The Indiana basketball program is on a four-game losing streak and there is only one way to end it; unleash Jerome Hunter and the small lineup.
For most of the offseason, the talk about the Indiana basketball program was around the frontcourt and the depth that Archie Miller finally had in order to compete atop the Big Ten conference. Now, the best way to move forward may have nothing to do with size or depth, but putting the most skilled lineup on the floor at all times.
When Joey Brunk transferred over from Butler, everyone was excited about the toughness and leadership he would bring to a relatively young and inexperienced team. While the toughness has been there for the most part, and the leadership has shown at times, Brunk’s fit next to Trayce Jackson-Davis in the Indiana lineup may not be what’s best moving forward.
There is no question that Jackson-Davis is the most skilled player on the roster and we have seen that on multiple occasions, but recently his impact – only averaging 11.2 points in his last 10 games – has taken a hit, not due to his play, but due to the play of those around him.
A major reason for that is the ‘big’ lineup that Archie Miller has on the floor at almost every minute of the game. Whether it be Brunk, De’Ron Davis or Race Thompson, none of the three give the Hoosiers any floor spacing or slashing ability in the paint. Where does that leave Jackson-Davis? In a clogged up paint with no space to operate and double-teams coming left and right.
Recently, however, the play of Jerome Hunter has brought an entirely new dimension to the Indiana offense. At 6-foot-8, Hunter has the size that allows for extended playing time without losing height and length in the frontcourt. After getting his feet under him, he has been a huge plus in a time where there has been very little positive from Indiana.
In the past three games, Hunter has averaged 10.3 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, and 44 percent from three, being one of the only reliable shooters from deep in a time the Hoosiers desperately need it. Proving to be invaluable when he is on the floor, Hunter has played 26.3 minutes per game in those outings and is starting to show his skill and ability to be part of the backbone for the future.
So where does Indiana go from here? With the offensive production being extremely ineffective, the small-ball lineup has been a spark in the limited minutes Archie Miller has used it. With Jackson-Davis’ athleticism and skillset, moving him to the center position would immediately give Indiana a tremendous matchup advantage. Following suit, getting Justin Smith more involved as a small-ball four is something that needs to be utilized more. His growth as an under control player has proved dividends this season and his ability to drive on bigger defenders needs to be something the Indiana offense goes to more often. After that, having Jerome Hunter slide into the starting lineup on the wing adds that shooting and ability to stretch the floor that is nowhere to be found as currently constructed.
Because of the production and efficiency of that trio, the Hoosiers need to take advantage of that group immediately and get the ball in their hands as much as possible. Granted, half of that is put on the guards getting them the ball, something they have struggled with all season long.
A move that is needed, Archie Miller must adjust to find some sort of energy boost and chemistry to end the year.