At IU’s last game of the regular season, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble was guarding freshman forward Juwan Morgan.
This didn’t come after a switch. Trimble was supposed to be guarding Morgan. This was strange to most people in Assembly Hall because it looked like the Hoosiers had five forwards on the court.
IU Coach Tom Crean saw things differently.
“We did have a guard — Juwan.” Crean said. “We play him at the point in practice about five to eight, maybe 10 minutes a day. We’ve been preparing.”
With IU’s injuries at the guard position, the Hoosiers have needed to get creative about how to manage the times when senior guard Yogi Ferrell needs a rest.
Sophomore guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson are injured. Blackmon Jr. is out for the year and Johnson’s status for IU’s opening game of the Big Ten Tournament is still undetermined.
This means Crean has been working on turning Morgan into a consistent ball handler who can run the offense. He’s done the same with freshman guard Harrison Niego, and junior forwards Troy Williams and Collin Hartman.
“Juwan wasn’t handling the ball by accident,” Crean said. “That’s what we do in practice. Harrison can, Troy can easily do that. Collin can do that. But we’ve been planning that the last couple of weeks. Especially with Rob’s injury, we’d have to have more ball handling and use those the lineups.”
But Morgan’s status is also undetermined for Friday’s game. He dislocated his shoulder in IU’s win against Iowa on March 1 and re-injured the shoulder against Maryland. Crean said the injury against Iowa was due to contact. He collided with a player and his shoulder popped out.
Against Maryland, Crean said, his shoulder wasn’t forced out by contact, meaning Morgan’s shoulder popped out on its own.
But Morgan isn’t likely to sit out. He didn’t miss a game after the first time his shoulder popped out, and he hasn’t missed any practice since it popped out the second time.
“Juwan is better even though I’m being extra cautious with him,” Crean said. “At the same time, he’s basically doing everything that we’re doing right now, so we fully expect that not to change.”
This is expected, Crean said, because of the kind of person Morgan is. That’s why the Hoosiers have so much respect for the freshman.
Something else that was expected, Williams said, was Morgan playing well when he was inserted at point guard.
“He’s just now coming out, but we’ve been working on it,” Williams said. “It’s not anything new or nothing that we just came up with on the spot. We’ve been putting him in those situations.”
Williams also said the Hoosiers, not just Morgan, practice without positions. Instead, they work on spots. Any situation or spot on the floor a Hoosier might find himself in, he’s prepared to do whatever’s necessary.
That’s how it’s been all season. So when alternative sources for ball handling became necessary the Hoosiers were prepared.
Now, if Johnson is able to return for the Big Ten Tournament, or if he waits until the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers have another proven player who can run the offense.
“It definitely adds versatility to us,” Williams said. “It shows that we can have more than just one, two, maybe three ball handlers. It shows we have another person who can make reads or decisions on the fly.”