January 07, 2017 11:01 PM
Hoosiers' starting five remains in flux
CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette
BLOOMINGTON – Indiana coach Tom Crean continues to tinker with personnel. Namely, the starting five.
Injuries to Collin Hartman, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. have been contributing factors here, but the Hoosiers have already nearly matched last season's mark for starting lineups used with six. A year ago, they had seven different starting groups.
Even though Indiana (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) is versatile, I think Crean should try to find a consistent starting five, just so guys are very aware of their roles and don't get thrown off and know where they should fit in based on how the game is flowing. After all, repetition is key.
However, it doesn't sound as if Crean will be settling on a permanent starting combination any time soon. He'll base it on the opponent.
"I've said this all along, and I really believe it more so now than I even did when I thought (a regular starting lineup) was going to happen: We have multiple starters," Crean said. "So this is not a team where (you say), 'Well, this is the starting five.' Once Collin went out (with a long-term knee injury), I never thought it would be a team that would be five consistent starters."
In Saturday's 96-80 win over Illinois, Crean brought OG Anunoby off the bench with Blackmon and Josh Newkirk starting in the backcourt, Thomas Bryant at center and Juwan Morgan at power forward. It was Morgan's ninth start, but three of those came when Anunoby, a popular preseason All-America sleeper, was out with an ankle injury.
On New Year's Eve against Louisville, which employs a much bigger front line than Illinois, Crean decided to switch things up. He went with Robert Johnson at small forward but inserted 6-foot-10 freshman De'Ron Davis at power forward.
Bryant and Blackmon are the only players who've started every game for which they've been healthy. Johnson, a junior, came off the bench for only the 10th time in his career in Tuesday's loss to Wisconsin. Crean explained he wanted traditional size at small forward, which the 6-3 Johnson doesn't provide.
Don't be surprised if Crean eventually tests a bigger lineup with Anunoby and Morgan at the forward slots and Johnson playing out of position at point guard. That's the arrangement which gives Indiana its best five players on the floor. So far, that combo has played very few minutes together.
Keep in mind, Newkirk has started all but two games as Crean prefers to play a true point guard.
The latest trend is that Anunoby has come off the bench two times in the last three games, so Crean might keep shuffling through starting lineups.
"You don't recruit guys to be backups," the coach said. "You don't train them as backups. You train them to become starters, even when they're not starting. And we're not a team right now that we just look at it and say, 'Wow, we know we're getting this right now.' Eventually I hope we get to that point. It's just not there yet."
After a three-game losing streak, the Hoosiers' blowout win Saturday helped calm the storm.
Nonetheless, the questions about which pieces best fit into the starting group were left very much unanswered.