The freshman class contributed significantly to the Hoosiers this season. Forward Justin Smith and guard Al Durham both had large roles for IU in times when they started and times when they came off the bench.
The duo showed their potential while also learning how to play at the collegiate level.
“It's good to see freshmen finishing strong,” IU Coach Archie Miller said late in the season. “I think that's a big part of their development, is at the end of the season showing that they got to a point where they feel good about themselves.”
Smith was one of IU’s most consistent players late in the season. In his freshman season, he started nine games and played in 31 while averaging 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. In four out of the last five games of the season, he scored in double figures, with the lone exception being IU’s loss to Rutgers.
“He's probably playing career-best basketball for him,” Miller said after the Ohio State game Feb. 23. “He's had double figures in a lot of games. I think you're seeing a guy with a lot more confidence, physical around the basket. I mentioned he's playing tougher on both ends of the floor.”
His best attribute is his skills around the basket. Smith became more aware of what his offensive role could be as the season progressed. He began to attack the basket and became adept at cutting along the baseline.
“We used to call him a practice dunker, because he could always dunk it hard in practice, but he never was trying to dunk on anybody in the games,” junior forward Juwan Morgan said. “And now he's attacking the rim with that kind of aggressiveness.”
One area where Smith struggled was his shooting. He only attempted 10 3-pointers and made only three of them all season. If he can stretch out his jump shot, it will make him an even more dangerous offensive player.
On the defensive end of the court, his block and steal rates were not nationally ranked, as he merely was focused on learning Miller’s defensive scheme in his freshman season. Based on his length, Smith can emerge as a disruptive defender.
Durham was a change-of-pace guard for the Hoosiers in his freshman season. His long arms affected opposing players, and he had a knack for getting to the rim. Just like Smith, he played in 31 games and started nine games.
However, he struggled to shoot 3-point range, shooting 28.6 percent. He lacked consistency with his shot. In conference play, he only scored in double figures twice, the second coming in IU’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Rutgers, where he made 10 out of 10 free throws.
Freshman forward Clifton Moore played sparingly this season and only appeared in nine games. His highest minute total of the season was seven minutes, a total which he reached in three games. He did not play in a game after Feb. 9 against Minnesota.
In those nine games, he was limited offensively, shooting 3-of-12 from the field. He did not make any of the two threes he attempted.
After the Northwestern game Jan. 14, Moore talked about what he still needed to learn as the season went along.
“Rebounding,” Moore said. “I would say learning the concepts on defense. Learning the timing on plays and executing offense.”
Moore could have a larger role next season if he develops into his frame.