Morgan may have to do even more without Davis' in the lineup, but that's not true. Morgan will just have to maintain his production for Indiana, but that production simply becomes more valuable.
The reason behind that sentiment is the idea that Morgan already does everything that Davis did and more. Although Miller's offense utilizes two post options at the same time, that isn't exactly necessary. The reason it isn't necessary points directly at the current landscape of basketball. Under the blueprint of the Golden State Warriors, teams are playing smaller and positions are becoming more fluid. With Morgan's ability to handle the ball and shoot from distance, he has established himself as the perfect player to fit the Draymond Green role on this team.
According to KenPom, Morgan is 130th in the nation in offensive rating, 136th in effective field goal percentage, 93rd in offensive rebounding percentage, and importantly 131st in block percentage.
Morgan is the more efficient version of Davis, and now he has more room to use that efficiency. Gone is the low-post clutter that might hold back Morgan. Morgan is on his own and that could prove to be vital for Indiana moving forward.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Justin Smith scored 20 points against Minnesota in the first game after Davis' injury. Smith was the most highly touted recruit coming into the program this season and against Minnesota he finally had the opportunity to show us why. His size and athleticism brings upon a clear resemblance to the style of play of Miles Bridges of Michigan State. Both can easily transition from the three and the four position on the floor and they both can help a team offensively by spreading the floor.
Smith's second performance against Penn State wasn't as stellar due to foul trouble, but it was a learning experience. He clearly has the chance to be effective on the floor as long as he stays on it.
According to KenPom, Smith has been more efficient offensively than Robert Johnson and Devonte Green and he has actually been a more efficient rebounder than Davis. The issue with these numbers is the small sample size. If Smith can find a way to extrapolate his numbers over extended minutes, then he can actually become a star. If he can even be just half as effective as he has been statistically in a small sample size, than he will still be more helpful to Indiana than De'Ron Davis ever was.
The last individual that should be able to step up in Davis' absence is Freddie McSwain. It may be hard to reconcile with due to his offensive struggles shooting the ball, but there is one thing McSwain does just so darn well that it could make up for a lot.
According to KenPom, Freddie McSwain is the most efficient offensive rebounder in the nation.
Of course, McSwain doesn't play enough minutes to qualify for any of KenPom's leader-boards, but hey, McSwain is still incredibly valuable in this one facet. If he can simply contain himself to focus only on that specific role of flying in for every rebound, he can benefit Indiana in a way Davis never could.
Indiana's biggest concerns moving forward
With all of this said, Indiana still has concerns that need to be addressed rather soon.
- Indiana needs to figure out if the guards on this roster can step up when needed. Johnson and Josh Newkirk have been streaky at best, and with Davis' out and Indiana playing small, they become that much more valuable.
- Indiana needs to start effectively hitting shots. The team is shooting an abysmal 30.5 percent from behind the arc and it's almost impossible to win consistently at that rate. Archie Miller knows that and he has acknowledged that.
- "Shooting the ball for whatever reason has been the one frustrating thing with this team," Coach Miller said. "I've always said this: I think we're a better 3-point shooting team than we've shown. Guys are getting good looks, they're just not going down."
- Shooting can alleviate any low-post depth issues, but that needs to improve quickly.
- Indiana needs to figure out how to handle Purdue and Michigan State. Indiana probably wasn't beating these two teams with De'Ron Davis, and now it's going to get that much more difficult because of how large they are. Isaac Haas and Nick Ward could have field days in the near future against Indiana.