With Duke set to take on Indiana for a second straight season in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, The Chronicle spoke with Indiana Daily Student men's basketball beat writer Ben Portnoy to dive into the Hoosiers and what they'll bring to Cameron Indoor Tuesday night.
Note: Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: How good is Indiana freshman guard Romeo Langford?
Ben Portnoy: There are almost no words to describe how good this kid is. The thing that has stuck out most to me is how well he moves around the basket. When you see him in the lane, when you see him get up around the rim, his finishing ability and his ability to just hang in the air is really a work of art. He finishes tough plays with ease.
I think the other thing that sticks out about him is his motor—he almost seems like he’s not trying sometimes because of his demeanor and the way that he plays. It’s so silky smooth and he can cover so much space with that 6-foot-6 frame.
I will say, the one thing that sometimes may be left in question is his jump shot. He’s not a great 3-point shooter but where he makes his money is at the rim.
TC: Looking at KenPom.com, the Hoosiers are up in defensive efficiency from No. 65 last year to 28th in the nation, as of now. After giving up 91 points to the Blue Devils last year, why is Indiana improved on the defensive end of things?
BP: Part of that is just the length this team has. They have athletes and guys who can defend on the wing, and I think that’s what head coach Archie Miller expected out of this recruiting class—a five-man group that was ranked in the top 10 in the country. Really, when you look at it, that’s mostly why it works. With a pack-line defense, you’re out trying to force steals, you’re on people 1-on-1, and I think that’s the wish Miller’s been granted this year with the bodies that he has.
Even a guy like Al Durham, who’s 6-foot-4, has been playing the point guard and he’s pretty long for that spot. The same goes for Jake Forrester, who hasn’t seen a ton of minutes but fits into that mold. Zach McRoberts, at 6-foot-6, causes a lot of tipped balls, a lot of steals, and the same could be said for Damezi Anderson, who’s turned into a kind of 3-and-D player.
TC: You talked about the Hoosiers’ recruiting class—can freshman point guard Rob Phinisee handle the pressure of Cameron Indoor?
BP: It’s a real test, but I think the thing that stands out most about Phinisee is that he’s about as poised as they come. This is a kid that really doesn’t get rattled by the big stage, and I know that it’s limited this early in the season, but he really is mature beyond his years. He has an understanding of this offense that Indiana hasn’t had at the point guard position since Yogi Ferrell.
He really is a guy that Miller didn’t expect to be quite this ready to play at the college level when he got here. He just has a knack for the game, a high basketball IQ, and I think he’ll be able to lean on that in a raucous environment.
TC: Where is the Hoosiers’ biggest weakness at this point?
BP: It’s twofold. Part of it is in the interior and the other is depth. At center, De’Ron Davis is working back from a torn Achilles and he’s still in the rehab process—he’s been playing but his minutes have been limited.
And beyond that, injuries have just killed this team early in the season. McRoberts hasn’t played in a couple of weeks, Devonte Green hasn’t played since the second game, and although they’re not guys that are going to score you a lot of points, they kind of build the foundation of this team. It forces guys like Anderson to play tons of minutes when he shouldn’t. You could say the same about Phinisee, who wasn’t expected to take the starting point guard spot but I could foresee taking that role going forward.
On paper, this is a really deep team when everyone’s healthy. But when you have to have the eighth, ninth, 10th guy in that rotation playing starter’s minutes, that’s going to be a problem.
TC: Lastly, like Duke, Indiana doesn’t have a true post player. How do the Hoosiers try to go about attacking the Blue Devils’ limited depth inside?
BP: If you’re looking for post guys, Davis and Juwan Morgan are your best bet. Those guys make their money in the paint. Davis is more of a true, old-fashioned center—he’s not super mobile outside of 12, 13 feet but he has some nice touch inside, he’s physical around the rim, he’ll bully you under the basket.
The same goes for Morgan. At 6-foot-8, he’s not afraid to bump with guys underneath, he really has the ability to battle inside with, say a Marques Bolden. And I think you will see him do a lot of his work around the basket, though he does have a jump shot.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."