In what most would consider a disappointing season for the Hoosiers in 2018-19, Rob Phinisee emerged as a source of optimism for this upcoming season and beyond.
The 6’1” point guard from Lafayette, Indiana came in and started the first 12 games of the season and 29 of the 32 games in which he appeared as a true freshman. He registered 19 assists and nine steals in his first six games, making a great first impression as a fearless, smart defender and a polished offensive point guard, especially for a true freshman. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 2.29 on the year, a higher mark than fellow conference guards Jordan Bohannon and Glynn Watson Jr.
As the season progressed, Phinisee’s value to Indiana became more apparent. In wins last season, he shot 45.7 percent from the field, 39 percent from three and averaged 7.7 points and 3.9 assists per game. On the other side, those numbers were down to 27 percent from the field, 24 oercent from beyond the arc, and just 5.8 points and 1.87 assists per game when Indiana lost. That’s not to say Indiana didn’t have chances outside of Phinisee to win a handful of those games, but if the Hoosiers are going to take the next step going forward, he needs to find a little more consistency as he matures and really learns the college game.
His defensive value improved greatly as the season went on, too. In his first 16 games, he averaged 0.8 steals per game. That rate improved to 1.4 per contest in his final 16 games.
But perhaps Phinisee’s most memorable and impressive defensive moment came against Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston to close out the Michigan State game in Bloomington.
He picks up Winston directly off the inbound and doesn’t lose sight of him as they pass Kenny Goins. Once the two of them are isolated at the top of the key, Phinisee gives Winston almost no space to operate and no choice but to drive with his right hand with the other eight players in the game on the left side of the court, leaving the two of them all alone. As soon as Winston starts to drive, the two are attached at the hip, Phinisee does not back down, and executes a nearly perfect close-out on the shot. In a season that was full of impressive on-ball defensive possessions, this one was especially impressive
Phinisee showed some flashes on the offensive side of the ball, too, especially in an area where Indiana needs significant improvement. He went 5/11 (45.5 percent) from three in Indiana’s first four games, made a three in six straight games from February 19 against Purdue through March 10 against Rutgers, and shot 7/13 (53.8 percent) from three in a three-game stretch of Penn State, Louisville and Butler. Of those seven made threes, none were more important than his final one against the Bulldogs.
After running the clock down to about 8 seconds, he gets the ball to Devonte Green and gets out of the way. After the double-screen to get Romeo Langford open doesn't work, Phinisee realizes Green can’t get the ball to Langford, slips by his defender—who is eyeing Langford the entire time—catches a pass and hoists the game-winner. Not exactly what Archie Miller drew up, but Phinisee showed great levels of awareness in a dire scenario. In just three seconds, he went from standing on the wing to improvising and making one of the biggest shots of Indiana's season. Pretty impressive awareness and execution for a true freshman.
His first season wasn’t perfect—his 36.1 shooting percentage from the field simply has to improve—but Phinisee showed enough to prove he could be capable of leading an Indiana team in the future. This year’s team has a lot of moving pieces and question marks, but Phinisee can cement himself as a significant piece right away.