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Indiana Week Special: Indiana Basketball is Back?

Oh, the clickbait. I love it.

Look at that shine.
Ethan Levy

Let’s take a break from the cavalcade of football talk this week to dive into a very special topic, near and dear to Indiana Hoosiers fans hearts: basketball. Specifically, that Crean cream and crimson team that resides at Indiana University. It’s been an up and down tenure for the Hoosier faithful since that 2016 Big Ten championship team. However, it may appear that the doldrums the program has been stuck in for the past 20 years may be starting to recede.

Let’s frame this argument though, because I know what some of you Boilerbots are going to say. No, I am not arguing that Indiana basketball is back. We aren’t Texas football. What I am saying is that Indiana basketball is actually fairly close to being back. I’ll explain.

The Momentum Has Returned

After the failure that was the Archie Miller years, it appears that Indiana basketball could be establishing a bit of momentum. Back to back years winning games in the NCAA tournament (yes, I count the play in game last season, piss off). The coveted double bye in the B1G tournament this year. Indiana has also beaten Purdue in 3 of the last 4 meetings, as well as vanquished Juwan Howard to the fringes of coaches that are desirable to have on your staff.

Perhaps two of the biggest wins in the past two years under head coach Mike Woodson are the fact that the Hoosiers have revitalized the draft prospect of Indiana legend Trayce Jackson-Davis and taken Jalen Hood-Schifino from 2 year player to 1 and done prospect. While I understand how some feel about 1 and done, if you want to bring in top talent you’ve gotta show you can develop it. Mike Woodson’s Indiana has done that.

The 2023 Offseason and Transfer Portal Rebuild

If you read the post season article I wrote, you’ll know that Indiana had some mighty big shoes to fill in the offseason. Losing not just your two star players in TJD and JHS, but also two starters in Race Thompson and Miller Kopp to graduation as well as losing Tamar Bates and Jordan Geronimo to the transfer portal. I certainly had my doubts Indiana would be able to fill the gaps in.

Mike Woodson heard my doubts and basically said “suck it” because they’ve done a fantastic job filling in this roster. To start, Indiana brings in a dirty work big guy from Ball State named Peyton Sparks. After that, Indiana managed to put connections together and bring in former McDonald’s All American center Kel’el Ware in from Oregon. The 7’ and fantastically athletic big is no doubt going to be a fantastic pickup to offset the departure of TJD. Not a 1 for 1 swap, but I think it’ll work out. Indiana then added Miami (FL) forward Anthony Walker to the mix solidifying the holes left in the front court.

Indiana also got big news from the NCAA. Xavier Johnson, who had been slated to have his career end this year, was granted a medical redshirt waiver by the NCAA. Johnson was slated to be among the best guards in the conference last season before breaking his foot against the Kansas Jayhawks. That injury kept him out the rest of the year despite a late push to see if he could get back on the court.

Finally, Mike Woodson was able to land another late 5 start recruit in Mackenzie Mgbako. Mgbako was previously committed to play at Duke before securing his release. Indiana won the recruitment over Kansas. Mgbako is listed as a forward but will likely spend all summer playing on the wing and learning that role.

Indiana has one more scholarship open as well. There haven’t been any large rumblings about any specific player, but from what I’d guess is it’ll probably be a guard. A lot of talk has been made about Caleb Love, but we’ll see what happens. For now, the Indiana man rotation has filled in to be:

Probable Starters: Xavier Johnson, Trey Galloway, Mackenzie Mgbako, Malik Reneau, Kel’el Ware

Probable Bench Pieces: Anthony Walker, CJ Gunn, Kaleb Banks, Gabe Cupps

Yet to Be Determined: Jakai Newton, Peyton Sparks

That roster is almost an NCAA Tournament lock at first glance. Should this team gel the way it could and have either Gunn or Banks take major steps forward, this team could be a 6 seed or higher. They’re certainly more athletic and versatile than last season’s squad and should be able to provide Hoosier fans with a fantastic year of basketball.

New Style of Play

While two good years certainly don’t make Indiana back in a traditional sense, Indiana is certainly on the rise in two years under Mike Woodson. Woodson will essentially write his legacy this season as well. When you inherit a player such as Trayce Jackson-Davis, you build your system around him and feed off his greatness. However great he was though, it was very clear that given his own vices Woodson would not play the style of basketball we saw for the last two years.

This season, not constrained by any holdovers from the Miller era, Woodson gets a chance to fully run HIS system. Putting guys in space and spacing the floor in what’ll probably be a pro-style offense. A lot has been made of Carmelo Anthony stepping in and helping recruit Mgbako and if you want to guess what his role will look like, look at Mike Woodson’s Knicks teams with Anthony on the roster. You’ll also see a guy like Ware step out and shoot a few 3’s off the pick and pop.

The athleticism is there this year. The speed is there. The defensive prowess will be there come seasons opening. The question will be, as it has been, can the Hoosiers shoot? Well from last season to this season Indiana greatly improved their 3 point shooting and efficiency from deep. There’s no reason to think this coaching staff can’t do it again.

So…Indiana Basketball is Back?

Indiana basketball isn’t back just yet. The jury is still out. There is still work to be done. However, going into the offseason there was a lot of heartburn about 2023-2024. That’s understandable when you lose 4 starters and a portion of your bench. We all were nervous. Then, Indiana exerted its power on the transfer and recruiting scene and things seem to be looking up. They could look up even more depending on who gets the last scholarship offer.

If Mike Woodson is able to get this group to gel in time for Big Ten season, Indiana is going to be a problem in this league. Given the athleticism, Indiana will be a problem in the NCAA tournament as well. The Hoosiers certainly aren’t back to being the blue blooded program my parents grew up with. They aren’t the program we watched in the last year of Crean and the entire Miller era either. The program is somewhere between those two marks, and it does appear they’re closer to being back than we thought. Perhaps in a couple years we can make that declaration and not seem foolish. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.

What about you guys? Do you think Indiana is back? Are the Hoosiers still an overrated program yearning for the past? Or are they somewhere in between? Let us know down below.