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Juwan Morgan Could Hold The Keys To Indiana’s Upcoming Season

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A look at how the forward could reshape Indiana’s expectations for next season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Since last spring, there’s little denying that the hire of Archie Miller and his recruiting upswing have reinvigorated the Indiana fanbase. For the first time in years, the sniping and criticism has evaporated. Fans are excited about the upcoming season and optimistic about what’s to come.

However, even if things appear to be headed in the right direction, there’s also no denying that there are still a lot of questions about the Indiana Hoosiers heading into next season. Rome wasn’t built overnight and, in the same way here, Miller won’t be able to rebuild Indiana’s program in a month or two.

Whether fans want to hear it or not, Miller inherits a roster and a team that ranges somewhere between mediocre-to-decent. The Hoosiers missed last year’s Tournament and Miller will now have the challenge of replacing OJ Anunoby and Thomas Bryant, who were both drafted in June, and the team’s leading scorer in James Blackmon.

And while Miller may be recruiting well, Indiana has seen mixed results on the recruiting trail in recent years. The program’s 2015 class was ranked fifth in the Big Ten, its 2016 class lacked any top 40 prospects, and Indiana’s group of incoming freshmen is composed of four players ranked outside the top 75 by 247Sports.

It’s also worth noting that none of the program’s three five-star commitments since 2013 will be with the program this fall. Teams have won without elite talent before, but this helps puts the situation that Miller inherits in Bloomington in perspective. While there’s room for growth, he’s not walking into a fully functional battle station.

But there is still some hope.

To start, he returns an experienced backcourt in Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson and will get Collin Hartman back from injury. Indiana also has an intriguing set of returning freshmen in De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green, and Curtis Jones and will be adding a recruiting class that may not feature elite talent, but has some solid pieces. In fact, it has two prospects who are top 100ish* prospects.

Between those returners and newcomers, Indiana has more than enough to field a functional roster. Maybe it can’t compare with teams like Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State, but it’s going to keep Indiana relevant in most games. More simply put, that group should give Indiana a respectable “floor” for next season.

However, surpassing that floor will be difficult. Without elite talent, the team’s upside could be limited. Decent players will only take you so far.

But one player who could make that difference is Juwan Morgan.

While Morgan has seen mixed results during his two seasons in Bloomington, he projects to start alongside the group discussed above. Most have penciled him alongside Davis in the frontcourt. The two figure to be an interesting group where both can defend around the rim and hit the boards.

During last season, Morgan showed some signs that he might be taking the next step as a player. He averaged 22.6 minutes per game and scored double-digits in nine individual contests. Morgan also became one of the team’s best rebounders with a 9.1 offensive rebounding rate. In fact, he ranked 17th and 24th in the league in offensive and defensive rebounding rates, respectively.

Perhaps Morgan’s potential was best on display when Indiana made its late season push for the NCAA Tournament last season. He had 11 points and four rebounds in a road win over Ohio State and nine points and eight rebounds in the team’s blowout victory over Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament. He also had a nice performance in a win over a good Northwestern team a week earlier.

If Indiana is going to elevate its performance next season, it seems reasonable to think that Morgan needs to be at the center of that push. As mentioned earlier, players like Johnson and Newkirk are experienced, but few Hoosiers have the potential to be top-tier players next season. If Morgan comes out like he did in some of those late season games, he has the potential to be a difference maker.

However, there is at least one major concern about Morgan as Indiana prepares to head into next season and that’s his fouling. His 4.7 fouls committed per 40 minutes was one of the worst on Indiana’s roster last season and his 4.65 fouls committed per 40 minutes in Big Ten play ranked 80th in the league.

Simply put, how good can a player become if he can’t stay on the floor?

This is what makes Morgan such an interesting piece for Indiana next season. His production to date indicates that he has the potential to be a great player for the Hoosiers next season. Morgan was efficient offensively, a great rebounder, and improved considerably as a shot blocker. But, again, if he can’t stay on the floor, it’s hard to see how he helps the team.

The reasonable guess is that Morgan improves some in this category, but can’t resolve all of his fouling issues. However, depending upon what he does here, he could very well hold the keys to Indiana’s season in his hands.

And that’s going to make for a wild season.

* - Race Thompson is rated No. 101 nationally.