Wee-woo. Wee-woo. Wee-woo.
No, that is not the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall fire alarm sounding – though we did learn Wednesday it is operational. That siren is a reminder the 2018 IU men’s basketball season is upon us.
Though we won’t know what the on-court product of this year’s squad will be – at least until Saturday’s Hoosier Hysteria – Coach Archie Miller and his players spoke with the press for the first time this fall at IU men’s basketball media day Wednesday afternoon.
Here are the day’s takeaways:
Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan are the anchors
Following Miller’s opening address, players were trotted out to the podium in pairs or threes – each group with descending relevance.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the freshman Langford and senior Morgan were the first two.
With his booming and confident voice, Morgan addressed the media with a cool mystique a grizzled veteran tends to bring.
To his left, Langford was more reserved. In the moments of silence between questions and answers, he bit his lower lip while his left arm clenched his right bicep.
During his first few answers, ESPN’s No. 5 ranked player out of high school and McDonald’s All-American sat far enough from the microphone that IU athletics staff asked him to scoot closer to the table.
Although it was a small snapshot, the moment almost perfectly encapsulates how these vastly different personalities will lead the Hoosiers in 2018.
Morgan, poignant and boisterous, is the unquestioned vocal leader of this year’s squad.
After exploring the NBA Draft waters, he returned to IU on the heels of a junior campaign in which he averaged 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and was awarded second team All-Big Ten honors.
“I just challenge them to be the best they can be every day,” Morgan said of his teammates. “And whether I have to do that myself and tell them that they have to guard me personally or if I just guard them, and I'm in them the whole practice, then I just think that will go from top to bottom.”
Conversely, the reticent Langford does his talking on the score sheet.
A prolific offensive weapon, the New Albany, Indiana, native holds the fourth-highest point total in Indiana high school basketball history. Further, Langford averaged 35.5 points per contest as a senior.
Perhaps the most hyped in-state freshman prospect since Damon Bailey in the early 1990s, Langford will be expected to bring the elite scoring prowess he displayed at the high school level to Bloomington.
“I really don't feel pressure,” Langford said. “I'm just coming here to play basketball and do my job, and that's all I'm focusing on, having a successful season with my team.”
Morgan will do enough actual talking for the both of them, but given Langford’s offensive capabilities, he won’t be quiet for long.
Davis is getting there, but he’s not there yet
When junior forward De’Ron Davis went down with a torn Achilles 15 games into the 2017 season, IU had a size problem.
Now almost a year later, Davis is still recuperating from that Achilles injury, and there are no obvious alternatives if he can’t go.
At Wednesday’s availability, Miller suggested that Davis is progressing through his rehabilitation, taking part in contact two-on-two and three-on-three drills and non-contact five-on-five.
Davis said he hopes to be back for the first game against Chicago State on Nov. 6 in Bloomington.
“I'm just trying to experience a little discomfort, but other than that, this process has been smooth,” Davis said. “I don't know how healthy I'll be just yet. The timetable is still kind of weird looking, but I'm just trying to contribute to anything and everything I can.”
A healthy Davis would be a huge bump for the Hoosiers. As a sophomore, he averaged 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game before going down.
More to the point, Davis is a monster defender. At 6-foot-10, 255 pounds, he is far and away the most physically imposing player IU has.
Miller said the true test upon Davis' return will be getting the big man back in game shape.
“His biggest battle will be conditioning and getting his weight back down because he just hasn't had the ability to consistently condition every single day,” Miller said. “But slowly but surely, he's coming around.”
Whether he’s ready in game one or game five shouldn’t matter too much, but if IU hopes to compete in the Big Ten, it needs a healthy Davis.
Rolling in the deep
Adele wasn’t singing about the depth of the IU men's basketball team when she wrote her No. 1 mega-hit, but the analogy still applies.
The Hoosiers return 11 players from last year’s roster. Of those 11, six have played in 31 or more games. Now throw in a five-man recruiting class that ranked No. 10 nationally, according to 247 Sports, and a sharpshooting big-man graduate transfer, and this may be the most complete IU roster since the Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo days.
“It has to be that way,” Miller said of having a rounded roster. “When you don't have it that way, you're sort of strapped as a coach and you kind of live and die with the results. And when you have depth and you have competition level that I think we can have, every day you're going to have to earn it, and that's how teams really grow.”
Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk and Collin Hartman are all off to the real world after exhausting their eligibility. In their place, Langford, sophomore Justin Smith and junior Devonte Green figure to take their minutes.
Sophomore Al Durham and freshmen Rob Phinisee and Jake Forrester should also provide ample sparks.
Former Saint Mary's College of California forward and aforementioned graduate transfer Evan Fitzner will provide size and shooting in spurts off the bench.
Beyond that, freshmen Jerome Hunter and Damezi Anderson will also see the floor alongside redshirt freshman Race Thompson. Finally, sophomore Clifton Moore provides another stretch-four option behind Fitzner.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 11 players who could see time in a rotation that already includes Morgan, Davis and redshirt senior Zach McRoberts.
In sum, 14 different players could get minutes in 2018 – that’s a lot.
Over the last few years of the Tom Crean era, IU had to rely on superstar play from the likes of Yogi Ferell and James Blackmon.
This year's Hoosiers aren’t overrun with youthful superstars like a Duke or Kentucky. But with a roster headlined by Morgan and Langford and a robust supporting cast, IU may have its most complete team in recent memory.
“I expect it a lot,” Morgan said. “Not even just trying to be overly confident, but I think the work we've put in and just how hard we go at each other in practice, I just can't wait to see how it is when the person across from us isn't wearing the same colors.”
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