BLOOMINGTON — It seems like Indiana has finally found a playmaker. Juwan Morgan is a rock down low and Robert Johnson has had great scoring nights this year, but not one Hoosier really made the game look exciting. That is, until Devonte Green in the last few weeks.
Green had probably his best game of the season tonight (one can quibble about whether the Ohio State game was better, but in that one the Hoosiers lost by 15), scoring 19 points and dishing seven assists. In the first half, when it looked like Minnesota might creep back into the game, he made two triples in a row and threaded a pass to Juwan Morgan for a layup. That was the only run Minnesota really made and Green almost single-handedly quashed it.
Archie Miller said after the game that it's nice to see Green stop trying for "home runs" every play and instead settle for "singles." That's a baseball way of saying Green has cut down on turning the ball over by passing into triple coverage (that's a baseball and a football metaphor in the same paragraph about a basketball game, folks).
What's been so impressive about Green's improvement and his limiting his turnovers is that he hasn't had to sacrifice any of his aggressiveness to do so. He's still making the home run plays – he made several tonight, including at least one stepback triple that elicited an audible "oooo" from the crowd before the ball even went in – but he's not throwing the ball away because he's trying to do too much nearly as often.
Unfortunately for Josh Newkirk, who Green replaced in the lineup, this chance appears permanent. Of course, at some point before the season's out, Green will have a game where his jumper looks crooked and he gets the ball taken from him several times. It seems that those games might be more like outliers in the future, rather than the norm.
Zooming out from the individual to the team, Indiana has really taken a step forward on defense in the last several games. The Hoosiers effectively shut down Michigan State and then held Rutgers and Minnesota to 24 percent and 33 percent shooting, respectively. The obvious factor is effort. Archie Miller—and, to hear him tell it, Robert Johnson with his senior leadership—has inspired this team to play much harder than it did early in the season. In addition, the execution is off the charts compared to where it was even in early January. The Hoosiers sent double-teams at Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy repeatedly tonight, but their rotations after he passed out of it were impeccable, and Minnesota had few open shots on the outside.
This is what progress looks like for Indiana. This still isn't a tournament team, but it's worlds better than it was early in the season, and that's what matters right now.