After a 10 day layoff between games, Indiana came out looking like a team that has not played competitive basketball in a few weeks. The Hoosiers hit just 39.7% of their field goals today, a full 10% lower than their season average so far. There were a couple of points when Penn State threatened to pull away and make this a blow out game, so credit to Indiana for playing a little tougher than we’ve seen in years past. Still, losing to Penn State sucks, and I hope this is the last time a Mike Woodson-coached team ever does so.
Here’s three things:
Good Rob played today
Following up his 10 point performance against Northern Kentucky, Rob Phinisee had another solid game tonight, finishing with nine points, two assists, three boards and a steal versus just one turnover in 24 minutes off the bench. Plus, he hit a big three to keep Indiana in the game down the stretch, indicating that both his confidence and shooting stroke may have returned for good. Woodson clearly does not think Khristian Lander is game ready at this point, so having Phinisee start to resemble the player he was at points during his freshman season will be huge for Indiana’s success this year. Especially since Xavier Johnson has had some issues with foul trouble so far this season.
Rob was the only bench player to play more than 10 minutes today, and one of just two guys coming off the bench to have made a shot. Jordan Geronimo, the other offensive contributor, had the second-most minutes off the bench today with nine, followed by Tamar Bates who played six minutes, and Michael Durr and Anthony Leal, who each played five. Penn State, on the other hand, had eight players play more than 15 minutes, and three bench players who saw more than 20 minutes of game time.
If anything, these numbers indicate how little we know about this Indiana team right now. Coming into this game, Indiana had 11 guys on the roster who averaged double-digit minutes of playing time per game. These numbers were obviously due to drop once Indiana hit the tougher part of the schedule, as they are now, but it’s still a bit surprising to see guys like Bates, who was averaging 20 minutes per game, play so few minutes today. At this point, there’s no reason to doubt Woodson’s knowledge of his team or his ability to manage the roster, so it’s a little concerning to see that he doesn’t seem to have much trust in very many guys yet.
Woodson did mention this week that Trey Galloway should return to the lineup soon, which will likely impact the backcourt rotation, since he was playing more minutes than Leal and Lander before his injury. Galloway isn’t a shooter though, and it’s not clear who, if anyone, can be a threat from deep when Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp struggle as they did tonight. Leal and Bates were the most likely candidates coming into the year, but the two are shooting 30% and 34% respectively from distance and have not yet earned consistent spots in Woodson’s rotation.
Some familiar struggles
Losing on the road to Penn State on a night when the Hoosiers shot 23.5% of their threes and missed some big free throws has become depressingly routine for Indiana over the last five or six years, so this one stung. It’s worth remembering though that this is just the third Big Ten game Mike Woodson has ever coached in his life, and things are still looking way up.
So far, none of Indiana’s three losses are likely to hurt them on Selection Sunday. Two road Big Ten losses and another road loss to a team that Indiana hasn’t beaten since the 1980’s are simply not worth panicking about. Sure, it’ll be a relief when Indiana finally wins on the road this year, but there’s no denying that this team is better than last year’s and likely better than anything Archie ever had. The defense has improved, the offense has shot better (outside of tonight), and Woodson has demonstrated that he can consistently recruit players from the highest levels of high school basketball. Things are going to be just fine.