The 2020-’21 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2020-’21 ‘season with analysis on each program’s previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team’s starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local “insider” who covers said team.
Slow and steady wins the Big Ten.
That’s how the saying goes, right?
Well, even if not, that’s how it’s gone for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Since Archie Miller took over in Bloomington, that’s been the mantra for fans. A slow build to take the Hoosiers from the inconsistency of the Tom Crean era into the heights of college basketball. The idea has been to build the roster the “right way” and grow the program inside and out, building long-term stability.
And generally speaking, Miller and staff have done just that. Things haven’t gone as smoothly or as quickly as fans would have liked, but the progress is undeniable. Indiana finished 16-15 overall in Miller’s first year, improved to 19-16 in year two, and finished 20-12 last season. The program also went from no postseason in 2018 to the NIT in 2019, and would have made the NCAA Tournament last March had the COVID-19 pandemic not hit.
The advanced numbers also recognize the growth, as Indiana has risen from 71st to 34th nationally on KenPom with Miller at the helm. And the Hoosiers have an even better projection this year, coming in at 26th in the website’s preseason rankings.
Fans have watched the rise one step at a time.
Unfortunately, it’s been a tall flight of stairs.
For a program like Indiana, expectations are always going to be high. And one NCAA Tournament appearance (assuming Indiana had made it last March) in three years isn’t going to cut it in Bloomington long-term. This is a program who demands national relevance and NCAA Tournament appearances on an annual basis. The focus for most Hoosiers fans is on Final Fours and Big Ten titles. They’re just not interested in long rebuilds, trips to the NIT, and sweating out NCAA bubble discussions.
And this all brings us to the 2020-’21 season. Based on the trend under Miller, this is the season when the program should finally break through to national relevance. Indiana finished with respectable marks last season and if the team takes another step forward (as it has done consistently under Miller), that would put the Hoosiers in top 25 consideration and on the safe side of the bubble.
But can the team get it done?
It’s a big question. Going from bad to mediocre is a lot easier than good to great. And Indiana’s hoping to do the latter this season. Most will ride on players like Trayce Jackson-Davis and Rob Phinisee. Indiana desperately needs those two to play at an elite level. Unfortunately, things could be tougher than they originally appear thanks to some key offseason departures, including Devonte Green, De’Ron Davis, and Justin Smith. It should make for Miller’s most compelling season yet in Bloomington.
So, can Indiana get it done? Let’s take a look.
1. 2019-’20 Season Performance
- Record: 20-12 (9-11)
- KenPom Team Rating: #34
- NET Rating: #56
- Postseason Appearance: N/A (Cancelled)
By most measures, Indiana had a pretty typical bubble resume. The Hoosiers had some great wins, some disappointing losses, and largely met expectations, beating the bad teams and falling against the better ones. And while evaluating Indiana’s performance is a tad difficult with the cancellation of the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, we do have a pretty good picture of last year’s squad. Indiana had a nice season and was a decent team. However, it was far from anything remarkable.
Perhaps the most interesting stretch of Indiana’s season came early, as the team raced out to an 8-0 start and eventually reached 11-1 by Christmas. And while the run included some big wins, most of those wins came against underwhelming competition like Princeton, South Dakota State, and Troy. As one might expect, the soft opening slate led many to label the Hoosiers as “frauds” and primed for upsets down the road.
Unfortunately, the critics were probably a little more accurate than the optimists. Indiana finished with a respectable record, but it hardly performed like you’d expect an 11-1 team to perform down the stretch. Things simply fizzled out, as Indiana followed up that 11-1 start with two straight losses, including a disappointing one to a mediocre Arkansas team. And while Indiana rebounded in January with home wins against Michigan State and Ohio State, it nosedived later in January, losing five of six in a crucial stretch. All of the losses came against quality teams and most came away from home, but it put Indiana squarely on the bubble to close the season.
Indiana bounced back at the end of the season with a 3-3 finish and opening the Big Ten Tournament with a win over Nebraska before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. Virtually every respected bracketologist had Indiana in the field following its win over the Huskers. Who knows what would have happened in Indy or in the Big Dance if the season had been played out. All told, it was a nice, but not great season.
The highlights of the season were the early season wins over Florida State and Notre Dame, and the Big Ten wins over Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The loss to Arkansas and being swept by arch-rival Purdue were certainly low points.
Individual statistical leaders were Trayce Jackson-Davis, Rob Phinisee, and Justin Smith. Jackson-Davis led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, and total win shares. Phinisee led the team in assists. Smith led the team in minutes and steals.
2. Offseason Exits
Evaluating Indiana’s departures this offseason is a tricky endeavor. The Hoosiers are losing several key contributors from last season, but because of the returning pieces and newcomers, it’s not crazy to think Indiana could actually get better at some of these positions, despite the departures. It’s an odd situation.
The departures themselves come from Damezi Anderson, Adrian Chapman, De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green, and Justin Smith. This group includes arguably the team’s most productive player, another quasi-starter, two depth pieces, and one fringe roster player. These aren’t head-turning departures in today’s world of college basketball, but are certainly more than enough to keep Miller and staff up at night.
Smith is undeniably the biggest departure of the group. He led the team in total minutes last season and averaged 10.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game. Perhaps his best skill was his ability to get to the free throw line and convert inside the arc. Smith was a diverse player that contributed in a variety of different ways. And while calling him a “glue guy” would be underselling his abilities, the gist of the statement would be true. He did a variety of things on the floor and even if you can find a player who can do more somewhere, he probably can’t match the diversity of Smith’s skill set.
Davis and Green are the other notable departures. The two combined for approximately 30 minutes a game last season and Green saw a lot of minutes down the stretch, playing 20 or more minutes in 9 of the team’s final 13 games. Notably, Green finished the season averaging 10.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game and ended up being team’s most productive three-point shooter. Meanwhile, Davis saw a lot of his minutes evaporate due to the play of Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis down low. Still, the departing big man played as a key reserve upfront and remained a productive defensive rebounder.
Anderson was also a routinely used depth option, averaging 12.4 minutes per game. However, he wasn’t particularly productive as an offensive player, finishing with 2.8 points per game. Meanwhile, Chapman saw virtually no playing time last year, so his departure likely won’t be felt much on the floor.
Overall, these departures are far from debilitating. You expect some departures every offseason and losing two starters and a few bench options isn’t anything unprecedented. However, losing a player like Smith will leave a mark. And replacing Green isn’t a given. Miller and his staff will certainly have some work cut out in the months ahead.
3. New Additions
This season, the Hoosiers will be adding four new recruits and one walk-on. The recruits are Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, Khristian Lander, and Anthony Leal. According to 247Sports, Lander is a five-star prospect, Geronimo is a four-star, and Galloway and Leal are three-stars. Lander is listed as a point guard, Galloway and Leal as shooting guards, and Geronimo as a small forward.
Lander is the recruit receiving the most attention. He’s rated 27th nationally and was the top player in the state of Indiana in the 2020 cycle. Lander is listed at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds and should be really dangerous with the ball in his hands. Expect the guard to be dangerous in the lane and a great finisher. There’s little doubt he will be in contention for a starting spot as soon as he arrives on campus. The biggest question is whether he will be able to play at the two alongside Phinisee.
Geronimo is the highest rated of the remaining three incoming recruits. He is a top 100 prospect and listed at 6-foot-6 and 195 pounds. However, all three will arrive on campus with a similar outlook for this season. They’re all ranked in the top 150 nationally and should be in play for reserve minutes this season. And with Smith’s departure, a lot of minutes on the wing are there for the taking. Expect Miller and staff to try these three early and commit to whomever’s the most productive after that. The walk-on is Sebastien Scott, who comes out of Danville, California. He is not expected to contribute this season.
All told, Indiana is adding a really nice group of newcomers. Lander is the only one that looks like a lock to earn a starting spot, but there are four options here who could earn real minutes. And for a team trying to ascend in college basketball, that’s exciting news.
4. Points of Optimism
Long gone are the days when Indiana would walk into a game with five or six better players than its opponent’s best option. Talent is as balanced as ever in today’s world of college basketball and the same is true in Bloomington as well. Every Big Ten squad has quality players these days and winning is as hard as ever.
With that said, Indiana has relied on too many “meh” players in recent years to realistically hope for any marquee success. For example, players like Devonte Green, Robert Johnson, and Josh Newkirk all played hard for the Hoosiers during their careers, but you’re not going to Final Fours or winning Big Ten titles with them as centerpieces. They’re more than capable of being role players on nationally relevant teams. They’re just not going to be able to carry a team over the finish line against high-end competition. And unfortunately, Indiana has relied on players like them to be stars recently. And the results haven’t been great.
But this could be the year where things change.
For the first time in quite some time, Indiana enters this season with multiple potential stars. Trayce Jackson-Davis figures to be one of the best big men in the conference this season and the Hoosiers are also adding an elite-prospect in the backcourt in Lander. Each has serious All-Big Ten potential, and that doesn’t even include players like Phinisee and Jerome Hunter, who could improve significantly this season.
And while having a star player or two doesn’t guarantee success, it’s certainly an encouraging indicator. Go look at last year’s All-Big Ten teams and compare it to the league standings. It’s no coincidence the best teams usually have the best players, and Indiana only had one player (Jackson-Davis) in the All-Big Ten discussion last season. With another All-Big Ten player or two, it’s not unreasonable to think the Hoosiers could take a massive step forward this season.
From a broad perspective, Indiana should also maintain as a quality defensive group and team on the boards. The Hoosiers had the 26th most efficient defense last season and did a pretty solid job inside the arc. They need to get more consistent on the perimeter, but the core of a great unit is there.
Indiana’s rebounding should also hold up this year. Joey Brunk and Jackson-Davis both return this season were really consistent on the boards last time around, finishing in the top 15 in the Big Ten in offensive and defensive rebounding last season. That’s quite an accomplishment and it’s rare to see two players that good in a single area in a given season. All told, there are some real reasons for fans to be excited.
5. Points of Concern
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. Indiana was a horrendous shooting team last season. The Hoosiers finished 204th nationally in three-point percentage, 172nd in two-point percentage, and 326th in percentage of team points off three-point attempts. While many exaggerate the importance of perimeter shooting in today’s game (it’s important, but isn’t everything in college hoops), it’s hard to win at a high level today with those numbers.
Indiana’s primary goal this season has to be improving its performance in those categories. And even modest improvement there could be a game changer. Just look at some of Indiana’s losses last year. The Hoosiers hit 10.5 percent of its three-point attempts in a loss to Rutgers, 20.8 percent in a loss to Purdue, and 23.8 percent in the loss to Arkansas. You’re going to have off nights, but those are three games that could easily have swung with just a modest improvement from deep.
The Hoosiers also desperately need an offensive playmaker alongside Jackson-Davis. Most of last year’s team finished with offensive ratings below 100, including the team’s highest usage player in Green. If Indiana is going to get back to the NCAA Tournament and contend in the Big Ten, it’s going to need to take steps forward offensively and that’s going to require a legitimate second option. Jackson-Davis did a nice job with a 119.8 offensive rating. He just needs help.
Fortunately, Lander could be the answer here. He has enormous upside and could open up things significantly for the rest of the lineup, including Jackson-Davis if he can do damage in the lane. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of likely bets outside of Lander. Someone could surprise, but it would be just that: a surprise. If there is one sleeper in this category, it’s probably Hunter. He had a huge upside as a prospect before an injury sidelined him. Perhaps he can get back on track this season.
The backcourt also remains a concern for Indiana. Lander looks like he could be special, but what will surround him? Phinisee has been inconsistent, Al Durham and Armaan Franklin have been underwhelming, and the remaining options are essentially unproven. Having a productive backcourt is a key part of winning at a high level in today’s college basketball and it’s unclear whether Indiana will have that this year. It’s going to need Lander to at least one other player to take a massive step forward. That’s a lot to ask for in one offseason.
Indiana has enough pieces on its roster to find success this season. It’s just going to take some favorable bounces to overcome the issues described above. We’ll have to wait and see if the Hoosiers can do just that.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, there was no clear pick for Indiana’s top contributor. Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan both departed and left a massive void in their wake. And while there were a few decent options, nobody was a clear frontrunner. Jackson-Davis had potential, Phinisee had some spark, and players like Hunter and Smith looked like potential difference makers as well.
But after all was said and done, Jackson-Davis was the team’s best player. He was really efficient offensively, consistent on the boards, and a defensive force down low. And with his return to campus, Jackson-Davis appears to be the frontrunner for this spot this time around. He should only improve as a sophomore this season and if Indiana has more offensive playmakers around him, his stats could improve further. He seems like the safe bet for Indiana this season.
The most likely alternative to Jackson-Davis here is Lander. He arrives on campus with an elite recruiting pedigree and figures to be an immediate contributor. If he can hit the ground running, he should have some massive opportunities to contribute. Hunter and Phinisee could also be darkhorse options this season. Nonetheless, Jackson-Davis looks like the safest bet here.
7. 2020-’21 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/25 - Tennessee Tech
- 11/30 - Providence (Maui Invitational)
- 12/1 - TBD (Maui Invitational)
- 12/2 - TBD (Maui Invitational)
- 12/9 - at Florida State
- 12/19 - Butler (Indianapolis, IN)
- TBD - Purdue
- TBD - at Purdue
Normally, I would use this space to dive into Indiana’s schedule, the biggest games on the slate this year, and some expectations for how the team should perform. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the erratic scheduling changes, we don’t know much about the schedule at the moment. We have a few non-conference games on the slate, but that’s about it. This makes it pretty hard to give many thoughts on the slate.
The biggest thing to watch for Indiana will be how the team performs against those marquee non-conference opponents like Butler, Florida State, and in Maui Invitational. Indiana had an impressive performance in many of those games last season and will hope to keep that up this time around. Big Ten should also be interesting with reduced capacity, if anyone is able to attend at all. That’s going to make for a bizarre experience in Big Ten play, which has led the nation for years in fan attendance. Expect road games against teams like Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin to be much easier this time around.
As for Indiana, expect a lot of big games in February and March. The Hoosiers could very well have to sweat things out on the bubble again.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Khristian Lander (Fr.) - 90%
- SG: Rob Phinisee (Jr.) - 60%
- SF: Al Durham (Sr.) - 75%
- PF: Trayce Jackson-Davis (So.) - 95%
- C: Joey Brunk (Rs. Sr.) - 80%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
With a handful of key returners and an incoming five-star prospect, most of Indiana’s lineup is pretty stable heading into this season. Things could certainly change as the offseason and season progresses, but there’s a little more stability here than you might expect based on the frustration of Hoosier fans. There’s also still a decent amount of upside with some other talented newcomers and rising underclassmen.
In the backcourt, expect this to be Lander and Phinisee’s show. Lander arrives with massive expectations (discussed above) and figures to be an instant starter. And while it’s unfair to pin the hopes of a program on a single player, there’s a lot riding on his shoulders. If Indiana is going to achieve any of its major goals this season, it’s going to depend on Lander. He needs to be a quality starter and a borderline star in year one.
There’s also going to be a lot of pressure on Phinisee as well. He’s shown a lot of potential over his career, but has struggled with consistency issues. Here’s what I wrote about him coming into the season:
Phinisee largely filled the traditional point guard role last season. He was a fantastic passer (9th in the league in assist rate) who could hit open shots when asked. He hit 33.3 percent of his attempts from three-point range by season’s end, which ended up being one of the better marks on the team.
Along with initiating the offense and facilitating, Phinsee also did work on the defensive end of the floor. He had one of the best steal rates in the league (4th) and did a nice job of defending ball handlers. His play was one of the many reasons why Indiana’s defense finished the season ranked 26th nationally.
. . .
Being a facilitator, decent shooter, and quality defender are great skills to have. But if Phinisee is going to elevate his game, he needs to take steps forward elsewhere on offense. Perhaps Phinisee’s biggest potential growth area is his shooting. He finished with an underwhelming 94.9 offensive rating and a big part of that was his inconsistent shooting. In particular, his 39.8 percent from two-point range leaves a lot to be desired.
Phinisee could also take some steps forward elsewhere, including his prevalence for turnovers. You don’t like to see a 22.8 turnover rate for a lead guard. It was easily the highest mark on Indiana’s roster and it’s reasonable to think that will be the biggest limiting factor on his long-term potential.
Behind these two, expect Al Durham, Armaan Franklin, and the incoming freshmen (Galloway and Leal) to get some minutes as well. However, Miller and staff will be hoping Lander and Phinisee play most of the minutes. Expect Durham to earn a starting spot at the three as well. Geronimo and Hunter should be the reserve options there.
Upfront, Jackson-Davis and Brunk are going to dominate the minutes. And they’ll need to, as Indiana has little to no frontcourt depth this season. Davis and Smith are now gone, putting a lot of pressure on the team’s limited options. Fortunately, Jackson-Davis was a monster last season and Brunk is a consistent and proven player. Expect them to split more time at the five this year given the depth issues. Playing them together for too long could really put Indiana in some tight spots if one gets into foul trouble. Race Thompson should be the key reserve here.
All told, Indiana figures to have a decent lineup heading into this season. The Hoosiers will need to figure out some rotational details and finalize the backcourt, but there are some really nice pieces here. The key factor will be Lander’s play. The team really needs him to deliver.
9. Outside Perspective From Kevin Knight of SBNation
“Indiana is a tough team to read. Archie Miller has hardly lived up to the expectations Hoosiers hold their team to as he enters his fourth season. Indiana was a bubble team at the end of last season, and it was uncertain even with a win over a hapless Nebraska squad in their first (and the final) game of the Big Ten tournament they were NCAA tournament bound. Indiana needs to clean up their turnover problem this season after averaging 12.2 a game last season. They also need to find an outside game as they ranked last in the conference in three-point shots made and attempts per-game.
Luckily for Indiana, Trayce Jackson-Davis will be back after leading the Hoosiers in scoring last season as a freshman. Five star-point guard Khristian Lander should help provide an infusion of talent in the backcourt to relive some of the pressure down low on guys like Jackson-Davis. If Indiana can manage an offense that keeps teams honest on the perimeter, they should finally hear their name again on Selection Sunday. However, it is unclear at this point whether they will and they’ll finish in the bottom half of the conference if so.” - Kevin Knight.
10. Overall Season Outlook
Since Miller arrived on the program, things have been ascending in Bloomington. Each year has been better than the last, culminating in what would have been an NCAA Tournament appearance last March had the postseason went forward as scheduled. Hoosier fans have watched their program rise out of the dumps of the Big Ten to some respectability.
And if that formula continues this time around, Indiana figures to be a top 25 squad and vying for a decent finish in a stacked Big Ten. The talent is there to get the job done as well. Indiana returns a first team All-Big Ten candidate in Jackson-Davis and is adding a loaded 2020 recruiting class, featuring arguably the Big Ten’s best newcomer in Lander. With those two as the centerpieces, Indiana has the chance for a great season.
However, there’s also a lot of uncertainty. Indiana was a disastrous shooting team last season and it’s unclear who’s going to fix that this time around. And if the Hoosiers can’t consistently convert from three-point range, it’s hard to see Indiana elevating to top 25 status and in the hunt for the Big Ten crown. One also has to wonder how much players like Jackson-Davis can improve off last year’s production.
The departure of Smith also looks like a potential stumbling spot, as Indiana’s wing group looks relatively underwhelming without him. Indiana will almost certainly have to rely on some players with major question marks there this season.
All of this leaves us with a team likely to finish in the lower part of the Big Ten. If Indiana can find a surprise contributor or two on the wing, watch out. But barring that, Jackson-Davis and Lander will likely have to carry too much for Indiana to finish near the top of the Big Ten.