Trayce Jackson-Davis is 1 of the greatest players in Indiana basketball history.

This is no small feat.

Indiana has produced 4 national players of the year, 46 All-Americans, and 6 College Basketball Hall of Famers.

Jackson-Davis is among the elite of the elite. This year, he became just the 13th Hoosier to be named a consensus first team all-American.

But it is an unlucky 13.

Of that group, Jackson-Davis is among just 4 who never won either a Big Ten or national championship. And AJ Guyton is the only other consensus Hoosier All-American who played later than 1939 and did not contribute a new year to 1 of the banners at Assembly Hall.

Just as Guyton couldn’t be blamed for that failure — Bob Knight’s kingdom was crumbling around him at the time — you can’t point the figure at Jackson-Davis for this.

Trayce Jackson-Davis didn’t fail Indiana. Indiana failed Trayce Jackson-Davis, plain and simple.

And that’s a terrible shame, because Jackson-Davis gave Indiana everything he could offer and then some. He deserved a greater return on investment.

An ending unbefitting greatness

The tragedy, if we can use a word like tragedy in conjunction with a sports loss, is that this all-time Indiana great wasn’t even on the floor when his college career ended.

Things had devolved to the point that Mike Woodson needed nothing but 3-point shooters on the floor in the final 1:30 in hopes of erasing an 8-point deficit against Miami.

Fittingly, those shooters completely failed at the task given to them. The Hoosiers didn’t score a single bucket in the final 2:26. Miami extended the margin from a vulnerable 8 to a 16-point blowout.

But in a way, this 85-69 defeat to the 5th-seeded Hurricanes was the perfect symbol of the Trayce Jackson-Davis Era of Indiana basketball.

Among the many jarring statistics: 0 bench points for the Hoosiers.

None. Nada. Zilch.

Tamar Bates, who is capable of providing instant offense off the bench at Assembly Hall but continually struggled to do so on the road, finished 0 of 7 from the floor in 20 minutes. The only other guys to come off the bench for IU, Malik Reneau and Kaleb Banks, did not attempt a shot.

The guards struggled, finishing 8-of-25 from 3-point range. And that stat was even a bit inflated thanks to a late hot spurt from Jalen Hood-Schifino, who hit 3 straight 3s before cooling back off. Other than that lightning-in-a-bottle spree, Hood-Schifino missed all 8 of his 3-point attempts.

Uneven guard play ended up being Indiana’s defining characteristic during Jackson-Davis’ career.

No guards = no titles

In Jackson-Davis’s first 3 years, Indiana was among the nation’s worst 3-point and free-throw shooting teams. This, despite being in a state where it is legally mandated to put a hoop on the side of your barn even if you don’t have kids.

Shooting should be the 1 thing the Hoosiers never struggle with.

And while the shooting has improved dramatically since Mike Woodson took over for Archie “Masons Only” Miller, there’s still work to do.

  • 2020: 32.6% 3-point percentage (204th), 67.9% free throw percentage (271st)
  • 2021: 32.4% 3-point percentage (236th), 66.5% free throw percentage (300th)
  • 2022: 33.3% 3-point percentage (200th), 70% free throw percentage (233rd)
  • 2023: 36.8% 3-point percentage (38th), 71.1% free throw percentage (202nd)

This is the only season of Jackson-Davis’ career where opponents have had to show any respect for Indiana’s perimeter shooting. But even so, that respect was sparing — that improvement had a lot to do with how infrequently the Hoosiers pulled the trigger from outside.

Indiana only scored 22.9% of its total points from 3-point range this season — a distribution that ranks 345th in the country.

Indiana needs guards.

The missing X-Factor

The irony of Indiana needing guards is that Hood-Schifino, like Romeo Langford in 2019, is going to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft after his freshman year. That’s regardless of whether or not his game feels a year away from being NBA-ready.

After a scintillating 35-point performance at Purdue and an impressive 19-point game against Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament, Hood-Schifino’s final 3 games underwhelmed.

Hood-Schifino struggled on both ends — especially on defense — against Penn State, Kent State and Miami. It’s no surprise the Hoosiers went 1-2 in those games. Or that the win consisted of Jackson-Davis recording the first known 20-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist, 5-block game in NCAA Tournament history.

That’s what happens when you’re a freshman point guard. You take the good with the bad. Hood-Schifino can’t control when he was born, after all. And he was never supposed to be starting in the first place.

As it turned out, the season-ending injury to Xavier Johnson on Dec. 17 was the mortal wound that would eventually do this team in. A senior like Johnson could have weathered the Hurricanes’ defensive storm better than a freshman, even if that freshman has more long-term potential.

The loss of Johnson is the painful what-if of Jackson-Davis’ career, because maybe the Hoosiers did have the guard they needed to win a conference title or make a March run.

Provided he gets an NCAA waiver, Johnson will be back next season. But Jackson-Davis will not be. And if Indiana can’t win the Big Ten or get to the Sweet 16 with Jackson-Davis, who the heck can it win with?

The answer?

Guards. And lots of them.

Jackson-Davis’ career serves as an important recruiting lesson moving forward. And it’s not unlike the lesson being learned in a much harsher manner in West Lafayette at the moment.

Having 1 of the 2 best big men in the country doesn’t matter anymore.

If you don’t have 1 of the best backcourts in the country, you’re cooked.