After finishing third in the Big Ten in total rebounds two years ago, IU men’s basketball has been middle of the pack on the glass the past two seasons.
In the 2017-18 season, IU was 9th in the conference with 35.7 rebounds per game. Last year, IU moved up two spots to 7th at 36.1 RPG. At times last season, due to injuries and depth, IU didn’t have the size to compete on the boards.
Too many times IU would give up offensive rebounds, which led to second chance buckets for the other team. Juwan Morgan, Justin Smith and De’Ron Davis were the only three primary forwards who were relied on to bang down low for the Hoosiers.
This year, IU head coach Archie Miller will have one of the deepest frontcourts in the Big Ten and now wants to experiment with bigger lineups. With only four guards on scholarship making up the backcourt, Miller will rely on all seven of his forwards to play out of position occasionally when foul trouble occurs.
“I think the strength of our team and some of the experience level of our team and talents, it really starts on paper with the size and the ability to hopefully play an inside game,” Miller said at Big Ten media day. “We have a lot of different guys that I think can play together.”
Last season Smith and Morgan started a majority of the time as the lone big men on the floor. Then-freshman guard Romeo Langford started at the wing and averaged 5.4 RPG, but he wasn’t relied on to defend the post. Now, Miller will deploy lineups at least in the beginning of the season where Smith is only the third tallest Hoosier on the court.
Smith will see more time on the wing this season due to the additions of freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and junior forward Joey Brunk.
Just like Morgan was capable of doing, Jackson-Davis can put the ball on the floor and space the defense due to his outside jump shot. It wouldn’t be surprising if Miller even put Jackson-Davis on the wing and played him at times with Brunk and De'Ron Davis to go as big as possible.
“I think that just with my athleticism I'm able to play that position, but I've been learning a lot from Justin,” Jackson-Davis said at IU’s media day. “He's been teaching me a lot. Just trying to keep working at it, and hopefully I'll be ready by the season start."
The bigger lineup was already showcased this season when IU played Marquette University at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for a closed 40-minute scrimmage.
IU fell to Marquette 72-69 but that was with sophomore guard Rob Phinisee and senior guard Devonte Green sitting out. Both figure to be in the Hoosiers’ starting lineup this season.
Miller tried out the bigger lineup to start and throughout a majority of the game. In the starting five, junior guard Al Durham was the only guard on the floor. Sophomore forward Damezi Anderson, Jackson-Davis, Smith and Brunk all coexisted on the floor together.
Despite being 6 feet 7 inches tall, Anderson played opposite of Durham to start the Marquette scrimmage. Miller at times will deploy him or freshman forward Jerome Hunter at that position due to their shooting abilities.
Freshman guard Armaan Franklin was also the only guard off the bench as Miller played three other forwards. It wouldn’t be unusual if IU tried out some form this lineup in the first couple games of the season due to the versatility most of the forwards on Miller’s roster possess.
"You can run a lot of different types of offense, especially when you have some guys who can score the ball down low," Miller said at IU’s media day. "But could they play together and defend a team who doesn’t play traditional with bigs? That will be the quest. Can those guys exist on that end of the floor a little bit?"
Most teams don’t play every scholarship player in the primary rotation throughout the season. Coaches try to tighten rotations to around eight players. For IU, every scholarship player could see important minutes at some point in the season.
After a season where depth was a concern for IU to battle in the paint against the likes of Purdue, Michigan State, Maryland and others, now there’s more than enough experience and talent in the post. The Hoosiers can feel comfortable throwing different guys out on defense and foul trouble amongst forwards won’t be a major concern.
“We have a big, strong, long group that in my opinion has some versatility, and we’ve got to get the most out of it by having them challenge each other every day,” Miller said at Big Ten media day. “But without question, I think that’s definitely something we have to find to make that a strength.”