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Western Illinois Indiana Basketball

Indiana forward Justin Smith drives in for a dunk Tuesday against Western Illinois in Bloomington.

BLOOMINGTON --  Nobody wants to take their car to a mechanic.

You’re not only going to find out what’s necessary to fix what you know is wrong, but odds are you’ll find out there at least two or three more problems.

For Indiana basketball, last season was like having the car in the shop for months at a time, and even though it occasionally ran better, it never seemed to hit on all cylinders thanks to a litany of breakdowns.

On top of that, the Hoosiers then had to overhaul the engine in the offseason with the departure of primary pistons Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford.

Tuesday night, at least, that engine appeared to have upgraded from a four-cylinder to a six-cylinder, roaring just a little louder and revving up a little longer in IU’s 98-65 demolition of Western Illinois in the 2019-20 season opener at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

There’s clearly still some tuning up to do, perhaps a spark plug to replace when Devonte Green returns from injury, an oil change when it comes to free-throw shooting and some fuel injection cleaner to avoid the kind of offensive and defensive lulls that allowed the Leathernecks to take a 15-12 lead midway through the first half.

Granted Western Illinois was ranked in the bottom 17 percent of all Division I basketball team according to kenpom.com, but this isn’t about how good or bad the opponent might be.

More important is that the third incarnation of an Archie Miller-coached Indiana team looked different than those which have come before.

In the past, going more than six or seven deep quickly became a dicey proposition.

Not now. Throughout the game, Miller simply sent in hockey line shifts with no discernible dropoff, as 10 players saw the floor.

“As everyone can tell, there’s not a guy that doesn’t belong out there,” the IU coach said.

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Damezi Anderson, Jerome Hunter, Race Thompson, De’Ron Davis and, at least for one night, Robert Phinisee came off the bench and immediately got up to speed.

That was no small feat considering the pace set by the starters, particularly point guard Al Durham, who literally couldn’t miss while pushing the ball relentlessly. Fellow backcourt starter, freshman Armaan Franklin, couldn’t miss the open man en route to eight assists, and Justin Smith picked up where he left off in the exhibition game and then some, tying his career high with 24 points.

“We talk about it every day in practice, pushing the tempo and running our opponents,” Durham said. “If we can outrun our opponents for most of the game, we can run them down.”

It was a more subdued start for big men Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis, but it is the depth in the frontcourt that is allowing Indiana to keep its foot on the gas.

“You’re only as good as your frontcourt can run,” Miller said. “Joey, Trayce, De’Ron, Race, you move Justin down there a little bit, you have different options and you can keep the pace up because your frontcourt depth is good.

“Right now we have a stable of guys that can put pressure on the rim. You put pressure on the rim, and your guards are doing good job of advancing the ball and pushing it — I think that’s what you’re seeing right now, a team that’s continually trying to push the pace.

“We can’t play trudging through the mud, we’ve got to get going.”

On opening night, there was no engine sludge holding the Hoosiers back.

The throttle was wide open, and the open road of the season ahead beckoned.

“We have a lot of different guys that can help this team,” Miller said. “It’s going to be strength by numbers, it’s going to be by committee. At the end of the day, this team is going to have to find a way to will itself to win with a lot of people doing a lot of different things.”

For an Indiana team in search of an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in four years, different is good, especially under the hood.

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