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3 Things: Indiana beats Merrimack 81-49

What can we learn from today’s buy game

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately for Indiana fans, the Hoosiers early Sunday buy game in Assembly Hall was fairly uneventful. A buzzer-beating tip in cut Indiana’s lead to six going into the half, but the Hoosiers had a comfortable ten-point lead a minute or so before that, so it didn’t necessarily feel close. Still, after Wednesday’s second half collapse, it’s good to see Indiana take care of business and put this one away by a comfortable margin.

Here’s three things we learned from the game today:

Rob Phinisee is the backup point guard

Since the Syracuse game, Mike Woodson has shown some reluctance to play sophomore guard Khristian Lander when Xavier Johnson isn’t on the floor. In the three games leading up to that Syracuse matchup, Lander had been playing ten-plus minutes per game and showing signs of improvement over his rocky freshman year. Rob Phinisee was nursing an injury for those games, but given his scoring struggles last year, it seemed like there would be some competition for the back up minutes when he returned to the lineup.

Now that Phinisee is back, it’s clear that he is Woodson’s preferred backup. Until today’s game turned into a blowout, Lander stayed on the bench. He saw zero minutes in both the Nebraska and Wisconsin games, and only got in against the Orange once Phinisee had fouled out. Backcourt minutes distribution was one of the bigger questions entering this season, so it’s significant that Woodson has demonstrated a preference for Phinisee’s defense to Lander’s offense thus far in the season. Especially since Rob’s offensive struggles appear to be here to stay.

Phinisee has taken 17 three-point attempts so far this year, making just three of them. His seven points against Eastern Michigan in the season opener remain his season-high and he’s had a few games again this season when he was lucky to score any points at all. In 18 minutes against St. Johns, he was held completely scoreless, and it took a great outlet pass from Tamar Bates for him to make his only basket against the Badgers. Coming into this game, he only had one turnover fewer than Lander and three more assists, so it doesn’t seem to be an issue of taking care of the ball or facilitating for others.

The Offense Still Relies on Two-Pointers

Despite hitting 37% of their threes this year, up from 32.4% last year, Indiana still hasn’t been taking a ton of them. According to Kenpom, three-pointers make up just 25.2% of Indiana’s offensive production, putting them at 270th in the country. Of course, in some of these early buy games, hitting threes hasn’t been a necessity. Against Wisconsin though, when Trayce Jackson-Davis was struggling a bit with the double-teams, Indiana still took just 15 three-pointers on a night when they were hitting 38.5% from deep.

Leal’s emergence over the last few games could give Woodson more flexibility, since he isn’t as much of a defensive liability as Parker Stewart can be at times. Bates also looks like a competent shooter off the bench, though the sample size so far is a bit limited. This will be something to watch more closely when the schedule gets tougher later on, but the fact that Indiana has only taken 19.6 threes per game, good for 268th nationwide, is a bit surprising considering everything we heard about Woodson’s four in, one out offense before the season.

The Early Big Ten Games are a Tease

I had to google where Merrimack College is this morning, then had to google their name again to make sure they are Merrimack College and not Merrimack University. By Selection Sunday, I’m sure we’ll be grateful for every win we got, but it’s a bit of a letdown to play some exciting, meaningful games like Wisconsin and Syracuse before returning to these buy games for a brief stretch. It’s plain to see that this team is better than the teams we got used to during the Archie era and I would like to see them finally get some meaningful wins to back this up.

Hopefully this schedule was put together to help Woodson ease into the college game, which would be totally understandable. In future seasons, it’d be nice to put together a non-conference schedule like Michigan State’s, if for no other reason than the fact that these buy games are pretty boring and anything less than a 20-point victory would have been a let down. Or maybe I just need to learn to be more patient.