By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer
Editor’s note: John Fanta is counting down his top 15 college basketball teams at regular intervals leading up to the start of the 2022-23 season. Checking in at No. 13 is Indiana.
college basketball is better when the Indiana Hoosiers are a national contender, and that is absolutely the case in Bloomington heading into Mike Woodson’s second season at the helm.
On paper, IU should be the frontrunner in the Big Ten. During an offseason of significant roster changes across the league, the Hoosiers return four starters from a 21-14 team that won an NCAA Tournament game last season.
The highlight of the offseason? All-American candidate Trayce Jackson-Davis’ return for a fourth season. After averaging 18.3 points and 8.1 boards per game last year, the Indiana native had his mind on getting to the next level. But, a bout with COVID during a prime evaluating period and some reflection time swayed his opinion — not to mention some NIL money — into running it back for the Hoosiers. His return gives Indiana the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year and a preseason All-American selection.
But Jackson-Davis’ return is just one piece of great news for the Hoosiers, who also usher in the nation’s No. 9 recruiting class, according to the 247 Sports composite rankings. With five-star combo guard and Montverde Academy product Jalen Hood-Schifino headlining the group, Indiana has a blend of major experience and freshman talent on the roster.
Trayce Jackson-Davis throws it down
Trayce Jackson-Davis threw down a nasty dunk against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament last season.
As Woodson begins his second year at his alma mater, he bears noting that when the 64-year-old was hired, there were mixed reviews about the move. But the Hoosiers legend and former Knicks head coach has a chance to silence any doubters this year. Between the talent, a true home-court advantage at Assembly Hall, and a strong defense, it’s all on the table for Indiana.
The program has not appeared in the Sweet 16 since 2016, or the Elite Eight since 2002. Is this the year the Hoosiers break through? Let’s take a deep dive on the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers have one of the best frontcourts in the country, with Jackson-Davis joined by fifth-year power forward Race Thompson. They averaged a combined 29.4 points and 15.6 rebounds per game last season.
To take it a step further on Jackson-Davis, the Hoosiers’ captain ranks fifth nationally in scoring since 2019-20 with 1,588 points, and fourth in free throws made at 412. His 797 boards during that span ranks second in the Big Ten. His return will keep other coaches around the league up at night.
Meanwhile, Thompson has steadily progressed throughout his career, posting 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds last season while shooting 54% from the floor. In the final 17 games of the year, he also shot 40% from 3-point territory and ended up landing a spot as an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
As much as Indiana has rich experience in the frontcourt, the same can be said at point guard with Xavier Johnson. The Pittsburgh transfer came on the scene in Bloomington last year, took on the role and ran with it. He was third in the Big Ten with 5.1 assists per game while finishing second on the 12.1 PPG team. The key for Johnson is to minimize turnovers as he enters his fifth year of college basketball. Last season, he averaged 2.7 giveaways per game.
On the wing, the other veteran returner is 6-foot-7 fifth-year senior Miller Kopp. The Northwestern transfer was one of three Hoosiers to start all 35 games last season, serving as an X-factor on the perimeter and shooting 36% from beyond the arc.
A potential breakout candidate for the Hoosiers is 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Tamar Bates. The former four-star recruit out of IMG Academy went through a learning season as a freshman, averaging 3.9 points and 1.3 boards in 14.5 minutes per game, but had a big summer for the Hoosiers and appears to be ready for a breakout season.
“[Bates] could make a huge leap forward for us,” Jackson-Davis told FOX Sports over the summer. “He’s certainly put a ton of time in to grow. Some stuff happened last year that set him off track, but I think he’s ready for big things now.”
As if the Hoosiers didn’t have enough returning, they also welcome back juniors Trey Galloway and Jordan Geronimo, who will both likely serve in reserve roles for IU. Galloway did miss 15 games due to an injury last season, but when he was on the floor, he averaged 20.8 minutes per game.
Who’s new on the roster?
A four-member freshman class hits Bloomington, headlined by Hood-Schifino and four-star forward Malik Reneau. Another forward, Kaleb Banks, checks in at No. 89 in the 247 Sports rankings, while three-star guard CJ Gunn rounds out Woodson’s recruiting class.
The Hoosiers did not hit the transfer portal at all in the offseason, but with all the returning experience in place, there was not a major need to do so.
At 6-foot-5, Hood-Schifino could very well step right into a starting role. He fits the role of a big guard and his ability to attack the rim while being a capable defender gives him one-and-done potential. The key area for the freshman to address is his jump shot. If that can evolve in the upcoming season, he will be a Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate, if not the frontrunner.
As for Reneau, the first thing that comes to mind is that he’s absolutely college ready. At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, his frame looks closer to a veteran than a true freshman. With a 7-foot wingspan and his passing ability, there’s a lot to like about the Montverde Academy product. Originally a Florida commit, Reneau consistently shot up recruiting boards and ended up pledging to the Hoosiers in April.
That decision pushed Woodson’s incoming class into the top-10 nationally, and even though there’s a rich amount of returning players in Bloomington, having freshmen as talented as Hood-Schifino and Reneau only creates more firepower and depth.
Do not sleep on Banks either, who is a bigger guard at 6-foot-5 and a perimeter threat for Woodson to give some run when the time comes.
The Hoosiers don’t have much time to ease into the season. Indiana will square off with Sean Miller’s Xavier Musketeers in the Gavitt Tipoff Games at the Cintas Center on Nov. 18 (6 p.m. ET, FS1). One of the marquee non-conference showdowns on the entire college hoops slate will see North Carolina pay a visit to Assembly Hall in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 30.
The two other marquee non-conference games come in December, including a neutral site game in Las Vegas against Arizona. The Dec. 10 matchup at 7:30 pm ET will be broadcast on FOX, marking the first time that a regular-season college basketball game will be broadcast on the network in the East Coast, prime-time window.
A week later, the Hoosiers will visit Allen Fieldhouse to meet reigning national champion Kansas on Dec. 17 in the first year of a home-and-home agreement.
The Big Question
How will the Hoosiers handle the hype?
Regardless of where Indiana is projected to finish in the preseason, there’s always a significant amount of buzz in Bloomington. That’s just part of the territory at IU, which has always been a hoops haven.
That being said, let’s face it: The results have not lived up to Indiana’s massive brand in recent years. When the Hoosiers step on the court next March, it will have been seven years since the program last made it to the second weekend of the tournament. That’s the same span that Indiana has gone without a Big Ten regular season title, and the Hoosiers have never won the conference tournament.
If there was ever a year for the program to piece it all together, this feels like it. Jaden Ivey is gone at Purdue, and the Boilermakers have some retooling to do. Johnny Davis is no longer at Wisconsin and the Badgers are in a similar boat. Iowa lost Keegan Murray, Michigan State didn’t make any major splashes in the offseason, Illinois lost Kofi Cockburn and their top four other scorers, and Ohio State has a totally different look.
The point? The Big Ten will still be a quality league, but it’s not a league with a whole bunch of top 10-15 teams in the nation heading into the season. A big part of that is just roster turnover, something Indiana is not dealing with.
Hunter Dickinson and Michigan should contend near the top of the Big Ten. Purdue and Illinois could very well be in the mix, and others can certainly emerge.
But going into the season, Indiana is the clear favorite. That also means the Hoosiers will clearly get labeled as the hunted, something they’re fully aware of, as this video illustrates.
The Hoosiers have plenty of experience to handle the heightened expectations, and there’s one other major positive with this team: Defense.
Indiana led the Big Ten and ranked 24th nationally last season in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, allowing just 66.2 points per game. Woodson has the anchors of that strong defense back, so the Hoosiers should be one of the stronger teams nationally on that end of the floor.
Offensive efficiency is the area for growth. IU finished 95th in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency last season, coming in 10th in the conference with 70.8 points per game. Johnson is a willing playmaker, but the Hoosiers need their wings to step up and serve as consistent perimeter threats in the offense. Indiana was just 11th in the Big Ten at 33% from beyond the arc last season. Can that number improve, and will the Hoosiers find more ways to beat opposing defenses?
There’s no shortage of options for Woodson to work with, and no lack of anticipation for an important season ahead at Assembly Hall.
Top 15 countdown:
- No. 15: San Diego State
- No. 14: Villanova
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