It was a season of what-ifs for the IU sophomores, from the occasional flashes of brilliance shown by guard Devonte Green to forward De’Ron Davis’ Achilles injury, which cost the big man half of his sophomore year.
After offseason hype surrounding the second-year Hoosiers centered on Davis’ remade physique and Green’s ability to take a step forward after a promising freshman campaign, things started off well enough. Green and Davis were each in Archie Miller’s starting lineup for five of the first six games, and Davis in particular established himself as an efficient post scorer.
Through his first seven games, Davis was averaging 12 points per game while shooting 75.6 percent from the field. Against Duke on Nov. 29, 2017, Davis had arguably his best game of the season, with 16 points and five rebounds, while facing a front court rife with NBA prospects. From there, it was mostly downhill for the Colorado native.
In the eight games before Davis succumbed to a season-ending Achilles tear, which he suffered in practice in January, he was averaging just 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He played one game in 2018, against Wisconsin on Jan. 2, before his injury. In early February, Davis spoke with the media and said he was hoping for a recovery within six to nine months of the injury.
“I’m just making the best of this,” Davis said. “It gives me a good opportunity to stay here over the summer, continue to get better and continue to rehab this.”
The sophomore class took another hit before Big Ten play got fully underway when guard Curtis Jones left the program in December and transferred to Oklahoma State. Jones scored 21 points in seven appearances with IU this year, and even as Miller continued to shake up his guard rotations throughout the season, it’s unclear if Jones would have found more opportunities.
With Davis out and Jones gone, the spotlight fell on Green as the lone scholarship sophomore who was active during the season’s dog days in January and February. Green began January mired in one of his worst slumps of the season, but by the end of the month, he had turned things around.
A six-game stretch near the end of the Big Ten schedule saw Green average 12.7 points and 4.5 assists per game while the Hoosiers went 4-2. He also shot 60.9 percent from 3-point range and turned the ball over just 10 times in the six games.
It started with a season-high 20 points in a loss at Ohio State on Jan. 30 and continued through IU’s final win of the season — at Iowa on Feb. 17. But throughout that stretch, Green showed the playmaking ability and carefulness with the ball that hint at a future role as an above average Big Ten point guard.
If the season had ended with that win at Iowa, where Green scored 18 points and dished out six assists, he would have entered the offseason on an undoubtedly high note. But the final three games of the year brought the return of the old Devonte Green, as he scored just 11 points and turned the ball over 10 times in 68 minutes of play, while the Hoosiers lost three in a row.
So, assuming Green is back on campus with IU in the fall, which version of him will Miller be getting? It could be the one who had 20 points and no turnovers at Ohio State in January, or it could be the one that went scoreless against those same Buckeyes just three weeks later on IU’s senior night.
Walk-on guards Johnny Jager, who made seven appearances this season, and Vijay Blackmon, who redshirted after transferring to IU in the offseason, also figure to remain in the mix as rising juniors on the Hoosiers’ roster next year.
But there’s no question that Green and Davis will be the center of attention. Each one could go a long way in determining what kind of season IU has next year.
IU has no one like Davis on its roster as presently constructed. Even in the 2018 recruiting class, Miller has no true center coming in that can clog the paint like Davis can, so if he’s healthy and back, the big man will find time.
A spot could exist for Green in the starting lineup if he holds off incoming freshman Robert Phinisee for the point guard job, or the two could play alongside each other. But if heralded five-star recruit Romeo Langford picks IU and joins Phinisee in the backcourt, Green might find himself squeezed out.
Regardless, Miller’s patience level for inconsistent stretches from Green will likely be lower next season. For a hint at what the coach will want from Green, refer to Miller’s line from the aftermath of a narrow loss to Michigan State in February.
“He's the guy that when he wants to distribute, he's the best guy on our team at that, ”
Miller said of Green. “And it's good. We need guys that are hunting assists rather than shots.”