Tuesday night, Indiana had a luxury it desparately needed last year.
Starting the game with Max Bielfeldt at power forward and Thomas Bryant at center, the Hoosiers were able to implement a more traditional lineup that allowed for their guards to close out shooters and the big men to erase mistakes in their 82-54 win over the University of Ottawa Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
"I think (Biefeldt and Bryant) spend some time in practice together, but a lot of times they're battling for each other," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. "So that will play out over a period of time. The numbers looked good, now we'll see if the film backs it up."
Bielfeldt was active early in the game, dishing out an assist from the post to sophomore guard James Blackmon junior for a 3-pointer. In the first two minutes and 16 seconds, he already had two points, one defensive rebound and one assist.
When Ottawa forward Nathan McCarthy grabbed his own miss and attempt to put his shot back up with 16:32 remaining in the second half, it was Bielfeldt who was there to swat the the second attempt away.
That was Bielfeldt's lone block of the game, while his frontcourt teammate Bryant sent away two.
However, the traditional lineup also made Indiana more vulnerable against the high pick and roll as Bielfeldt struggled to defend against it. A more non-traditional lineup of having junior forward Troy Williams at the power forward spot, for example, adds athleticism and a trailer in transition.
On the plus side, the Hoosiers had a distinct advantage on the glass with a 6-foot-8 forward and 6-foot-11 center in the frontcourt.
"I love playing with Thomas," Bielfeldt said. "He's just such a physical presence down there, and I kind of bring a physical presence in a different way. With me and him down there, it's fun to be attacking the offensive glass and be rebounding buddies almost. He's definitely an easy guy to play with. We defintely play well in practice together finding each other."
The differences are recognizable for sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. Though he didn't manage to grab a single rebound, having Bielfeldt and Bryant in the lineup allowed his backcourt teammates to crash the glass as Yogi Ferrell grabbed three and Nick Zeisloft added a pair.
"What Thomas does, and Max as well, it's so much different with them two in there," Blackmon Jr. said. "It just seems like everything is carved out when shots go up, so it makes it easier for us. I'm going in there crashing the glass and it's already wide open, so it makes it easier for all of us."
Biefeldt posted eight points and eight rebounds with one block, while Bryant finished with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in addition to his two blocks. Both brought improvement to Indiana's defense and rebounding, but also left them without a true trailer on fastbreaks and slowed down the speed of the lineup.
Crean will weigh these pros and cons as he continues to figure out the best lineup that works.
"I wasn't displeased with that lineup at all," Crean said. "The starting lineup was our number one plus-minus lineup of the night. We'll see down the road. If that's othe starting line up next week, would it be a shock to me? I'm not saying it wouldn't, I'm not saying it would. It's really irrelevant.
"Combinations are relevelant. Who plays well withwho is relevant. Who finishes is extremely relevant. That to me is going to be key."