There are things that make sense, and there are things that don’t, and when good things fall into that second category you just nod your head, say okay, take the free Chili’s/Tax Return/Car/other unexpected material joy, nod your head, and run along quickly before anyone notices.
This is one of those times.
On the heels of a seven game losing streak that had left most (including this blog) leaving the season for dead, Indiana knocked off sixth-ranked Michigan State in the Breslin Center to pull postseason hopes back from the brink right at the point it seemed to all turn. With 6 minutes to go and Indiana trailing by three, Juwan Morgan went down with another in the long line of his shoulder injuries that have plagued him for most of his Indiana career. You’d be forgiven if you were ready to shut the game off and mail in Indiana’s season at that point.
Then, uh, one of those things happened. DeRon Davis, Devonte Green, and Justin Smith filled in, played freely, and carried Indiana for a long stretch of the 2nd half before Romeo Langford showed up late.
And suddenly, the complexion of the season looks much different. Three really quick things because it’s Saturday and I’m gonna go have a beer.
DeRon Davis, DeRon Davis, DeRon Davis.
Don’t let the box score undersell it. The junior big man’s impact in Juwan Morgan’s absence was massive, and he was impactful even in areas where Morgan struggles. Davis gave Nick Ward fits on the low block defensively, and still remains Indiana’s best low post scorer even after the achilles injury.
How much Indiana can improve and how far they can go in Morgan’s absence will depend on Davis — but any postseason hopes will depend on what the two can do on the floor together? As effective as Justin Smith was on Saturday night, he and Morgan are similar players. A Green-Langford-Durham-Morgan-Davis starting five is plenty good to win a game in the tournament.
Consider especially what that lineup would allow. Morgan’s shooting ability and athleticism allows him to play as a true stretch-4 rather than a back-to-the-basket five, which opens up space for both Davis to work in the post AND driving lanes for Langford. Durham’s probably Indiana’s best outside shooting option, and is emerging as a decent scorer. Green is Indiana’s best point guard, can shoot, isn’t a freshman. Play them all. Lots.
Indiana made shots.
I need to go back and look at the tape with time, but I’ll stand by some of my critique’s of Archie’s offensive philosophy. The structured half-court sets don’t fit as well to the pieces he has, and they’re just not effective right now. For a while in the early second half, Indiana played as free and unstructured with more NBA-like concepts than I’ve seen since Tom Crean left Bloomington. Green-Davis pick-and-roll actions worked well, with Justin Smith playing off the ball with them. Spacing opened up for shooters. The pace picked up a tick. Shots seemed to come in rhythm.
As the game tightened, so did the Hoosiers. But it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Romeo got his numbers, but really struggled for long stretches.
Sixteen NBA draft boys are gonna look at Romeo’s 19 points and assume a decent outing in East Lansing. Credit where credit’s due: he had a couple of huge buckets late (the bouncing-ball three and the drive inside in a minute left to tie stick out) and that’s why stars are on your roster. But it wasn’t all that pretty.
For a good deal of the game, Romeo seemed to struggle to get into the flow & rhythm of the offense, especially in those half court sets that don’t well-accentuate his strengths. Things often looked forced, and many of his attempts at the rim didn’t work out too well. Why? Romeo doesn’t particularly look like a dude who’s all that comfortable playing off of the ball just yet.