#30 Indiana Preview 2018-19

Key Returners: Juwan Morgan, De'Ron Davis, Devonte Green, Justin Smith, Aljami Durham
Key Losses: Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk, Collin Hartman, Freddie McSwain
Key Newcomers: Romeo Langford, Evan Fitzner (St. Mary's transfer), Robert Phinisee, Jerome Hunter


Outlook: With 'Hoosier Nation' as hungry as ever to return to national relevancy, Archie Miller finds himself staring down the barrel at a pivotal year 2 in Bloomington. It can't be understated how important it was for Archie to build early momentum on the recruiting trail, especially within the Indiana state lines - as an IU alumnus, locking down the borders from outside poachers (most notably Xavier and Ohio State in recent years) is something the Hoosier faithful take very seriously.

Archie did just that by bolstering his highly anticipated freshman class with three Indiana high-school All-Star members in Robert Phinisee, Damezi Anderson and the golden boy, Romeo Langford (whose college decision circus show rivaled Lebron's move to Miami in 2010). But Archie didn't just stop there - he supplemented that homegrown talent with two more 4-star prospects in Jerome Hunter and Jake Forrester, and also snagged a sneaky good front court asset of the transfer wire in stretch forward Evan Fitzner from Saint Mary's.

This injection of newcomers should give Archie a deep bench to work with, something he's always valued in his teams dating back to his time at Dayton. The core roster is now armed with an elite scoring talent on the perimeter (Langford), an all-league caliber two-way forward (Juwan Morgan), a laundry list of "jack-of-all-trades" on the wing (veteran glue guy Zach McRoberts, multi-positional guard Al Durham, athletic freak Justin Smith), and a versatile front court (Fitzner, brickhouse De'Ron Davis, as well as former 4-star prospects Race Thompson and Clifton Moore).

So, what's missing?

Well if you listen closely, you'll now hear every IU fan screaming the answer at the top of their lungs...

A reliable and consistent point guard...

The Hoosiers were by no means air-tight at taking care of the rock last season, but Indiana's ball security did improve dramatically relative to the two years prior when they turned it over at one of the highest rates in the country. And with Josh Newkirk now gone, the question as to who will conduct the offense in 2019 has been amplified this offseason...

Most Indiana fans would agree that Devonte Green is simply not the answer at point. Green's game-to-game volatility would be more excusable if he were a freshman, but he now enters his junior campaign coming off two straight seasons plagued by inconsistency and questionable decision-making. Archie will likely honor his spot in the starting lineup (at least to start the year), but I'm not a member of the tribe that believes Green will all of a sudden blossom into a dependable lead ball handler and become the full-time solution at point.

This uncertainty surrounding the point guard spot makes the readiness and speed of development for incoming frosh Robert Phinisee absolutely critical to this team's success. Here's a quote from the ESPN recruiting analysts, who have seen far more of Phinisee than I have: "Robert is about as solid as they come for a high school point guard."

That sentence alone should bring about a gargantuan sigh of relief for IU fans everywhere. Watching just a few minutes of his high-school highlights reveals Phinisee's innate feel for the game as a floor general - he is perpetually in control with the ball in his hands and never seems rushed or hurried.

There are some encouraging similarities in Phinisee's approach to what we saw with Yogi Ferrell, who brought an unprecedented stability to the backcourt for four consecutive seasons. And as Archie continues to reel in blue-chip talent down the road, a pass-first facilitator like Phinisee orchestrating the offense may prove to be the secret sauce that's been missing the last two years. 

One last thing to keep an eye as the season approaches: The road to recovery of De'Ron Davis, who tore his achilles in a non-contact injury back in January. Per a report from the Indy Star, Archie provided an update on Davis' rehab timetable in late May: "Davis will be limited through the summer, working slowly back toward full health and then full fitness".

With Davis' health still a major question mark, the scenario where Evan Fitzner gets inserted into the starting lineup is becoming more and more likely. Although, health may not be the only reason Archie opts to slot the former Saint Mary's forward next to Morgan in the front court - it's a relatively small sample size, but the advanced on/off figures from last season show that playing Davis / Morgan as the two primary bigs did not go so well on either end of the floor:

One could argue Fitzner - a much better outside shooter than Davis - would create better floor spacing for Morgan to operate in the middle of the floor and reduce lane traffic for Langford and other slashers to penetrate.

Bottom Line: Hoosier nation saw a rather seismic shift in playing style during Archie's first season on the sidelines in Bloomington. After witnessing a perimeter-oriented, 3-point reliant offense under the Crean regime, Miller instilled a much more balanced offensive attack that featured a steady dose of Juwan Morgan mid and low-post touches to initiate the offense.

This stylistic change aligns closely with Archie's long-term vision, but it was also necessary in the short-term due to the nullity of outside shooting - McRoberts was the only player who shot close to 40% from 3 last year and even that was on only a handful of attempts. With Robert Johnson and Collin Hartman departing this offseason, Langford, Green and Phinisee on the perimeter, along Fitzner at the 4, will need to emerge as reliable long-range shooting threats to make Archie's desired inside-out balanced offense come to life. The defense should only get stingier in Archie's 2nd year, but if the Hoosiers have serious intentions of competing for a league title, the offensive firepower must be ignited more consistently.