BLOOMINGTON-While his numbers may not be eye-popping and his presence on the floor may occasionally go unnoticed, there is no mistaking what a difference having a true point guard has made for the Indiana Hoosiers.
In the first 12 games Indiana is averaging 18.3 assists compared to the 11.6 the Hoosiers averaged last season when they finished last in the conference in assists. The Hoosiers are also averaging 80.7 points a game, or 17 more points per game than the Hoosiers scored last season and that is no accident.
One of the biggest differences has been the play of a senior transfer from Auburn – and not Marco Killingsworth. Since joining the Hoosiers, Lewis Monroe has taken on the primary point guard duties for Indiana and has filled the role the Hoosiers have been missing since the graduation of Tom Coverdale after the 2002-03 season.
"When I was coming in, Coach Davis told me this was a great position for me and a chance to come in and play with a lot of great players," said Monroe. "It's just a role I've taken on from seeing so many great scorers around me. I feel like sometimes I need to score, but not really because we have so many people who can score. Instead I'm just trying to get everyone involved."
With Monroe running the point, the rest of the Hoosiers have been able to move back to their nature positions – most notably Robert Vaden and Marshall Strickland. Back at his natural small forward position, Vaden has averaged 14.7 points this season – including 20.3 during a recent three-game stretch. Strickland has moved to the wing and averaged 13.3 points a game, five points better than his career average and he has scored in double figures in 10 out of 12 games thus far.
"Anytime you have a point guard who can get guys shots then it's good for your offense," said Vaden. "It especially helps when you can get the ball down low because we have such good players in Marco Killingsworth and D.J. White. We have to get them the ball and Lewis knows how to do that. That's why our offense has been moving so smooth.
"It's a lot easier because Lewis can break pressure almost by himself. Teams can't trap him. With him able to do that we can basically have our offense setup and started when he gets the ball up court. That makes everything go a lot smoother."
Monroe has been able to help the Hoosiers mostly with his steady ball control and ability to regroup the team to run the offense. On the season Monroe has 44 assists to just 21 turnovers. He has just five turnovers in his last 99 minutes of play all while averaging more than 27 minutes a game.
"It's definitely important to have a point guard out there," said Monroe. "You need that floor general to limit turnovers, run the offense and find the open man. I think Earl (Calloway) and I have found a way to do that and you can see the difference in the numbers.
"It's definitely easier to run this offense with Vaden stepping up like he has, we have guys coming off the bench and everyone seems to be shooting high percentages. It's very easy because we're playing very unselfish basketball right now. If you have to be the guy or it's someone else, we just get the open guy the ball."
Leading that unselfish attack has made the Hoosiers a completely different ball club than the one Davis put on the court last season. With one dominant player in Bracey Wright, most of the other Hoosiers took a backseat and let Wright play a one-man game. But better point guard play, coupled with more weapons on the floor, has resulted in a much more balanced attack that foes are having a difficult time containing.
"We focused on it so much early in the season that now it's almost natural that we make the extra pass to find the open man," said Monroe. "Sometimes we might make too many extra passes but that's what we want to do – play unselfish basketball. Whether the guards are throwing it into the post or the post is throwing it back out, we just want to find the open guy for the best shot."
Despite the fact he may only average 4.9 points a game and twice he has been held scoreless, Monroe is the point of attack for the Hoosiers. There is a reason he has only attempted more than five shots twice this season – he is at Indiana to win a national championship not lead the Big Ten in scoring and he knows what it is going to take from him to make that happen.
"Sometimes Coach Davis will tell me I need to look for more shots, but I'm more out there to run the team than score," said Monroe. "I'm going to do what he asks me to do, but my job is to take care of the ball because we want to have the most possessions in the game. I just try to limit my turnovers and get the ball where it needs to be because that's how you win basketball games."
Monroe Making His Point
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