Well, it is here again. The end of another season for the Indiana Hoosiers. No banners. No trophies. No numbers to etch into Indiana history.
While that may sound bleak, it is in fact the truth. The truth hurts sometimes, and maybe we all need to get a little truthful about Indiana Hoosier basketball. This once storied program comes away from a season that held so much promise with virtually nothing to show for it. How did it happen? What comes next? What’s it all mean? Is it all bad? Let’s take a look.
From my preseason Indiana piece, here is what I thought the Hoosiers could do this season:
“It is quite reasonable for anyone to expect the Hoosiers to win more than 12 Big Ten games this season and compete for a Big Ten title. I believe that the most games the Hoosiers can win in the Big Ten is 16 and the fewest is 12, which secures them a winning season in the Big Ten for the first time since 2016 (the longest active drought). Past that, I think they get 8-9 non-conference wins and finish the season between 22-26 wins. I don’t think that they’ll be in the conversation for national championship aspirations due to their shooting, but asking for a Sweet 16 appearance I don’t think is unreasonable. In fact, given the schedule it may be a bit unfair to peg them at anything above 14 conference wins but we’ll give Mike Woodson and his crew the benefit of the doubt because I’m writing this and I don’t care what you people think.
It’s quite unreasonable for anyone to think this team will be in a true national title contention position this season. Simply, the shooting is not there and the guard play is not there. They are a good team because of the strength of the inside, but you won’t win titles playing like it’s 2005. Also, anyone who thinks that this team will fall on its face and finish in the bottom of the Big Ten hasn’t been watching the active rosters of the other teams. Everyone but Indiana and perhaps Michigan a little got gutted in the offseason.
Also, anyone who thinks Indiana is going to win more than 16 conference games is a moron.
Anyone who thinks Indiana is going undefeated is a moron.
This is the best Indiana team since 2016, but I’d still take the 2016 team over this one. And if they aren’t as good as that team, you can bet there may be some bumps in the road this year.”
Indiana started off 7-0 beating a handful of bad small teams while also taking down future 3 seed Xavier at Xavier and beating the breaks off non-NIT bound North Carolina at home. Indiana would then go 3-6 over the next 9 games, with non-conference losses to (nc) Arizona and (at) Kansas which weren’t particularly close, as well as a beatdown at Rutgers, a blown 20 point lead at Iowa, a 1 point home loss to Northwestern (which did in fact age well), and a blow out at Penn State. At this point in the season Indiana was 10-6 and 1-4 in the B1G.
Facing down the most disappointing season for Hoosier fans in years, Indiana rallied to win 8 of their next 9 games including wins over ranked (at the time) Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers as well as road wins at Illinois and Michigan. This put the Hoosiers back into the NCAA Tournament conversation and played themselves off the bubble as they were 18-7 overall and 9-5 after beating Michigan.
From there, mediocrity ensued as Indiana would go 3-3 to end the regular season 21-10. That would be good enough to get the 3 seed (via tie breaker) in the B1G tournament. In the tournament, Indiana would play a very good game against Maryland and win the quarter final game, then lose to a white hot Penn State team in the semifinal.
In the NCAA tournament, Indiana would be selected as the 4 seed in the Midwest region where they’d play Kent State to open the tournament. Indiana controlled their opening round game wire to wire and advanced to the round of 32, but would get run out of the gym against a decent Miami (FL) squad. The Hoosiers finish the year 23-12 overall and were ranked 21st in the AP poll and 19th in the coaches poll to end the season.
The Injury Bug
While Indiana entered the season with the best chance to win the Big Ten title, the Hoosiers got bit pretty hard by the injury bug this season. Indiana had hoped to have a terrific trio in Xavier Johnson, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. However, these guys only played in 7 games together as all 3 dealt with injuries during the year. TJD had a hand issue early to where Mike Woodson sat him in a few non-conference pancake games. He then had a back injury that took its toll on him in the middle part of the season before apparently overcoming it in the back half of the Big Ten season. JHS also had a back injury that kept him out of 3 games (2 conference games) in December. Xavier Johnson broke his foot at Kansas on December 17th and the dreams of a mighty trio of offensive firepower was no more. With Xavier Johnson’s absence, there really wasn’t anyone out of the current rotation that stepped up and thus Indiana was once again limited and hampered by the guard play it received. Let’s also not forget that Race Thompson missed a couple weeks in January due to a cheap shot dive into the knee by an Iowa Hawkeye that hampered Race the rest of the way.
Improvements From 2021-2022
For the first time in a long time, Indiana was very much improved on the 3 point line going from 33.9% to 37% from behind the arc. They also improved their FT % from 69.9% to 71.2% and their FG% from 45.9% to 48.9%. All of this should be used to say that the Indiana Hoosiers were much better offensively this year than last year.
Indiana was better in games decided by 5 points or less. In 2021-2022 Indiana was 5-7 in such games while in 2022-2023 Indiana was 6-4. This helped Indiana achieve 2 more wins overall.
Trayce Jackson-Davis also took major strides this season. Not only upping his PPG average to 20.9 PPG, but he also averaged 10.8 boards to go with it. He visibly improved his passing and averaged 4 assists. Oh, and when things were tight, he’d also bring the ball down the floor in transition.
Mike Woodson! Mike Woodson of this year was an improvement from Mike Woodson from last year. At the ripe old age of 64, he’s still getting better and improving. It felt like he did a much better coaching job, not only in game, but in scouting and strategy as well. While there is still room to improve, Mike Woodson definitely upped his game this season. Perhaps part of that was lopping Dane off the staff, but hell who’s to say.
Trayce Jackson-Davis - 20.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 4.0 AST, 58.1 FG%
Miller Kopp - 8.1 PPG, 44.4 3P%
Race Thompson - 8.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG
This section will be for sure departures and then the likely or possible departures. Starting off with the, “yeah, they’re done” crowd is TJD, Miller Kopp, and Race Thompson. Race Thompson has survived 6 years in the Indiana program and was a part of the flagship recruiting class by Archibold Miller his first season. He’s started 91 career games for the Hoosiers and played in 130, averaging 11.1 PPG last season. Miller Kopp ends his 5 year career playing his last two seasons with the Hoosiers after transferring in from Northwestern. He never really hit the scoring outputs he did with the Wildcats, but he remained a sharp shooting threat for the Hoosiers, shooting 44% from deep this season which is an improvement over last seasons 36.1%. TJD will get his own section in this, but look at those numbers. Jesus.
Possible or Likely Departures
Jalen Hood-Schifino - Fr - 13.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.7 AST
Xavier Johnson - 11 GP, 9.9 PPG, 4.9 AST
The next on the list of departures are Jalen Hood-Schifino and Xavier Johnson. JHS is projected as a 1st round pick in the NBA draft ahead of TJD. Depending who you talk to, he’s a borderline lottery pick to late 1st round projection. Either way, he’d get drafted. The question that’s in the air is, will he go? In my opinion, he’s in a spot where the right NIL package could bring him back to Indiana depending on how he does in the spring workouts and combine. I’m not going to dive into any talk of should he go or shouldn’t he go from a skills perspective because he’s clearly talented enough to go. The question will be, what is the right financial decision for this young man and I think that very much could bring him back to Bloomington.
Xavier Johnson is on the possible or likely departures list because he’s applied for a hardship waiver. Usually waivers only get granted if a player gets injured and hasn’t competed in 30% of the games available. Xavier Johnson sits at 31% of Indiana’s played games and 35% if you don’t include the post season. Xavier played in just 9 minutes of the Kansas game before getting hurt so if you remove the Kansas game, he’s under that 30% mark overall. The NCAA has a history of granting waivers to players on the edge of this number, so we’ll see what they do here. If he’s back next season, that lifts the floor for the Hoosiers greatly.
Players to Watch in the Portal
Tamar Bates - So - 6.1 PPG
Logan Duncomb - So - 3 PPG, 9 GP
Jordan Geronimo - Jr 4.2 PPG
If there were any players I’d expect to test the portal out, it’d be these 3. Starting with Tamar Bates, Bates has had an up and down go of it in Bloomington. Many saw the videos of him working out with LeBron and hoped he’d take a major step forward this year. He had an decent season until the Michigan State home game where he busted out for 17 points and was a killer that day. After that, Bates cracked 10 points once in the B1G tournament loss to Penn State. He shot just 39% from the field this year and just never really picked up the slack left by the Xavier Johnson injury. I can’t help but wonder if he’d benefit from a change of scenery so seeing his name in the portal would not shock me in the least. However, should JHS and/or Xavier Johnson leave, he is next in line for a starting guard spot on a roster that’s depleted of guard play.
These next two I believe will be in the portal fairly quickly. Firstly, let’s start with Jordan Geronimo. JG has had injury problems this year and suffered a rough go of things. After the game against Michigan State at home, he played more than 10 minutes just one time scoring 6 points the rest of the year. He did not play in the loss to Miami and there is a pretty public picture of him sitting on the bench while the rest of the team is huddled up after a timeout. To me, he’s never really fit in in Bloomington skill wise. I think I could see him transferring to a mid-major and winning player of the year honors and perhaps he sees the writing on the wall too. I fully expect him to be gone next season.
The last one I expect to leave is Logan Duncomb. There was a lot of promise in bringing in someone that big. However, despite playing well against Elon he has been injured or sick and only saw action in 9 games, only one being a Big Ten game. At this point, he’s taking a scholarship. So if you have someone else you want to give it to then great. It’s pretty apparent he isn’t the successor to TJD in the post. If he’s happy with his role and wants to stay and you’ve just got a spot to fill, then whatever. But at this point, I’d assume he’d try and find somewhere to actually play. (Note: This was written before he entered the transfer portal on 3/23)
So…Was This Season Successful?
Honestly, I can’t get myself to call this season a success. Nor can I stare at you and call it a complete failure. Let’s start with the end results: Round of 32 loss to a 5 seeded ACC regular season champion, No.4 seed in the NCAA tournament, Semi Final finish in the Big Ten Tournament after getting the double bye, Number 3 overall Big Ten ranking by tie breaker so a T-2nd finish, Sweeping Purdue, Splitting with Michigan State, Sweeping Michigan, Peaking Number 10 in the polls and finishing 21th, Only being out of the polls for 3 weeks this season.
Shit, that is a ton of accomplishments. However, accomplishments are only judged off of the goals we set. The goals for this team were: Big Ten Champion, Big Ten Tournament Champion, Sweet 16 or better finish. They were fairly public about it. They also only were 12-8 in Big Ten play despite the Big Ten being rather “meh” this season. Indiana also had a tendency to not just get beat, but get the breaks beat off them. Their average margin of loss was 12, and if you take out the 4 games they lost by 5 or less points the average margin of loss jumps to 17 points.
All of these things are uncomfortable to talk about together. Indiana was truly Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde like. They were capable of beating anyone but also losing to anyone, and losing by 20 to them. They lost their best defensive guard and a senior leader in Xavier Johnson for the year, had TJD, JHS, and Race Thompson miss multiple games to injury as stated above. THEY STILL hung on to a 12-8 Big Ten finish and a No. 4 seed in the tournament.
I want to be upset. I want to say it wasn’t enough. But given the circumstances and all the evidence, I can’t say it was an utter failure. It’s borderline to say it was a disappointing season. This year was fun. Indiana was fun again. What more do we want?
The Complicated But Not So Complicated Legacy of Trayce Jackson-Davis
All this leads to and funnels into the complicated legacy of Trayce Jackson-Davis. TJD will go down as one of the most explosive and dominant players to put on an Indiana uniform. He was an AP All-American. A 3 time All-Big Ten team player. He joined a few elite lists including players who had 2000 career points and 1000 career rebounds. Had there been a 2020 post season tournament, he likely would have played in 3 NCAA tournaments in his 4 years.
For his career, he averaged 17.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.1 BLK and had 4 AST his last year in Bloomington. The raw numbers are even more imporessive. He played and started 126 games, averaged 32.5 minutes per game, grabbed 1,143 rebounds (1st at Indiana, 3rd in the Big Ten Overall), blocked 270 shots (1st at Indiana, Top 10 in Big Ten Overall), and oh by the way scored 2,258 points which ranks 3rd all time at Indiana and top 10 in the Big Ten overall for all time. Trayce Jackson-Davis was and is an elite talent. It may take a few years before Bloomington ever sees a talent quite that dominant again.
However, for all of what TJD was, he cannot say he had a major team accomplishment that rivals others at Indiana University. He also cannot say he won more Big Ten games than he lost. TJD led teams finished 9-11, 7-12, 9-11, and 12-8 for a 37-42 B1G record. He only beat Purdue 3 times. His NCAA tournament losses were by 16 and 29 points.
The problem with him I personally have a hard time squaring is that he never developed any sort of shot making ability outside of 5 feet. Everything TJD did was at the rim. Driving to the rim. Hook shots. Drop steps. Spin moves. Dunks. That was his offensive game. His footwork was phenomenal. But against big men his size or larger and of similar athletic ability he really struggled. To his credit, he developed the ability to dribble and drive. He passed well out of the post this season. However he just never developed a true shot. Shit though, he scored over 2000 points never developing a jump shot so maybe I’m the asshole.
For those reasons, having TJD as your main source of offense was limiting. He was never really helped out by the rosters that surrounded him either. If you’re going to have a big guy who is ball dominant, the obvious thing to do defensively is to help down or double. When you help down or double, it opens up the 3 point line and shooters. Trayce Jackson-Davis was never truly helped out by his 3 point shooting teammates consistently, especially in years 2 and 3. That led to images like the Miami game where you literally have 3 guys occupied by TJD, one in front, two in back, and daring the other guys to beat you. Those other guys rarely shouldered major weight in wins. That hangs on the hats of Archie and Coach Woodson. The worst thing to happen to the career of Trayce Jackson-Davis with regards to winning was the transfer of Armaan Franklin and Al Durham.
Because of his stats, you always will need to bring him up when you discuss IU legends. His team results though will cause him to be dismissed offhand as a stat padder or the sole primary focal point for 4 years. That is wildly unfair, but it is how our society works. We’re obsessed with winning, which Trayce did far too little of despite how dominant he was for 4 years. He’s the best that will never get credit for being the best.
The Uncomfortable Truths of the 2022-2023 Season
I just can’t wrap my head completely around this season…around the career of Trayce Jackson-Davis…around the direction and path forward for this program. The only thing I can honestly say is that I’m uncomfortable with it all.
I’m uncomfortable that Indiana is losing the most dominant big man in the Big Ten. Mind you, he’s also one of the most dominant players Indiana has ever seen. I’d also be uncomfortable if he stayed (he has a COVID year) because I honestly believe it’d hold back the development of the program as a whole.
I’m uncomfortable with the Hoosiers winding up with just 12 wins and no title of any kind in a rather shitty Big Ten given that they had the most dominant player in the conference and had a future 1st round guard on the roster. I’m also uncomfortable saying this team was a complete failure as the Hoosiers missed Xavier Johnson for almost the entire Big Ten season and then had the injury bug with TJD, JHS, Race, and Geronimo.
I’m uncomfortable that Indiana has lost in the NCAA tournament by 29 and 16 in the last two season. I’m also uncomfortable denying that making the tournament and being in the tournament for back to back years was fun and awesome to see. I mean hell they were a 4 seed!
Everyone can rationalize this season how they want. You can say they underachieved. You can say they overachieved. Whatever you say, you’re right or you’re wrong.
Maybe that’s the point though. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that the Indiana fan base is back with expectations is a good thing. Not just pie in the sky expectations, but real ones. It was completely reasonable to believe a healthy Hoosier team could have and should have won the Big Ten. The fans aren’t gone, neither is the program. Once the program finally finds its footing, boy is it going to show everyone how fun it is to be a Hoosier.
As anyone who lifts weights will tell you, growth can be painful. It can be tiring. You can sometimes take steps back. No matter what though, if you stick with it you’ll see the gains. You’ll see the growth.
Indiana is a program that’s starting to grow. As painful as the last game was and as uncomfortable as you may be right now, it does appear that Indiana is on the right path. We’ll see what the offseason brings. We’ll see how hot the recruiting trail is. Mike Woodson has earned a season to rebuild after a legendary player like TJD leaves. Let’s see what he does with the pieces next year.