Indiana bench, coach adapting to ever-changing roles
You can give first-year Indiana University men’s basketball coach Archie Miller credit for this, he has certainly figured out how to be adaptable through this oft-challenging season.
The Hoosiers (12-11, 5-6 Big Ten) will host No. 5-ranked Michigan State (20-3, 8-2) Saturday at 8:15 p.m. (ESPN) and what the Assembly Hall crowd will see is a number of Indiana players playing far more significant roles (and others not so much) than they ever thought possible when this season started.
Miller has had to deal with a series of conundrums this season ranging from inconsistent play, sporadic lethargy, poor decisions and critical injuries.
“It’s been tough,” Miller said in a press conference Friday. “We’ve had setbacks with injuries. We haven’t really had our full roster for portions of the season.
“That is always difficult.”
Miller is correct in that assessment.
At times, a lot of times, Miller has had to piece together unplanned rotations. He has utilized 10 different players double-figure minutes.
The season got underway and fifth-year “glue guy” Collin Hartman wasn’t healthy and was missing games, and here we are in the last segment of the season and Hartman is injured again and is still missing games.
After suffering an “awkward fall” in a recent practice, Hartman has been out for a couple of games, but he is practicing again, according to Miller.
“I’m not sure if he’ll play against Michigan State,” Miller said, “but he is making progress.”
Miller said a more accurate guess may have Hartman back for Monday’s game at Rutgers.
Hartman’s absence, as well as a season-ending injury to sophomore center De’Ron Davis in early January, has meant an increase in minutes for both freshman forward Justin Smith, redshirt junior forward Zach McRoberts, and senior center Freddie McSwain Jr., the latter of whom has been playing very well in his increased time.
“Our last three games,” Miller said, “Freddie has done a nice job. He’s competed, probably, as well as anybody inside defensively. He continues to sort of give us activity on the glass.”
In Indiana’s initial three Big Ten games, the undersized McSwain Jr. (he is just 6-foot-6) grabbed a total of four rebounds. However, in five of the past eight league games, he has grabbed at least three rebounds and at least five boards in three of them.
And he is contributing at the other end, as well.
McSwain Jr. has scored a combined 17 points in the past two games, which is just one point shy of what he totaled in the previous six games combined.
“He’s had moments where he’s been able to finish some balls off around the basket for us,” Miller said. “He’s playing well. It’s probably been his best stretch.”
For Smith, he has had to adapt to this level quickly, but Miller wants more from him.
After grabbing seven combined offensive boards in games against Northwestern and at Michigan State, Smith has regressed and only had four such rebounds in the past four games.
He did, however, grab six boards in a recent narrow loss to Purdue.
“It’s been a big topic of conversation for him and our team coming down the stretch,” Miller said of rebounding better. “We’re not rebounding at that spot very well. It’s hurt us.
“Justin has had his moments where I think he has really attacked the offensive glass and showed his talent level there, but the physicality, the one-on-one rebounding battles, just the strength to go up and get balls, wanting to get balls, he’s got to have a different mindset finishing out this month.”
McRoberts has literally gone from nowhere (DNPs in three of Indiana’s first five games) to somewhere (starting the past nine games), but now he is beginning to assert himself more offensively out of necessity.
“He has to be more aggressive within his role,” Miller said of McRoberts. “At times, teams have chosen to back off of him, not guard him, (and) do certain things. The ball usually finds those guys at certain times.”
McRoberts has attempted more shots (18) in the past four games than he did in the previous seven games combined.
“He’s got to step up and take the good shots,” Miller said. “He’s capable of making them. But just staying within his role.
“At times, he has been as good as anybody on the floor for us in doing what he does. We’re pleased with him.”
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