BLOOMINGTON – After four wins in its last five games, the Indiana men's basketball team appeared to be turning a corner in Archie Miller's first season in Bloomington.
Then the injury bug took its biggest bite of the season.
It was announced Wednesday afternoon that center De'Ron Davis is out for the year after surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his right leg. The 6-foot-10, 249-pound Davis started the first 15 games for the Hoosiers and was averaging 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds.
On the surface, Davis' injury is troubling, but having to go with a smaller and quicker lineup may bode well for the Hoosiers.
With a plethora of talented guards, the Hoosiers will have to rely on their backcourt more than originally expected. Seniors Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson have been stalwarts all season, but sophomore Devonte Green and freshman Aljami Durham have been productive in spurts.
Green, who earned major minutes as a freshman, was a player expected to make a jump this season. Given the need to play smaller, Green should see his playing time increase.
As for Durham, he was Indiana's biggest surprise early this year. He has cooled since his 16- and 10-point outings against Howard and Seton Hall in November, but he could become more prominent on the offensive end in the wake of Davis' injury.
The smaller lineup also opens the door for freshman Justin Smith to continue his strong play.
As the No. 91 recruit in the class of 2017, Smith was the most heralded prospect in Indiana's freshman class. After playing sparingly since the Hoosiers' loss at Seton Hall on Nov. 17, Smith finally had the breakout game his recruiting ranking suggested he was capable of producing.
In Saturday's upset win at Minnesota, the 6-7, 220-pound Smith had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting along with three rebounds, helping Indiana to Miller's first conference road win.
Throughout the Minnesota game, Smith showed his offensive versatility – finishing at the basket and using his size and physicality at the rim. If he continues to hone these traits, the combination of he and junior forward Juwan Morgan could be a force inside.
Despite the promising pieces in place, Davis' injury will have a major impact in the frontcourt.
Davis was Indiana's only true center, leaving Morgan and senior forward Freddie McSwain Jr. left to do much of the dirty work in his absence.
The 6-8, 230-pound Morgan has been sensational this year, averaging 16 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting at a 58.4 percent clip, while the 6-6, 220-pound McSwain has been used more as a bench player.
In the two games since Davis was first sidelined, IU has pulled off two of their best wins of the year over Minnesota and Penn State.
The Hoosiers will host Northwestern on Sunday.