Mackenzie Mgbako signing is a win for Indiana -- and maybe the entire B1G
When Mike Woodson returned to coach his alma mater in 2021, there were some reasonable doubts regarding his ability to recruit players.
Recruiting can be an unpredictable world built on shady personal connections, and Woodson had zero association with college basketball from the moment he played his final game at Indiana in 1980.
Based on his NBA experience, we knew Woodson could coach. But would he be able to bring in top-tier talent?
Jordan Hood-Schifino provided an early answer to that question last year. He’s already headed to the NBA after a year as a Hoosier.
This weekend, 5-star power forward Mackenzie Mgbako made it a definitive yes. Mgbako, a former Duke commit, chose to sign with Indiana over Kansas.
Some Kansas fans got amusingly angry online to express their shock over an unexpected recruiting defeat. And that shock wasn’t entirely unwarranted.
Mgbako isn’t just a landmark recruit for Woodson and the Hoosiers, but the entire Big Ten.
Mgbako is the nation’s No. 8 recruit in 247Sports’ composite rankings. By signing with Indiana, he becomes the first top-1o recruit to sign with a Big Ten school since 2018.
And people wonder why Big Ten teams stink in March.
It’s the recruiting, people. Or at least that’s a significant part of the equation.
And rather than being a recruiting question mark, perhaps Old Man Woodson is in fact the coach capable of dragging B1G recruiting into the future.
Just 1 piece of the puzzle
In college football, there’s a pretty direct correlation between recruiting and championships. Georgia has been killing it on the trail in recent years, and the Bulldogs have turned that into back-to-back national titles.
Thanks to much smaller class sizes and 1-and-done players, the line is not so straightforward in basketball.
Last year, 3 B1G programs signed Top 10 classes — Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines didn’t even reach the NCAA Tournament. The top player to sign with the Illini, point guard Skyy Clark, left the team midseason. Clark transferred to Louisville almost immediately after Arkansas blasted Illinois in the first round of the tourney.
The most recent top-10 player to sign in the Big Ten didn’t exactly launch a recruiting revolution, either. That was Romeo Langford, who was intended to be the cornerstone that Archie Miller used to turn Indiana’s program around.
Instead, those Hoosiers were a massive bust. Indiana went to the NIT, which Langford sat out of. Miller only lasted 2 more seasons. And the closest a Big Ten team has come to adding a top-10 player since then is when Michigan signed No. 11 overall recruit Caleb Houstan in 2021.
Will Mgbako begin a renaissance in Big Ten basketball recruiting, or prove to be just another blip?
The success of the Hoosiers this season could go a long way in making that determination.
Mike Woodson’s big year
Next season, Woodson will have his first Indiana team that’s built almost entirely around players of his choosing.
Trayce Jackson-Davis and many of the key pieces around him the past couple years were Miller’s recruits. Now we are getting a clearer vision of Indiana basketball under Mike Woodson.
Trey Galloway and little-used Anthony Leal are the lone holdovers from Miller’s tenure.
As is needed in this era, Woodson is building the Hoosiers via both traditional recruiting and the transfer portal.
Point guard Xavier Johnson was his first big transfer get and is back for another season. Mgbako is actually the second top-10 recruit to join the program this offseason. The other is Oregon transfer center Kel’el Ware, who signed with the Ducks as the nation’s No. 7 overall recruit last year.
Michigan State is still the favorite to win next year’s conference title. But a successful season for Indiana in Year 1 of the post-TJD era would be huge for Woodson. That’s doubly true if Mgbako and Ware play significant roles in making that happen.
Top recruits will trust Woodson as a coach who can get them NBA-ready, and more will follow.
And that’s where the B1G as a whole may reap the benefits. If Indiana starts consistently landing top-10 players, everyone else is forced to step up their recruiting game. That could be the push that ultimately solves the Big Ten’s March malaise.
Improbable as it seems, the coach potentially leading that recruiting turnaround isn’t some young up-and-comer.
It’s 65-year-old Mike Woodson.