Photo courtesy of IU Athletics
In his time at Indiana, one of Tom Creanâ€™s main calling cards has been his willingness to substitute. The Hoosier head basketball coach has gained some level of attention (some good, some not so good) for the seemingly infinite combinations of players he feels comfortable sending to the floor. This piece takes a look at some of the more noteworthy lineups to see the floor against Stetson.
Jordan Hulls, Verdell Jones III, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller (Starters)
This group is the starting lineup that Indiana has gone with all season long. Everyone except for Cody Zeller saw a good deal of time together last year and all have positive attributes.
Jordan Hulls appears to have come into his own as a floor leader and hasnâ€™t fallen off as a sharpshooter, as heâ€™s been deadly as ever from beyond the arc. Verdell Jones has complimented Hulls as an adept ball-handler, and has improved both his passing and his handle. Jones canâ€™t stroke it from deep like Hulls can, but is capable of knocking down the open three from time to time and has a reliable mid-range game.
Both Hulls and Jones could stand to improve their ability to penetrate into the lane, but this lineup has Oladipo to help fill that role. He worked hard on that aspect of his game during the summer and several strong forays into the paint and finishes at the rim have showcased his newly acquired skills off the dribble. Even though his outside shot shows plenty of room for improvement, his teammates â€“ Christian Watfor in particular â€“ have been there to pick up the slack. Watford was asked to create off the dribble more in the past, but when playing with this yearâ€™s starters, heâ€™s shot mostly outside jumpers and close shots at the rim.
Finally, Zeller has made an obvious difference. His presence in the middle on both sides of the court has been a boon to the Hoosiers and has undeniably made this a better group than last year. On offense, he does a great job collapsing the defense and creating opportunities to both shoot (for Hulls and Watford) and drive (Jones and Oladipo). On defense, heâ€™s done a great job deterring the easy baskets that haunted Indiana in previous years, allowing each of his teammates to show defensive improvements.
This lineup got off to a sluggish start on Sunday night but showed why theyâ€™ve earned their roles in the second half, going on a 15-1 run when they got into the game in the second half. Tom Crean has emphasized defense and offensive balance as two things he looks for in a lineup and this group has both of them.
Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller
This lineup features a slight tweak in the backcourt, substituting Will Sheehey for Verdell Jones. Sheehey was actually second on the team in scoring coming into the contest with Stetson and his presence in this lineup reflects that.
Jonesâ€™ absence means that Jordan Hulls is the primary distributor, and thatâ€™s worked out well when this lineup is in the game together. Jonesâ€™ presence as a decent passer and midrange shooter is replaced by Sheeheyâ€™s prowess as a defender and a scorer. Sheehey can hit three-point shots more consistently than Jones can and has been almost as good when venturing into the lane. In addition, Sheeheyâ€™s combination of size and quickness allows him to guard a wider range of players than can the slighter Jones.
Some have wondered aloud whether Sheehey should start over Jones, but playing Verdell allows Crean to start the game with two ball-handlers and bring Sheehey off the bench, where heâ€™s been very productive. Sheehey has seen more minutes than Jones in a number of games and has a higher scoring average as well. If Sheehey continues to play at such a high level, it wouldnâ€™t be surprising for him to see plenty of playing time in the B1G season.
Verdell Jones, Matt Roth, Will Sheehey, Derek Elston, Tom Pritchard
This lineup saw the floor about halfway through the first half and probably does the best job of symbolizing some of Hoosier Nationâ€™s occasional frustration with Tom Creanâ€™s substitution patterns. IU fanatic, @ChronicHoosier, referred to this group on Twitter as the â€œTake The Underâ€ lineup and looking at how they fit together, itâ€™s not hard to see why.
First off, neither Tom Pritchard nor Matt Roth can create his own shot and Roth is only an offensive threat when he spots up from beyond the arc. That leaves this lineup with essentially three guys who are threats to score. Derek Elston is a great shooter for a big guy, but is more of a spot-up threat than a go-to scorer. That leaves two players who have proven capable of creating their own shot.
While both Sheehey and Jones have been effective scorers at times this year, neither is extraordinarily consistent and both of them benefit from the presence of other scorers in the lineup with them. When the defense can cheat off of three different players, it puts additional pressure on the two guys who can create their own offense and score, rendering them less effective. This lineup isnâ€™t great defensively either, as Roth, Elston and Pritchard are somewhat limited on that side of the floor. That again leaves Jones â€“ not a great defender in his own right â€“ and Sheehey to pick up the slack.
Crean is known for trying a multitude of different lineups and this one was one of the more perplexing ones he threw onto the floor when the game was still in doubt. To the surprise of some, he admitted that he got a little too adventurous with his lineups in the first half.
â€œI subbed too much in the first half,â€ he said. â€œI didnâ€™t let us get into a flow where we had a rhythm.â€
Every player involved in this lineup have a role that he can fulfill very well, but as a group, this lineup best serves as an example of Crean getting a little too creative with his substitutions.
Daniel Moore, Verdell Jones, Will Sheehey, Derek Elston, Cody Zeller
This group, on the other hand, was a great example of a creative lineup that gave Indiana a spark to start the half. When Daniel Moore, Will Sheehey and Derek Elston began the second half in place of Hulls, Oladipo and Watford, some (myself included) raised their eyebrows.
In particular, Mooreâ€™s presence on the floor to begin the second half left onlookers somewhat nonplussed. Moore has been a good defender and great energy player in his time at Indiana, but the Hoosiers had been struggling to score and Moore is probably tied with Tom Pritchard for the last person in the rotation Iâ€™d expect to help fix that. His presence seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the Hoosiers though, as IUâ€™s newfound sense of urgency propelled them to an 11-4 run with that lineup in the game.
Complimentary pieces came together perfectly here, as Jones and Sheeheyâ€™s ability to create was aided by Zeller inside and Elston floating 15-20 feet from the basket (the first points of the half actually came on an Elston three-pointer). Improved offensive cohesion and ramped-up defensive intensity helped this lineup extend the lead to double digits and laid the foundation to put the game out of reach. Mooreâ€™s role has been pared from real rotation minutes to providing spurts of energy. On nights like Sunday though, he shows his value.
Taylor Wayer, Remy Abell, Raphael Smith, Kory Barnett, Austin Etherington
This quintet is Tom Creanâ€™s version of an on-court victory cigar. For that reason, itâ€™s one of my favorites.