Expectations were high with TJD and company, and an early win over North Carolina had the Hoosiers feeling good. Then they got roughed up by Arizona and Kansas and started 1-4 in the conference. Fortunately, they got things turned around and turned in a solid effort, finishing 21-10 and 12-8 in the conference. That was good for a four seed in the tourney, where they got bounced in the second round by eventual Final Four team Miami.
Finally, Trayce Jackson-Davis headed to the greener pastures of the NBA. Joining him was one and done Jalen Hood-Schifino. Eligibility claimed the careers of Race Thompson and Miller Kopp, while the transfer portal gobbled up Logan Duncomb (Xavier), Tamar Bates (Missouri) and Jordan Geronimo (Maryland).
PG Xavier Johnson, 6’3’’ Sixth Year: The Hoosiers are putting in a lot of new pieces, so having Johnson come back for his sixth year is a welcome luxury for Woodson and crew. He started off pretty strong last year before breaking his foot against Kansas and being done for the year. He’s a gifted playmaker and defender - the worry is he has always been a bit turnover prone and he might try to do too much for this team. Still, he’s 37 years old and his old man game should be good provided his foot doesn’t fall off.
SG Trey Galloway, 6’4’’ 4th Year: Galloway was a rotation piece last year who was happy to do all the nitty gritty things and defer to everyone else on scoring. I don’t know if that will work quite as well this year, when Indiana needs scorers. He did shoot 46% from deep on pretty limited attempts - becoming a real threat from outside would help.
PF Mackenzie Mgbako, 6’8’’ Freshman: While I am an avowed freshman hater, BuffKomodo has informed me that Mgbako will start at the three, so here we are. The man came to Bloomington to eat chalupas and bury threes, and apparently Bloomington is all out of chalupas. The tenth rated prospect in all the land, Mgbako will look to be on the one and done train by showing his skills on the perimeter on both sides of the court. Of course, he’s a freshman in the Big Ten so he may also get stuffed into a trash can.
PF Malik Reneau, 6’9’’ 2nd Year: Reneau gets slotted into the four mostly because he played for the team last year. A former top 40 recruit, he showed solid rebounding and some skill around the basket. He did not show much ability from deep, and with Woodson searching for shooters he might see his minutes limited. On the other hand, he is a physical presence who can score inside so he might play double duty at center as well.
C Kel’el Ware, 7’0’’ 2nd Year: The Belle of the Ball of the Transfer Portal (besides Hunter Dickinson), Ware is a former five star prospect who fled Oregon for Indiana. He was ... fine last year, though for a big time athlete who is supposed to be able to play all the way out to the three point line, people weren’t that impressed. He is still a tall athlete so defense and rebounding should be fine near the basket. If he can shoot and defend at the perimeter then Indiana could be a real bear. No pressure.
F/C Payton Sparks, 6’9’’ 3rd Year: The transfer wheel also spit out a much less heralded player in Payton Sparks from Ball State. He seems like a very solid bet to come off the bench in relief of Reneau or Ware and give them 15 minutes of competent rebounding and post scoring and nothing more or less.
F Anthony Walker, 6’9’’ 5th Year: The Indiana bench is a bit of a mystery, so I’m mostly listing guys in random order because I don’t have a feel for who will play. Walker comes after four unproductive years at Miami. He is a rim running athlete so can play multiple positions, and he’s been around for a while, so he could get some minutes just by knowing where to be on the court.
SG Anthony Leal, 6’5’’ 4th Year: Leal is a former four star prospect who has done next to nothing his first three years at the school. He has the energy and popularity of a walk on, though you’d think someone who has the reputation of a sharpshooter would see some minutes. We’ll see.
SF Kaleb Banks, 6’7’’ 2nd Year: I originally put Banks in the starting lineup mostly because he wasn’t a freshman, but while Mgbako will likely start, Banks does figure to be in the mix for heavy minutes. A former four star recruit, he has a lot of athleticism and at least the potential of shotmaker. He didn’t play much last season, but the minutes are there if he improves.
SF C.J. Gunn, 6’6’’ 2nd Year: Another guy who rarely played last year but has some talent, Gunn is billed as a great shooter who can play at guard or wing, but he shot 8% from three last season. Woodson would probably like to see that improve.
CG Jakai Newton, 6’3’’ Freshman: As part of the non-starting freshmen, Newton is a four star guard who checked in at 127 on the composite. Billed as an athletic freak, he may not see much time this season as he has been slowed by a knee injury in the offseason.
PG Gabe Cupps, 6’1’’ Freshman: Another low four star prospect, Cupps checked in at 131. He is billed as a solid if unspectacular point guard who will get guys in their spots and not make mistakes. He could see real minutes this year as Indiana doesn’t have many guys who can play the point besides Xavier Johnson.
A Conversation With Our Writers
MaximumSam: All righty, what do we expect from the Hoosiers?
BuffKomodo: Oh boy! It’s basketball season! This year’s Indiana Hoosiers team will be the first team in 4 years that doesn’t have Trayce Jackson-Davis on it. He did a lot for the program, continues to do a lot, and is well on his way to enjoying his first NBA campaign. Indiana also loses Jalen Hood-Schifino to the NBA draft, much to the delight of my Boiler friends. Other notable losses include Miller Kopp, Tamar Bates, and Race Thompson. If you want to include Jordan Geronimo in that list of losses, you can. I consider it a lateral move for both parties.
Most programs would probably be HEAVY regression candidates after losing a program all-time great like TJD and a 1st round guard like JHS. To that end, Indiana is likely to take a step back here initially. However, I think Indiana could be a major player in the B1G tournament and NCAA tournament should this team gel together. Mike Woodson has done a great job gaining talent to fill the holes left by the departures of last season.
MaximumSam: Who are you excited to see?
New faces to Indiana will include: Freshman McDonald’s All-American wing and Taco Bell detractor Mackenzie Mgbako who with any success will likely be a 1 and done freshman; Sophomore former McDonald’s All-American and Oregon transfer Kel’el Ware; freshman Overtime star and Ohio basketball prodigy Gabe Cupps; Senior Miami (FL) transfer Anthony Walker; Junior Ball State transfer Peyton Sparks. That’s not a bad overall replacement of talent.
Mgbako and Ware are of course the standouts in this offseason haul. Both come in with ample pedigree and even given Ware’s failures at Oregon, Woodson has a track record of being able to get the most out of his NBA level talented bigs. These two come into a picture with former 5 star Jordan All Star Malik Reneau to provide perhaps the most talented front court in the B1G. Perhaps the biggest change for this season will be that Indiana won’t be running their post up heavy offense as hard. I actually expect to see all 3 of these guys playing on the perimeter and it wouldn’t shock be to instead of being labeled the 3 and 4 for Reneau and Mgbako if it’d be more appropriate to label them 3a and 3b in the lineup.
As has been the case with Indiana basketball though, guard play is where we’ll find out how good Indiana can truly be. Good thing they bring back 6th year senior Xavier Johnson from a medical redshirt. Johnson will be looking to pick up where he left off last year and making an attempt to be an All-B1G guard. Starting with him will be Indiana fan favorite Trey Galloway, who will likely see a diminished offensive role from a scoring perspective this year. As long as he’s able to operate as a sudo 1 with Xavier in the game and continue to play stellar D, the starting frontcourt should be solid.
The backups will pose some questions marks though. It’s thought that CJ Gunn will be the one who can step up and take on 6th man guard responsibilities. Gunn comes in as a sophomore shooting threat with great size and length. Gunn will be competing with freshman Gabe Cupps, who is already becoming a fan favorite after 1 exhibition game. Cupps comes in as a true successor to Xavier. Cupps will likely be the Indiana 1 guard for as long as he wants to stay at Indiana. From the film I’ve seen, he’s a true 1 with great vision and basketball IQ. The only thing lacking is his physicality to play at the B1G level right away, but we’ll see what the training staff was able to do for him.
Indiana’s biggest strength will likely be the defense this year. With the shear athleticism that Indiana has, it looks like the Hoosiers can be in passing lanes, pressure the ball, and rebound extremely well. With an athletic bigs like Ware, Reneau, and Mgbako protecting the paint, they have great rim protection capabilities as well.
The question will be, “how does the offense look?” For those of you thinking it’s going to look like the “pound it inside to TJD” that happened last year, spoiler alert, it won’t. Even in the post Miami game presser last year, Woodson was attempting to move on from that traditional style of basketball. Now, without trying to make TJD the center attraction, Indiana is able to space the floor more. Indiana won’t abandon posting, but it’s not going to look the same. 3 point shooting will also be a question mark as it looks like Woodson has no intent on making it a true point of emphasis, but rather more of a “if you got it up it up” sort of thing.
Without question, there is a lot of work to do. It’s extremely possible that going into the Morehead State game on December 19th, Indiana is sitting at 5-5. What will matter is the improvement game to game. If Indiana is able to go 2-0 to start the B1G season, the door will be open for them to compete for the B1G crown. There’s really not a stretch of games in the conference season where things just look hopeless. They only play Michigan State once, at home. They only play Illinois once. They get a home and home with Purdue. Everyone else should be right in the wheelhouse and if Indiana is able to get comfortable by Christmas, look for the Hoosiers to get to the elusive double bye spot and a nice seed in the NCAA tournament.
If things go south though, Indiana is still likely a first 4 out sort of team. Given where Indiana has been in the past decade, that’s not a terrible floor for this team. You’d just hope that much talent could pull it together and make some lemonade. I guess that’s why they’re paying Woodson the big bucks now.
BoilerUp89: I’m going to try and keep this short, because most Indiana fans are going to ignore anything coming from the Purdue fan.
While I don’t think Indiana has as high of a ceiling as Purdue, MSU, or Illinois, they do have plenty of really talent players in Reneau, Xavier Johnson, Mgbako, and Ware. I think Reneau has a great career ahead of him, but think he is another year away from being a guy that takes over games. Xavier Johnson is fantastic. I have no concerns about his ability to play well, only question would be whether he is fully recovered and not hindered by any lingering effects of last year’s foot injury. Mgbako should be a one and done. I expect he will have plenty of highlight plays, but like many freshmen stars, I’m not sure we will see consistency from him. The highs will be high, but reliability game in and game out may not be a thing this season. That won’t stop an NBA team from drafting him, but it’s unfair to expect any freshman to come in and carry teams while they are still learning the system and developing. Ware has the ability to be a great center but needs to give a consistent effort which he didn’t do at Oregon.
Questions for me include team cohesiveness (there’s a lot of new pieces and the returning pieces are stepping up into new roles), shooting (they were 3/10 from 3 in their exhibition), and team defense. The individuals have plenty of length and athleticism to win one on one matchups on D. They’ve played sparingly with each other though so communicating, switching, and helping could be a learning process. If everything clicks into place, the Hoosiers can be a top 25 team. If things fall apart, a season similar to last year’s Ohio State could occur. Plenty of raw talent, but unable to put it together. Neither scenario would surprise me, but I’ll predict them being in the middle ground of those two spectrums as some variety of bubble team. I’d lean towards predicting the Hoosiers make the tournament field, but I’ve seen plenty of takes from neutral observers that have them on either side of the bubble.
BuffKomodo: The cohesion and gelling factor is really going to determine what they can be. I’d wager it won’t be as terrible as the Ohio State debacle from last year if things aren’t good. There’s simply too much talent to be in the discussion with Minnesota or Penn State. I think their floor is a solid 9 seed in the Big Ten tourney. I think their ceiling can be up there with Illinois, Purdue, and Sparty though. Purdue won the league at 15-5 last season. Indiana only plays 4 games against Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois combined. The schedule lays out pretty nicely for Indiana to get a cheap Conference Championship share if things break right.
BoilerUp89: OSU had a one and done last year, another really good guard, an experience senior wing, and an above average post player who got hurt. They shouldn’t have been 5-15 last year in the B1G but things went sideways. Weird things happen with teams that have a ton of new pieces. The ceiling thing has more to do with their NCAA tournament. I don’t think they have deep run potential in them like the other three could.
BuffKomodo: I think they’re more athletic than last year and athleticism does tend to pay off in the tournaments.
BoilerUp89: We will see.
MaximumSam: Did we really have to bring up Ohio State last year? Anyways, I wouldn’t say I’m bullish on Indiana. That’s a lot of new pieces that don’t seem like they quite fit together. Still, I like Woodson as a coach, and we should see more of how he really wants to play now that TJD is no longer on the team, so they should be interesting. If Xavier Johnson can be healthy and guide the team, I can see them not quite winning the conference but being very good.