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11/26/2018

Healthy Hoosiers will only help Indiana basketball at Duke

A win is not a realistic expectation Tuesday night for Indiana when it plays Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

However, a competitive result in one of the toughest road environments would be an eyeful for Indiana fans following the last three games.

“I think more than anything you can't make the platform and the stage even bigger than it is,” IU head coach Archie Miller said. “Mental toughness is something that's going to be paramount. Confidence, though, is everything when you go into these types of games. You need your best guys to be the most confident; you need them to lead the way.”

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After Indiana’s blistering 3-0 start to the season with a convincing 23-point home win over Marquette, the last three games have been a struggle and somewhat of a head scratcher.

Indiana’s one-point loss at Arkansas could have been avoided by properly executing on a few more plays. But IU's close battles against UT-Arlington and UC Davis can be pointed to specifically in one area: lack of depth.

Zach McRoberts (back) and Devonte Green (thigh) have both missed the past four games with injuries. Between these two key players, Race Thompson (concussion) has played just four minutes, Jerome Hunter (leg) hasn't seen the court, while De’Ron Davis has been off and on since coming back from last years season-ending Achilles injury.

Both McRoberts and Green have been practicing with the team since the UC Davis game and haven’t garnered any setbacks. Miller is hopeful to have two of his best defenders back Tuesday when they need them the most.

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“If there's any setbacks, hopefully we can communicate, find a way to get one or two of those guys back into the rotation,” Miller said. “Not just now, but heading into our two Big Ten games, finishing December off of our non-conference, it will be nice to get those guys back. It would be a big help. It would also get those guys an opportunity to prepare themselves for January.”

If Miller is able to get two of his best defenders back then not only will that help Indiana depth wise, but also will allow the Hoosiers to put up a better fight against the trio of Duke freshmen with NBA lottery picks attached to their names.

R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish have taken the college basketball landscape by storm in the month of November. It all began with their 118-84 rout of Kentucky in the Champions Classic, but may have slowed a miniscule amount after the Blue Devils' loss to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational championship.

“I think all three guys are right fitting into the mold of what Duke basketball does, which is team,” Miller said. “I don't see three guys or two guys, however you want to do it, sort of out there rolling their eyes at another guy. They've been able to impact their team, in my opinion, with great attitude, great competitiveness. Obviously their talents and basketball ability is on display. I think everybody has seen how good they are.”

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The talented trio has accumulated for nearly two-thirds of Duke’s points throughout the season and without a healthy lineup for Indiana, the Blue Devils have the ability to run all night long.

Last game against UC Davis, the Hoosiers relied heavily on their starting five as Juwan Morgan played all 40 minutes in the win and Al Durham, along with freshman Romeo Langford and Robert Phinisee, logged 36-plus minutes.

Without depth to this Indiana roster, that makes it much more complicated for the Hoosiers and was a big reason why Indiana didn’t truly take sole possession of the game until the final six minutes. For as much as a struggle as the past three games were for Indiana, Miller saw it as a good test for his team.

“This is like light a fire just throw them in the fire. They are having to figure out how to get a stop late in the game, how to get a big bucket and they have never been there before,” Miller said after the UC Davis win. “Sometimes you get down at home, it doesn't feel fun. Most of the time, they have been expected to be up big.”

If McRoberts can comeback Tuesday and is effective, that relieves Langford and Durham of a few minutes. It's also additional help to guarding Barrett and Reddish.

If Green can come back, Phinisee won’t have to log 35-plus minutes a game and will also help the Hoosiers be effective against Duke point guard Tre Jones who makes the offense run with 5.5 assists per game.

If Davis can be effective off the bench and play well down low, maybe he can cause Williamson a few problems while keeping Morgan and Justin Smith fresh as well.

These are all big “if’s” going into a big time November matchup, but the biggest thing Indiana needs to do right now is just get healthy.

“It's been difficult a little bit early. November has been hard on our team in general. Guys just, you know, in, out, in, out,” Miller said. “I don't feel bad as a coach. I feel bad for them because I believe certain guys have worked really hard to get in there and they haven't had a chance yet.”


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