Before the season began, IU men’s basketball head coach Archie Miller touted the depth of his team. He spoke about how his team didn’t have a go-to guy, but instead a variety of players who could have the hot hand on a given night.
As the season began Miller talked about the difficulties in finding a way to get all 11 scholarship players on the floor, all of whom he felt deserved to play.
He was ready to cut into his 11-man rotation with a game against a top-15 team days away. The rotational plan Miller had beeen using all season wasn’t working anymore.
“We just play as many guys as we need to play to win the game and who is playing the hardest because you're not going to be able to compete against Ohio State or anybody after that or moving forward, each down the line as teams keep getting better, if you're still standing in the same conversation,” Miller said.
In the final stretch as IU came back to beat Northwestern, Miller drastically cut down on his substitutions after making changes with nearly every timeout over the course of the game. When he did so, the Hoosiers went on a run, and Miller stuck with what he had on the floor.
Every scholarship player except sophomore guard Rob Phinisee, who has dealt with multiple injuries, has played in at least 12 of IU’s 15 games. All 11 scholarship players are averaging at least a point per game, and four are averaging double-digit points per game. Ten of the 11 scholarship players are averaging at least 11 minutes per game, the exception being senior forward De'Ron Davis.
Junior forward Justin Smith is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game. The scoring and minutes have been among the most balanced of any team in the nation.
But Miller has now seen success when he strayed away from what he had thought to be a strength of his roster. He had seen a boost in energy from a team that lacked it when he shrunk the rotation. He relied on freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, Smith and one of his captains, junior guard Al Durham, to stay in the game for longer stretches than normal and increase the intensity.
“It just doesn't seem like our group is just locked in on, ‘I do my job when I come in the game,’ and it just seems like we have some guys that are really unsure,” Miller said. “I think that's why we have some turnovers, and I think that we're playing lethargic defensively. Like I said to them after the game, strength in numbers is only going so far right now.”
This could mean a smaller role for redshirt freshman forward Jerome Hunter and sophomore forward Damezi Anderson, neither of whom have produced at high levels — averaging a combined seven points per game during their combined 25.7 minutes per game.
It cuts out two forwards averaging among the fewest minutes other than Davis, who already had the smallest role among scholarship players.
This hypothetical scenario would cut IU’s rotation down to eight. Between eight and nine players tends to be a more average rotation across college basketball compared to the 11 IU had been using.
As Miller turns the page to playing No. 11 Ohio State at noon Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, adjustments to the rotation are coming. The Buckeyes are arguably the best team the Hoosiers have faced all season. Ohio State has the No. 15 adjusted offense in the nation, according to KenPom analytics and the No. 6 adjusted defense.
It’s not the type of game where most teams would make significant adjustments to a rotation it has used all season, but that’s what is likely coming for IU.