Indiana basketball season preview: Hoosiers aim to be more than a 1-man band
Entering his 2nd year in Bloomington, Trayce Jackson-Davis is posed to step up to lead the Hoosiers.
The question for Indiana, though, remains: Is the supporting cast ready to follow?
The Hoosiers need others to fill in the gaps around Jackson-Davis so that IU can take a leap forward this season. That’s seemingly a must as Archie Miller begins his 4th year as head coach.
Jackson-Davis is one who can be built around, a preseason All-Big Ten forward who averaged 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season and added 59 blocks. But the Hoosiers need not only pieces but consistent ones. That’s a trait many players lacked last season as Indiana finished 20-12, including 9-11 in the Big Ten, before the season was halted due to the pandemic.
The Hoosiers have familiar faces: Joey Brunk returns at center, giving IU a big body to play alongside Jackson-Davis. After enduring an injury-plagued 2019-20 season, point guard Rob Phinisee hopes he can stay healthy enough to capitalize on his potential. And fellow guard Al Durham started all 32 games last season, averaging nearly 10 points per outing; his 36 3-pointers were most among returning Hoosiers.
Indiana was stung in the offseason by the loss of forward Justin Smith, who played more minutes than anyone last season and averaged about 10 points and 5 rebounds. The small forward is off to Arkansas as a graduate transfer.
IU has other veterans in the frontcourt, reserves like Jerome Hunter and Race Thompson, both of whom have proven an ability to play quality minutes. They’ll get more opportunities now.
Miller also buoyed IU’s depth, bringing in the nation’s 15th-ranked recruiting class and 2nd-best in the Big Ten, per 247Sports.com. The class was highlighted by point guard Khristian Lander, a 5-star, and forward Jordan Geronimo, a 4-star.
Following is a breakdown of the Hoosiers.
It’s Jackson-Davis, a phenomenal athlete at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds who has proven to be a matchup problem for many in the Big Ten.
As a true freshman last season, the Center Grove graduate finished the Big Ten season ranked 7th in rebounding (8.4), 2nd in field-goal percentage (56.6) and 7th in blocked shots (1.9). He was 1 of only 4 freshmen in the country to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, free-throw percentage and blocks.
Jackson-Davis’ strength is his versatility. Strong enough to battle in the post, he can also step out to take defenders off the dribble. He should be in line for a huge season.
Lander is an interesting study. The 6-2, 185-pounder (which might be generous) reclassified into the 2020 class, graduating early from Evansville Reitz to join the Hoosiers. Originally the 11th-ranked recruit nationally in the ’21 class by 247Sports, the point guard was No. 27 in ’20 after his reclassification.
Lander brings play-making ability to the Hoosiers, an attribute that they often lacked last season, when long scoring droughts plagued them. Particularly with Phinisee missing time due to injuries, Indiana had few players who could break down a defense and set up teammates for easy scores. Lander, it is thought, should be able to do so, or perhaps get a shot himself.
But Lander is young — only turning 18 last August — and perhaps underdeveloped physically. How he adjusts to the rigors and physicality of the Big Ten will be his biggest hurdle this season.
The Hoosiers have athletes.
In the frontcourt alone, Jackson-Davis, Thompson and Hunter can be a handful for many to deal with, because they’re quick and can get into the lane. Against bigger, more plodding defenders, they’ve got a significant advantage.
Indiana has to be a bit concerned about their lack of depth at the 5 — only Brunk is a true center, listed at 6-11 — but Miller might choose frequently to go to a smaller, quicker, more athletic lineup that should still be able to rebound and — perhaps — defend.
Last season, the Hoosiers at times labored to score. IU suffered through 6 Big Ten losses in which they put up fewer than 60 points, including 2 when they scored only 49. It was ugly.
The biggest culprit was a lack of consistent perimeter shooting. The Hoosiers finished in the middle of the Big Ten in 3-point percentage but made only 176, the 3rd-fewest in the conference. In a 57-49 loss at Purdue late in the season, the Boilermakers sagged in their defense, daring Indiana to fire away from the perimeter. And the Hoosiers made only 5 of their 24 attempts.
And now Devonte Green, Indiana’s 2nd-leading scorer last season and their best 3-point shooter, is departed, leading one to wonder if the Hoosiers can take a tick upward this year.
The Hoosiers have a potentially challenging non-conference schedule, playing in the relocated Maui Invitational in Ashville, N.C. There, they could take on Texas or North Carolina, depending on early-round outcomes. Their Big Ten/ACC matchup takes them to Tallahassee for a matchup with Florida State, and they’ll get Butler back at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
The Big Ten schedule didn’t provide Indiana a lot of breaks. IU plays twice against Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State, 3 of the favorites in the league, and their only matchup with Wisconsin is in Madison.
The Hoosiers haven’t finished above .500 in the Big Ten the past 4 seasons since 2015-16, in Tom Crean’s 2nd-to-last year when IU was 15-3 and won the league. Indiana won’t be in that category this season, one would predict, but could very well finish in the 2nd tier.
The Hoosiers are likely a bubble team, the same as they would have been last season. And likely now, like then, they are on the right side of the ledger.
But IU will have plenty of chances to improve their résumé, starting almost right away in the non-Maui Invitational.