Indiana struggled in the post last season.
With De'Ron Davis and Race Thompson missing time with injuries, 6-foot-8 forward Juwan Morgan was often left nearly alone inside to battle the Big Ten's bruising power forwards and centers.
This year, the Hoosiers, who open their season against Western Illinois tonight, plan to be the bullies inside.
Key to that plan is 6-11 center Joey Brunk, an Indianapolis native and a graduate transfer from Butler with two years of eligibility remaining.
Brunk, a savvy traditional post player, will pair with Davis, Thompson and five-star freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis to ensure Indiana does not get pushed around in the paint.
“It's an unbelievable opportunity,” Brunk said of transferring to Indiana. “We've put in a lot of time, a lot of effort. ... Growing up, I definitely remember watching the Cody Zeller teams with Jordy Hulls and Vic Oladipo, those teams really stick out in my head.
“It's a pretty unique opportunity that I get to put on this uniform.”
Brunk, a four-star recruit coming out of Southport High School in 2016, played three seasons with the Bulldogs, but only made a significant impact as a junior last season. In 2018-19, he averaged 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. He shot 61% from the field and has built himself into an consistent finisher in the post, with an arsenal of back-to-the-basket moves.
The Hoosiers plan to play some super-big lineups with Brunk or Davis down low and Jackson-Davis at the high post or on the wing. Coach Archie Miller is excited for those lineups, but cautioned that making them work defensively will be the key.
“That's the old-school lineup right there,” Miller said. “That's the big-ball, traditional two bigs. Can it happen? Absolutely. In my opinion and how these guys find that niche, will be their ability to defend together.”
Brunk's presence will also be important for another reason: veteran leadership. Miller has emphasized that chemistry will be important for the Hoosiers this season after a 2018-19 campaign in which the team appeared disjointed at times.
There aren't many vocal motivators on this Indiana team, especially after Morgan graduated; the leaders the Hoosiers do have are mostly lead-by-example types. Brunk breaks that mold and has already become a respected leader who can motivate with his voice.
“We do have a group of guys that naturally are kind of quiet-natured,” Miller said. “I think that's where Joey has been a great boost with his voice. His personality has really boosted our workouts, our locker room.”
Brunk said he has found a “really smooth transition” with Indiana, as the team's players and coaching staff have welcomed him with open arms. That transition was made easier because Brunk already had a workout partner with the Hoosiers: Jackson-Davis.
The two Indiana newcomers have been working out since Brunk was enrolled at Butler, training with skills coach Jason Smeathers, and have developed a rapport.
“We started working out and I liked his energy,” Jackson-Davis told the Herald Bulletin. “He was still at Butler not even thinking of coming to IU yet, but after he decided to leave we just started to getting to talk back and forth, and we decided to push each other really hard, and then he decided to come which is just honestly amazing for us because we already have that chemistry. So bringing that chemistry down there will be great.”
Brunk has already established himself as a worker with the Hoosiers, winning the coach's annual award for most improvement in the weight room with strength coach Clif Marshall.
Now, the former Bulldog has to take that performance into the post wars that will be coming during the Big Ten season.
Today: Western Illinois, 7 p.m.
Saturday: Portland St., 2 p.m.
Nov. 12: North Alabama, 7 p.m.
Nov. 16: Troy, 8 p.m.
Nov. 20: Princeton, 7 p.m.
Nov. 25: La. Tech, 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 30: S. Dakota St., TBD
Dec. 3: Florida St., 9 p.m.
Dec. 7: at Wisconsin, TBD
Dec. 10: vs. UConn, at New York, 9 p.m.
Dec. 13: Nebraska, 8 p.m.
Dec. 21: vs. Notre Dame, at Indianapolis, noon
Dec. 29: Arkansas, TBD
Jan. 4: at Maryland, noon
Jan. 8: Northwestern, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11: Ohio St., noon
Jan. 15: at Rutgers, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18: at Nebraska, 7 p.m.
Jan. 23: Michigan St., 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: Maryland, 1 p.m.
Jan. 29: at Penn St., 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Ohio St., noon
Feb. 8: Purdue, 2 p.m.
Feb. 13: Iowa, 8 p.m.
Feb. 16: at Michigan, 1 p.m.
Feb. 19: at Minnesota, 9 p.m.
Feb. 23: Penn St., noon
Feb. 27: at Purdue, 7 p.m.
March 1: at Illinois, 2 p.m.
March 4: Minnesota, 7 p.m.
March 7: Wisconsin, noon
March 11-15: Big Ten Tourney
2 key players
Devonte Green: Green was red hot at the end of last season, hitting eight 3-pointers in a Big Ten Tournament game against Ohio State and averaging 14 points per game in Indiana's three NIT matchups. He's always been a streaky shooter with the ability to put up big numbers on a given night, but the Hoosiers will need him to be more consistent as a senior. If he can be an outside threat night-in and night-out, Indiana's problems from beyond the arc last season could be mitigated.
Trayce Jackson-Davis: Putting a freshman in the "key players" category is always risky. It's never clear how even a five-star recruit such as Jackson-Davis will transition from high school to the rugged Big Ten. Still, looking at the roster, it seems apparent that the Hoosiers need the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball to contribute heavily and do so immediately if they are going to take a step forward this season. He doesn't need to score 16 points per game like Romeo Langford, but he does need to provide a versatile presence that meshes well with the inside game of Joey Brunk and De'Ron Davis.
2 key games
Dec. 3 vs. Florida State: The Hoosiers could very well be 7-0 heading into this matchup at Assembly Hall in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Seminoles have won at least 23 games in each of the last three seasons and have reached the Sweet 16 or better in the last two. This will be a chance for the Hoosiers to get a marquee non-conference victory and keep a potentially undefeated record. It will be the first time an Assembly Hall crowd really lets loose this season.
Jan. 23 vs. Michigan State: The Hoosiers had the Spartans' number in 2018-19, winning in overtime in East Lansing and taking the return match in Bloomington by a point. Those wins kept Indiana's NCAA Tournament hopes alive until the Big Ten Tournament and this will be a similar opportunity for the Hoosiers to snag a résumé-building victory. The Spartans come into the season ranked No. 1 in the country and return Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston.