An early look at Indiana’s 2017-2018 backcourt

  • 09/08/2017 10:27 am in

With the official start of practice less than a month away, the 2017-2018 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:

· Johnson’s time to lead: Robert Johnson arrived in Bloomington in 2014 as a consensus top 50 recruit. He’ll surpass the 1,000-career points plateau early this season. He’s been a steady presence in the IU rotation going back to his freshman season.

But Johnson is taking on a new role in the IU backcourt as a senior.

After deferring at times to Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. over his first three seasons, Johnson will be expected to lead the Hoosiers on the floor in his final season while also adjusting to a new system under Archie Miller.

Over the summer, Miller lauded Johnson’s work ethic and focus, which suggests he’s ready to embrace his opportunity to lead.

“Through about four weeks, he’s probably been about as focused of a basketball player that I’ve been around,” Miller said. “He’s all business right now. Really, really impressive kid. To watch him through about a four week summer period, he’s really impressive. He’s setting himself up to do what he wants to do which is have a great senior campaign for us.”

· Will a sophomore break out? Curtis Jones and Devonte Green both had moments of success as freshmen, but weren’t counted on to play major roles.

That should change this season with Blackmon Jr. moving on to pursue a professional career. Indiana will have to figure out a way to replace the production vacated by Blackmon Jr., who averaged 17 points in 30.5 minutes per game. Both were team highs.

Jones and Green can score and shoot from the perimeter, but they also have areas in which they’ll need to show improvement as sophomores.

For Jones, it’s improving his body and becoming much more reliable defensively.

And for Green, it’s better decision making as his turnover rate as a freshman (28.8 percent) was the highest on the roster.

· How will Newkirk’s role change, if at all? Josh Newkirk was put in an impossible position last season.

Newkirk was not only coming off an injury, but he also was tasked with replacing one of the best Indiana guards in recent history.

Although the Hoosiers did have a significant dropoff going from Ferrell to Newkirk, he improved as the season moved along. Newkirk showed himself to be a capable 3-point shooter (38 percent), but finished with a higher turnover rate than assist rate.

While he’s still the incumbent at point guard on paper coming into the season, it’s also a new era in Bloomington. Everyone has a blank slate and Newkirk is going to have to prove himself capable of beating out Green, Jones and freshman Al Durham Jr. for minutes.

How can Newkirk differentiate himself? Take better care of the ball, look to shoot less and defend at a higher level.

· Will Durham Jr. push for a rotation spot? If the Hoosiers go with a three-guard rotation regularly, it seems logical that freshman Al Durham Jr. will be a part of it.

But if that isn’t the case and IU goes with a bigger lineup regularly, where will that leave Durham Jr.?

It’s clear that Miller sees potential in Durham Jr., as he made it a priority to keep him in the fold after taking over for Tom Crean.

As a capable defender with length who can get into the passing lanes, Durham Jr. will have to defend well enough that the coaching staff simply can’t afford to not play him.

And even though he’s not known for his perimeter shooting, Durham Jr. will bring a different element offensively than IU’s other guards. In his final season on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL), he was among the top five players in terms of drawing fouls and getting to the line.

Filed to:

  • Gregory J. Haggard

    And 2 of those 4 were consensus ‘All Americans’.
    How much do you think can be attributed to the fact that Yogi absolutely had to score for that team to be effective, and Quinn didn’t?
    I recall Quinn having at least one 40 point night while at Boston.

  • Again, with limited knowledge, I think you’re right. Archie uses a motion offense without a ton of fixed sets, and his version doesn’t appear to be predicated on the dribble drive and so it’s not as affected by individual play. Like all motion offenses, as I understand it, it depends on moving the ball, probing the defense for weaknesses, and looking for a good shot. It can use up a lot of the shot clock, but that’s by design, and I don’t think it depends as much on a single player who can break down the defense at the end of the clock (or, god forbid, weaving around on the perimeter and then hoisting up a last-minute three point shot). I mean, of course, all offenses benefit from that kind of player, but I don’t think the lack of one is as detrimental in Archie’s offense as I understand it so far.

  • Gregory J. Haggard

    I misspoke, Kent Benson was a Jr.

  • Dialogos68

    What scares me is that there are no real standouts on this team… So far at least… Aside from needing team leaders, we will also need a couple of players to to break out and become our go to scorers…. Who on this team can average 15 points a game? Who will want the ball in the final seconds? Who can MAKE crunch time shots consistently? With a new coach and a vacuum of high stat players, this season is almost a complete mystery…. It will be interesting!

  • Iumick22

    Iumick22

  • Iumick22

    Jon McGloclin from Franklin and II had an eleven year NBA career and scored over 9000 points in the league. I’d put him ahead of Yogi.

  • IdahoHoosier

    You may have answered your own question. UNC had Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, AND a big you could throw the ball to in order to get a bucket and/or foul in Meeks. Villanova the year before actually had 3 or 4 guys they could go to. Arcidiacono was actually 3rd leading scorer behind Hart and Jenkins who both had big games and big moments throughout the season. So yeah, some very good teams and they had not 1 go-to guy, but several.

  • Arch Puddington

    Hard to say what QB could have done under other circumstances. He was the right player for the time and circumstance, though.

  • How many “go-to guys” can a team have before there really isn’t a “go-to” guy? Serious point: I think the best teams have many scoring options and therefore there’s not just one guy you can key on. When you have enough talent, you don’t need and maybe don’t want a “go-to” guy…

  • IdahoHoosier

    A matter of perspective. We can view it as “there is no go-to guy”, or that there are so many go-to guys that it is impossible/unnecessary to differentiate. If IU can get the job done “by committee” as they say, where 4 guys are averaging 11-14 ppg, that is great. I’d personally love to see that. Then when those inevitable “have to have a bucket” moments come up, there are options and no team can cover them all. Those really good teams typically have multiple guys who could be “the guy” on any other team. So is that team leaderless, or are they filled with leaders?

  • From what I can tell from limited knowledge, that sounds more like an Archie-coached team. I don’t think it mitigates the importance of leadership generally, rather only that the offense doesn’t demand someone who can individually break down the defense at the end of the shot clock.

  • Outoftheloop

    Rob, DeRon and Juwan will emerge as great players for IU.

  • Outoftheloop

    Rob and Devonte will.

  • Outoftheloop

    Why at the start of the season? IU has a new coach. The lineup will be in flux. First look to Rob, DeRon and Juwan. Then watch Devonte, Curtis and Josh. But we will always have critical plays by Collin. Then freshmen Justin and Clifton will contribute as will McFly. I like the depth of IU, up and down the roster. But we have had no games for this team. So nothing is certain.

  • Outoftheloop

    As a PG Yogi trails only Isiah and QB! (Maybe Slick Leonard).

  • Outoftheloop

    QB will always be “The Captain”!

  • Outoftheloop

    Except he held the IU record for FG % in a game versus WI at WI! Unconscious!

  • Outoftheloop

    They all count!

  • Outoftheloop

    Agreed!

  • gr8iufan

    Why can’t “the guy” be CH? Yes he is not quick, but get him the ball in good position to score and he will knock it down.

  • Mr. Shep-dizzle

    I agree with that, and that was supposed to be one of his strong attributes when he was sitting out, but I may be wrong. The whole team was sloppy on D for the most part, so hopefully we can chalk that up to last years coaching. To me, he’s replaceable in the starting line-up.

  • Mr. Shep-dizzle

    I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Look at J. Jackson at Kansas last year. He didn’t start out that hot consistently in the beginning of the season but by the end of it, he was the man. It takes time for some to build the confidence and for the light to switch on and they realize that they belong. OG didn’t show up until the tournament for us really, and only played a handful of games the next year, but we still consider him to be a “The Guy” type player. It’s different for each player. I respect your opinion though.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    Zeek – career averages, 15.4 points, 5.7 assists, Sweet 16 1980, NCAA championship 1981

    Yogi – career averages, 14.5 points, 4.6 assists, Sweet 16 2013, 2016

    Quinn Buckner – career averages, 10 points, 4.5 assists, Final 4-1973, NCAA championship 1976

    I would argue that had Cody Zeller and VO stayed in school, and if they had gone to the final 4- there would be unanimous agreement that yogi was an all time great Hoosier

  • E Foy McNaughton

    Wisconsin at Wisconsin in 1970s was the equivalent of Rutgers at Rutgers now

  • marcusgresham

    That cat could ball!

  • marcusgresham

    You’d really not put Yogi top-10 at PG?
    *my error—I was attributing Ole Man’s post to you.

  • marcusgresham

    Wilt hit a ton of FTs the night he went for 100, too, but that was an anomaly.

  • Miamihoosier

    Moved to Seattle a few years ago, just kept the name!

  • bleeding crimson

    My thoughts exactly. yr 15/16 he started 24/35 gms. avg 22 min. FG 45%, 3pt .358, FT 84% avg 3 Reb/gm. I think he will give us some great minutes.

  • bleeding crimson

    Not sure I totally agree. CM has a more structured transition off inteded to open up games, create foul trouble and score before the def can set up. He freq uses a “Phoenix fast break” with the players pushing the ball off of rebounds and TO’s in a flexible system that can take on a variety of scenario. He will change/modify the Phoenix break based on personnel to accommodate five guards or two post players on the floor at once. If an opp scores he will engage a “Carolina transition off” to create scoring opportunities which flow right into a motion off, this may create a last minute shot.

  • IdahoHoosier

    You may have a point that some players come along slowly. But I don’t think that typically go to guys emerge slowly. and I assume you mean Frank Jackson? But OG became what he was well before the tourney, and he wasn’t and never became “the guy” type of player.

  • PBzeer

    What doesn’t scare me is … there’s no standouts on this team. At any other time, that would be a worry, but setting up a new offense, I think in this case, will be easier without building it around one standout player. For while I think this team will do better than many expect, they are still laying the foundation for what’s to come, establishing an identity and culture. And I think, without that standout guy, they will evolve, and become a team that is better than the individual talent we have. Which I believe will be the foundation, the identity, of the teams to come.

  • JerryCT

    What ? No Herbie Lee, Tom Bolyard ? And my most unsung greatest player Vern Payne ?

  • JerryCT

    Statistics are good things and so are accomplishments no doubt. But a lot of factors are at play across generations eg whether the team was good, style of play, 3 pt line, team scoring etc. My best example of a player always overlooked for these reasons is Vernon Payne. Took IU from Last to first in the B10 which has not been done ever again. Why has the 1966-67 team never been feted ? An extraordinary team during bleak times

  • Ole Man

    Had to read about 4 times before I realized that CM was Archie! HA!
    That aside — You went deep on me with that analysis, so I can neither debate nor disagree. Yours is the first mention I’ve ever heard of a “Phoenix fast break”, which I assume refers to the pro team and I am not about to do that much research on Saturday morning.
    Instead, I refer you to Mark’s fine words just below.
    That’s about the level I dive into. LOL!

  • Arch Puddington

    I don’t disagree with any of this. And to emphasize, I’ll say that Yogi would not have been as good on the 1976 team as QB — different personality, different skill set. Against the packed-defenses of that era with no 3 point line to guard, Yogi would have been less able to get to the rim and less damaging as a shooter from the outside.

    But of course the corollary works as well. QB would have had a different skill set than is required In an age of extended defenses, three point shooting, and scoring PGs. Not that Yogi wouldn’t have been good in 1976 or QB in 2016, just that each was right for his time. Both were great, and there is no way to compare them directly. But rankings are fun to debate, and I see them as comparably great all things considered.

  • sd chuck

    Completely un related, but I just want to congratulate George Mcginnis! Imo, the greatest Hoosier of all time! Thanks for the memories!

  • Jrod

    Josh Jaskson

  • bleeding crimson

    Murphy, Not only was that my biggest pull my own teeth out of my head disappointment our jacking up a shot and not really having a plan of attack once we set up our off. Running and gunning we did pretty good except for driving the lane either not being open or no one to pass to, nor kick out for the open man. We just looked lost. I know injuries had alot to do with it last year, and that is one of the things that concerns me.
    I can go back to M. Creek. Once he had his injury, he was never the same, continue to re-injuried the same leg. I hope we don’t see a repeat of our guys doing the same this year due to the fact that we have had so many injuries/surgeries at the end of the season and going into summer. If our guys can just stay healthy, we could be that team that just give you fits and win the one’s were not supposed to. Pray for the best.

  • bleeding crimson

    Thanks for the laugh as always. I’ve been watching a lot of vid’s of his coaching style and camps. I think one of the biggest problems well have is adaption to his style of play on both off/def. That’s why I said before, it we be well into the B1G before the team has some sort of good sense to impliment his system and it is a system. So the entire team will have to change to such. That’s why I stated, he runs his styles hoping to create the TO’s to get his offense right back to a quick shot, last resort running down the shot clock.

  • bleeding crimson

    Talk about not only culture change but from one side of the continent to the other, diagonally. Had to be a job situation or a mother-in-law. Seattlehoosier….nah…I like Miami but never been to Seattle….doesn’t look as good spelled out either.

  • bleeding crimson

    Totally agree, he made me nervous witht he ball in his hands. I think CuJo showed more confidence in his play. I’m pulling for Devonte 6’3 and CuJo 6’4 and maybe Al Durham 6’4.
    Has anybody seen Jalen Blackmon. This kid is out of site. I’m sure will get a shot at him for 2021.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Honestly, in my opinion the backcourt was our biggest problem last season. I don’t see that happening again this year,,,at all.

  • TomJameson

    I agree with you all the way ’82, especially about AD. IMO, I think he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Evidently he doesn’t think so either (so I’ve heard). So he’s working hard on his weaknesses as identified by his coaches (both HS and College). This is a defensive minded Freshman, a big body for a guard, who will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Don’t know what will happen, but I’m hoping he becomes an opposing team’s nightmare, with his defense.

  • BadBoyHulls

    This is a good point about the offensive system being a key for some of these players. With a more deliberate approach Newkirk may thrive, instead of an approach of always pushing the ball and speed. We don’t have the pure offensive skill of years past so a focus on ball security and the extra pass may be more to the strength of the personnel. One of many intriguing storylines this season is who is going to step up as the secondary scorer behind RJ.

  • BadBoyHulls

    I think the “pure shooter” came from the type of player he was coming out of high school. He struggled to get adjusted last year. Im hoping with him spending his summer at IU he had a chance to work on his shooting mechanics and physique to better fit in and be more consistent.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    To everyone of INTH in the path of Hurricane Irma, mine and my family thoughts are with you. Be safe and God bless.

  • TomJameson

    Pretty sure Josh was thriving pretty good the last third or so of the season. He just started getting confident in what he was doing. And he was doing well.

  • marcusgresham

    …and ulitmately, Justin Smith may be the most talented person on the roster.

  • marcusgresham

    Wish there WERE more like him. That’s a special guy, basketball or not.