By now, you may know that Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers got some good news. (Not that they needed it, sitting at 8-1 and ranked ninth.) OG Anunoby will return to action on Saturday when Indiana takes on 18th-ranked Butler. Anunoby’s return was first reported by ESPN.
Not since November 30th has Anunoby played, when he injured his ankle late against North Carolina. To that point, he’d been having a good season, scoring in double figures in five of the first six games. (He put up zero points in the odd Fort Wayne game.) Let’s take a look at Anunoby’s injury and what it means for Indiana to get him back.
Timing is everything, particularly as it relates to injuries. Initially, the Hoosiers thought they might be without Anunoby indefinitely, and thank goodness the ankle injury wasn’t more serious.
The injury caused him to miss three games, all wins for Indiana but against lighter competition: SIU Edwardsville (83-60), Southeast Missouri State (83-55), Houston Baptist (103-61).
Arguably, if Crean had to go without Anunoby for any three game stretch, he might’ve picked those three, sandwiched between ranked opponents (North Carolina and Butler). (Although, the three-game stretch post-Butler would’ve been a contender: Delaware State, Austin Peay and Nebraska.)
Now, Anunoby returns when the schedule gets a little more difficult, only three more games before Big Ten play starts. So, the timing and (lack of) seriousness of his injury was fortuitous for Indiana.
We didn’t really learn much about how Crean would manage the rotation without Anunoby. The competition was just so bad.
Seven different Hoosiers have started a game this year. Crean opted to insert Juwan Morgan into the starting lineup for Anunoby; although, he played just 20, 22 and 20 minutes over the three games. Still, Morgan was 16-for-17 from the floor over those three games, and scored a combined 42 points; he clearly made the most of his opportunity.
Indiana’s deep; ten guys are playing more than 10 minutes a night. Plus, it’s not as if Morgan hadn’t been playing. He’s appeared in all nine games so far this year, starting five and averaging 21 minutes per.
Crean had the luxury, especially considering the competition, of Indiana’s depth. Again, it’s difficult to draw any major conclusions, just in terms of how the team would handle a major injury loss. The competition didn’t press the Hoosiers at all, but Crean has options.
What does it mean to get him back?
Well, on the surface, Anunoby’s another double-figure scorer (12.5 PPG) back in the rotation, making Indiana even deeper and more offensively dynamic.
But, Anunoby’s defense might be his most valuable asset. Particularly to this team, since Crean can get scoring from James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Thomas Bryant.
Anunoby’s defense and athleticism, though, really give Crean lineup flexibility. He can guard the opposition’s best wing, and take pressure off Blackmon and Johnson. Plus, Anunoby can switch on to smaller or larger guys, without giving up too much.
Losing Anunoby for three games post-North Carolina was, looking back, the best case scenario, really. And, now Crean can work him back in the lineup against Butler on Saturday, and then Delaware State/Austin Peay before the Big Ten schedule starts.
Again, tough to tell because of the competition, but Indiana may have something a little more in Juwan Morgan too, if Crean wants to bend the offense a little more his way. Injuries are never positive, but things couldn’t have gone better in Anunoby’s absence.