As a rule of thumb, there are only a few reasons for a college basketball team to make big news before Christmas. Football rules the calendar until bowl season runs out and the conference hoops schedule picks up.

To garner early-season attention in basketball, you pretty much have to be No. 1, beat No. 1, or have something bad happen.

For Indiana, the latter option is what has the Hoosiers in the headlines this week. Starting senior point guard Xavier Johnson is out indefinitely after undergoing foot surgery due to an injury he sustained at Kansas on Saturday.

IU’s official release noted that the program is “hopeful he will return before the end of the season.” There’s no timetable on that statement, but logically one can ascertain we may not see him on the floor before the beginning of March.

The loss of Johnson is a huge blow to the title hopes of the preseason Big Ten favorite. He was 3rd in the B1G in assists last year, and is 4th through 11 games this season.

Indiana is most effective with a rotation of Johnson and freshman Jordan Hood-Schifino at the point. The Hoosiers struggled without Hood-Schifino in losses to Rutgers and Arizona, and had no chance at Kansas once Johnson left the game after playing 9 minutes.

Hood-Schifino now has to grow up quickly. And Trey Galloway, probably more effective as a shooting guard, is instead forced to carry on with his recent role as Indiana’s backup point guard.

Johnson’s injury changes the outlook for Indiana.

Already an obvious step behind top-tier opponents away from Assembly Hall, Indiana will be hard-pressed to remain near the top of the Big Ten standings. Every other contender for the conference title benefits from Johnson’s absence in a head-to-head matchup.

And that begins with the team IU fans least want to succeed.


Undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, the Boilermakers are in the driver’s seat as Big Ten favorites.

Purdue entered the season facing a couple of important questions: Who would replace Jaden Ivey at point guard? And does Zach Edey have the stamina to play 40 minutes after splitting time with Trevion Williams last year?

There is no longer any doubt about either question.

It begins with Edey, who looks capable of playing 40 minutes a game as well as a few overtimes. Edey, the early favorite for national player of the year, leads the B1G in scoring (22.6 ppg) and rebounding (13.9 rpg).

Braden Smith isn’t putting up Ivey’s numbers, but he’s getting plenty of help from fellow freshman shooting guard Fletcher Loyer while also leading the B1G in free-throw shooting.

However, Indiana matched up pretty well against the Boilers thanks to its ability to match Johnson’s veteran guile against Purdue’s green backcourt. That advantage is gone now, potentially removing a hurdle to Purdue’s presumptive title run.


Illinois currently has the 2nd-best odds for the Big Ten title despite already being 0-2 in the conference. Clearly in need of Midwestern competition, the Illini have losses to Maryland and Penn State.

It seems Illinois may also be emphasizing the “fighting” in Fighting Illini. Forward Matthew Mayer recently indicated a need for players and coaches to get back on the same page.

If they don’t, Purdue may be too talented for Illinois to catch from its current hole.

And if Illinois does break out of its current slump, freshman point guard Skyy Clark no longer has to go up against a veteran when facing Indiana.


No matter where they’re picked in the preseason poll, somehow the Badgers are never out of Big Ten title contention.

Last year Wisconsin won the conference title after being picked 10th in the preseason poll. Voters learned their lesson this year by picking the Badgers … 9th.

But that made sense with Johnny Davis in the NBA and Brad Davison finally concluding a career that seemingly spanned to the Michael Finley era.

The Badgers, who are 50th nationally in 3-point shooting after finishing 310th in that department last year, are already 2-0 with wins over Maryland and Iowa. Backcourt play will be essential to Indiana winning this matchup, and now the Hoosiers have to do it down a man.

Ohio State

Chris Holtmann only has 2 returning players among the top 9 in Ohio State’s rotation, but the Buckeyes are playing well. Ohio State is 3rd nationally in offensive efficiency, per

The Bucks are rotating a pair of freshman point guards (Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle) who also might have struggled against a veteran like Johnson.


Senior point guard Jahmir Young has been Maryland’s best player for first-year coach Kevin Willard.

It’s still unclear how good the Terps may be. They’ve dropped 3 straight after an 8-0 start, though the losses are against Wisconsin, Tennessee and UCLA. Maryland also re-enters conference play with challenging back-to-back road games at Michigan and Rutgers.

Not having Johnson available to deal with a fellow veteran like Young obviously helps the Terps against Indiana.


The Scarlet Knights are the 7th and final team that KenPom projects to finish 11-9 or better in B1G play, joining the Hoosiers and the 5 contenders previously listed.

Johnson struggled in Indiana’s loss at Rutgers, going 2-for-11 from the field with 6 turnovers. Hood-Schifino, who missed that game, will likely give the Hoosiers better minutes when the Scarlet Knights come to Bloomington.

But Indiana’s point guards typically struggle against a Rutgers team that has won 6 straight in the series. It may be no different for the freshman.