An early look at the 2016-2017 backcourt

  • 09/23/2016 9:13 am in

With the official start of practice now just a week away, the 2016-2017 season is growing closer. We’ll have comprehensive player-by-player previews next month, but here’s an early look at some of the storylines to keep an eye on with this season’s backcourt:

(Previously: An early look at the 2016-2017 frontcourt)

· Who’s the primary ball handler? It’s one of the biggest questions with this Indiana team entering the season and at this point, there’s no clear answer. The graduation of Yogi Ferrell leaves a significant void in the Hoosier backcourt, but the coaching staff has a solid list of options who could take over the role.

One thing to consider is that Indiana may take a “by committee” approach, particularly early in the season. Tom Crean’s offense has proven that it can be initiated in a variety of ways, so don’t be surprised if Josh Newkirk, Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. split up some of that responsibility.

In terms of point guard experience, Newkirk has the most. He spent two seasons at Pittsburgh before transferring to Indiana. Although he sat out last season, Newkirk has been cleared since early this year (following microfracture surgery) and should be an immediate factor in the rotation.

· Can Blackmon Jr. bounce back from major surgery? He’s less than nine months removed from surgery to repair a partially torn ACL, but Blackmon Jr. has been cleared for all basketball activities by the medical staff.

A target for criticism last year because of his defensive struggles, Blackmon Jr. was in the midst of a very good offensive season when he went down with an injury on Dec. 28. His effective field goal percentage (60.2) was elite and the Marion product was also making better than 45 percent from behind the 3-point line.

As a junior, look for Blackmon Jr. to emerge as Indiana’s primary scoring option in the backcourt. In his first two seasons, that was a role he split with Ferrell, but now Blackmon Jr. is Indiana’s best option to create his own shot on the roster. While he could have some rust early from the court time missed last season, look for the junior to make a major impact in his third season.

· The new guys: Indiana welcomes a pair of freshmen – Devonte Green and Curtis Jones – who look capable of contributing right away.

Jones can play both guard positions, while Green’s high school coach told Inside the Hall over the summer that he’s more of a shooter and scorer than a point guard. Jones arrives with a top 100 national ranking and is the third player from the Boo Williams AAU program to arrive in Bloomington under Crean.

Green, meanwhile, is the younger brother of former North Carolina guard and current San Antonio Spur Danny Green. After being overlooked in many of the national rankings, the Long Island (N.Y.) native should arrive with a chip on a shoulder and a drive to prove he belongs.

· Defense starts in the backcourt: Indiana’s season turned around a year ago when it started to defend and that began on the perimeter.

But with Ferrell gone, who will lead the defense among the guards?

Johnson has shown continued improvement as a defender over his first two seasons and the coaching staff has been complimentary of Newkirk’s ability to pressure the ball. Blackmon Jr. has plenty to prove, but if he’s going to meet expectations, he clearly has to show he’s more committed on that end of the floor.

Ultimately, the fact that the coaching staff has five guards who could see minutes should allow for the bench to be used as a motivator. Indiana’s frontcourt will be better equipped this season to account for defensive mistakes on the perimeter. Ball pressure and limiting open looks from behind the 3-point line are going to be crucial to sustaining the defensive progress that was made a season ago.

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  • Bill Graham

    Baby Cakes. You and I have always gotten along. And I always think you’re posts are rational and mostly optimistic.

  • Bill Graham

    Morgan doesn’t possess the same skillset as Hartman. Hartman’s shooting ball handling and general agility are much better than Morgans. Besides Hartman is immensely more experienced and has developed a great knack for right place right time plays (3’s, rebounds, steals, etc.).

    Regardless, of the comparison. (Which their isn’t Morgan isn’t even that good. He’s probably eight or ninth on the depth chart behind McSwain and Davis)….Hartman is still one of our guys. Whether or not you love his game. It’s not good to lose your only senior leader.

    I don’t like Morgan’s game. I just don’t. I think people make logical arguments about him…but I still just don’t think he’ll ever be a great player. But thats not the point. The point is: if this situation flipped and it was Morgan who has hurt. I still voice opinions hoping he gets better and that this is not a good thing for IU. Its about support not the depth chart.

  • Chi-Town Hoosier

    All of a sudden, Tremont Waters doesn’t seem like a sure thing.

  • SilentBob

    Thank you for clarifying Bill. I was assuming it was baby, but so many comments about trolls now of days. I’m almost wishing that word was banned. Not to degrade you or anyone else who is standing up for the integrity of these boards. I much like that, and have liked your grace debating less “mature” folks, but the pile up on trolls is almost becoming worse than the trolls themselves lol

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83


  • Chi-Town Hoosier

    I took a look at 247 Crystal Ball and the last 7 experts pointed UK after his visit.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Ok. We will see. I thought he already visited KY and would of committed there and then if he wanted to go there. Just my opinion. Take care Chi.

  • I am Baby Cakes

    Oh okay. You just don’t like Morgan. Someone who is a better defender than Hartman and has the exact same skillset yet is bigger. You just don’t like Morgan who could now be starting(as he should be).

  • Bill Graham

    Thats true the pile up is becoming bad. Usually if she says something that can be logically debated I’ll respond to her…if it just outrageous then I usually let the pile take care of it.

  • Bill Graham

    Yes, you’re right. I don’t like Morgan. I’ve admitted it several times. I don’t see what people see in him. I think he’s slow, mildly athletic, and is not a particularly good shooter or ball handler. Did he show flashes of good defense last year? Yes. But thats not particularly difficult when its late in the game and you’re fully rested and the guy you’re guarding has already played 35 minutes. Juwan is at best 7th man on this team. Thats a fact. In reality he’s probably 8th (even with Hartman out). Behind cujo and davis.

    On a side note I just used reverse psychology on you. By using your tactics and bringing down one of our players (Juwan)…it forced you to either agree with me (which we know will never happen) or it forced you to defend Juwan and say something positive about one of our guys. And that is and ITH first and a small victory.

  • I am Baby Cakes

    That isn’t reverse psychology. I never said Hartman wasn’t any good. To say Morgan is mildly athletic means Hartman is?? Not athletic at all? Your stance is based on not liking a player. While mine is actually watching and stats.

  • I am Baby Cakes

    You are really homering it out now. Good job.