Indiana basketball: Romeo Langford set to lead deep roster - Sports Illustrated

Indiana's Supporting Cast Around Romeo Langford Has It Poised for Big Ten Contention

Armed with seeminly limitless depth and a star in Romeo Langford, head coach Archie Miller is primed for a big year in Bloomington.
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To call this Indiana team the “Romeo Langford Show” would be to neglect to the deep, talented roster assembled by head coach Archie Miller—with some help from Tom Crean—in Bloomington over the past couple years.

Langford is the Hoosiers’ best player, there’s no disputing that. The 3,000-point scorer at New Albany High School, 100 miles south of Indiana’s campus, was a recruiting coup for Miller that immediately changed the outlook of the 2018–19 season for IU. In a decisive 96–73 win over No. 24 Marquette on Wednesday night, Langford was everything he was advertised to be as a top-five player in this year’s freshman class. He led the Hoosiers with 22 points and chipped in two blocks and three steals on the other end.

It’s no surprise that Langford is excellent. The most impressive aspect of Indiana’s methodical demolition of a projected Big East contender was the performance of the supporting cast around its star—especially when you take a glance at the injury report. Missing four likely contributors, Indiana had six non-Langford players score between seven and 16 points against Marquette. Coaches like to call these mid-November games “find-out games.” On this night, the country found out plenty about the danger these Hoosiers pose.

Indiana began its Gavitt Games matchup much like Michigan did against Villanova a few hours earlier. The Hoosiers jumped out to a 19–4 lead by pushing the pace in transition and relentlessly attacking the basket. They never looked back, taking a 13-point lead into halftime and pulling away to make this hyped-up contest a blowout that ended with IU’s walk-ons on the Assembly Hall floor. Indiana shot 59% from the field and held high-scoring Marquette to 37%, limiting Markus Howard to 18 points on 14 shots. It was a clinical, energized display by a team featuring players from a wide range of origins.

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There are the other members of Indiana’s top-10 freshman class. Point guard Robert Phinisee, a four-star recruit from Lafayette, IN, was the Hoosiers’ second-best player for most of the night. He scored 12 points and dished out eight assists with just a single turnover, repeatedly darting his 6’ 1” frame into the paint and converting acrobatic layups or finding teammates. Damezi Anderson, a four-star recruit from South Bend, came off the bench to play good defense and knock down a triple. Jerome Hunter, the other top-100 recruit in the class, was one of the players who missed the game.

There are the second-year players (from Crean's final recruiting class) that Miller convinced to stay after taking the job in March 2017. Smooth lefty Aljami Durham had 13 points, 5 assists and was a weapon on the fast break. Freakish athlete Justin Smith—owner of a 48-inch vertical—added eight points on high-flying finishes at the rim. Redshirt freshman Race Thompson, another of the five four-stars brought in by Indiana over the past two cycles, was out with an injury.

There are the holdovers from the Crean era. Tom Crean won two Big Ten titles and produced plenty of NBA players in his nine years at IU, but didn’t win games with quite the consistency expected at the flagship school of a basketball-crazed state. Senior big man Juwan Morgan, the leading remnant from that generation, poured in 13 points and eight rebounds against the Golden Eagles. Junior center De’Ron Davis (seven points) and point guard Devonte Green (injured) are the two players left from Crean’s five-man 2016 class. Zach McRoberts, the fourth player unavailable on Wednesday, transferred to IU under Crean and played 22 minutes per game last season.

There is the graduate transfer. Evan Fitzner, a 6’10” stretch four from mid-major power St. Mary’s (CA), showed off his valuable inside-out game in a 16-point effort. He went 4-for-4 from three-point range and will space the floor for Indiana all season as a career 42% shooter from deep.

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Last but certainly not least, there is the 2019 lottery pick. Nothing about Langford’s evening suggested a possibility he’ll be back in the cream and crimson next season. He’s a fantastic ballhandler who attacks the basket with uncanny smoothness, scoring on floaters and layups with either hand from any angle. He made 8-of-10 shots from two and 1-of-5 from three, although his sound form indicates there are better shooting days ahead. On the defensive end, his body control and acceleration make him a strong two-way prospect.

Miller has a good problem on his hands. Once his roster gets healthy, he’ll face the task of dividing up 200 minutes among as many as 12 players deserving of playing time. He’ll undoubtedly tinker with his rotation before the grind of Big Ten play arrives, and the aforementioned depth means Indiana is poised to survive injuries to anyone outside of Langford.

It’s just one game, but Indiana looks every bit like a team that’s set to contend in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers possess a mixture of young talent and veteran experience that should give them a chance to win every time they take the floor. The toughest challenge in the country awaits in just under two weeks, a Nov. 27 trip to Cameron Indoor to face Zion Williamson and a Duke team dominating headlines in the season’s first week. Until then, Indiana can take pride in the way it not just handled but aced its first test of the year.

Year two of the Archie Miller era is off to a roaring start.