The basic recipe for Tom Crean lineups during his tenure at Indiana has been pretty simple - a floor leader, a big man, and a whole bunch of wings. This construction has led to a run-and-gun type of play that can be absolutely enthralling at best, and completely maddening when a basket is needed in crunch time in a half-court set. While the 2016-17 Hoosiers will often display similar offensive concepts as in previous years, this team will not look like teams of the past, and that could push Indiana to new heights.
With the loss of Yogi Ferrell, it would be dumb and reactionary to try and replace all of his production and intangibles with one person. Tom Crean ain’t stupid, though, and Indiana’s backcourt will feature a new look because of it. A point guard by committee sounds unstable and a recipe for disaster, but it has the potential to be a dynamic way to feature lineups that provide huge mismatches in Indiana’s favor. Robert Johnson and James Blackmon should remain in similar roles in which they handle PG duties intermittently, but mostly play off ball. Josh Newkirk, who has been a highlight reel in the Hoosiers’ two tune-up exhibitions, is a bit of a question mark, but he will be heavily involved in the rotation as well, at the very least providing great athleticism and defense in addition to being a capable ball handler. The kicker comes with Juwan Morgan, who at 6’9”, completely changes the look of the team by allowing for a true positionless offense - a philosophy in which Tom Crean has seemingly always been striving towards. After seeing some time leading the offense last March on the second unit, Morgan once again brought the ball up in exhibition play, signaling that Crean is for real in his point guard experiment.
But should you worry about rotations or set starting lineups?
Don’t worry about rotations -- or set starting lineups.
As with any Tom Crean team there are endless possibilities of lineup variations for the coaching staff to work with, and I suspect the rotations will be very much in flux well into Big Ten play. While a typical starting lineup will probably consist of Newkirk-RoJo-JBJ-OG-Bryant while Collin Hartman recovers from injury, a Morgan-at-PG offense will allow OG the versatility to guard literally anyone on the floor, as Juwan could cover the post defensively. More than likely, units will develop and take on an identity. Whether that’s a scoring, small-ball lineup, or an athletic, lockdown defensive group, Indiana will be very tough to plan for, as they will be many things at once.
Defensively, the Hoosiers project to be the best they’ve been in years. Although it was against a lowly Bellarmine, Indiana’s defense locked in even when their shooting completely abandoned them. In a long, hard-fought drag of a Big Ten season, being able to win in a variety of ways is a major factor in who is left standing at the top of the heap at the end of the season. Of course, having a player like OG Anunoby also helps a little bit, too. His true ability to guard anyone on the court at a high level makes everyone’s lives around him much easier, allowing for more favorable matchups at other positions.
The frontcourt will be the strength.
Up front, Thomas Bryant will anchor an extremely athletic and physically imposing unit. Between Bryant, OG, Hartman, Juwan Morgan, and De’Ron Davis, there will be few teams that can claim an advantage on the inside, which is a very welcome sight compared to Indiana teams of the past. However, do not expect to see a Purdue-style offense that revolves around feeding the ball into the post and letting the big men go to work. While the offense should be more balanced this year, the frenetic pace and constant ball movement will still be a staple of the offense, and IU’s big men will continue to develop hybrid skills because of it. The only players I am not comfortable with taking a three on the team are De’Ron Davis and Freddie McSwain, and that is simply because I haven’t seen enough of them. Literally everyone else has the green light if left open beyond the arc.
Take all of that, and then throw in complimentary pieces like Curtis Jones, Devonte Green, and Freddie McSwain, and there are 11 capable players that should see time in the rotation at points throughout the year. It’s been a while, probably since 2012-13, since Indiana has had as much depth as it does this year. With Tom Crean showing signs of comfort and growth as a coach last year, he will have a stocked cupboard this year full of flexibility, athleticism, and talent to work with. I, for one, am very excited to see how that shakes out.