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2021-’22 Indiana Hoosiers Basketball Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Indiana Hoosiers and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2021-’22 season.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Days Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-’22 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2021-’22 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.

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After four years of underwhelming results and a rough 2020-’21 season, Indiana finally pulled the plug on Archie Miller. The Hoosiers had struggled for consistency with Miller at the helm, finishing with a 67-58 (.536) record under his leadership and without an NCAA Tournament appearance. It ultimately proved too much to keep him in Bloomington.

Indiana has now turned to Mike Woodson to turn things around. He played for Indiana under Bob Knight and was the leading scorer for the Hoosiers in the 1978-’79 season. Following his time at Indiana, he spent over a decade as a player in the NBA and then two decades in the league as a coach. His most notable coaching appearances were with the Hawks and Knicks, where he served as head coach.

Generally speaking, it’s hard to know what to expect out of Woodson in Bloomington. This is his first appearance in college in roughly 40 years and his first time coaching at that level. And while we know he can coach, can he successfully lead a college program? We’ve seen coaches move between the NBA and college with divergent results. Hoosier fans are hoping Woodson can emulate some of the things recent hires like Juwan Howard and Penny Hardaway have done.

The good news for Woodson and his new staff is that he inherits a pretty solid roster. Trayce Jackson-Davis is back after a brief flirtation with the NBA, Khristian Lander is a year older, and the incoming additions are solid as well, including former Northwestern wing Miller Kopp. There are pieces here and more than enough to get back in the NCAA Tournament picture.

So, can Woodson get it done? Let’s take a look.

1. 2020-’21 Season Performance

  • Record: 12-15 (7-12)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #50
  • NET Rating: #67
  • Postseason Appearance: None

Despite some decent aspirations entering last fall, Indiana fell flat on its face last season. The Hoosiers couldn’t protect home court, missed winnable opportunities elsewhere, and ultimately weren’t good enough to survive an absolutely brutal slate—ranked third nationally by KenPom. In fact, 14 of the team’s 15 losses came against top 75 KenPom teams and eight came against opponents ranked in the top 25. There’s little arguing Indiana played a murderer’s row. It just wasn’t good enough to survive it.

And on the court, the biggest issue remained the same: Indiana couldn’t shoot. The team finished 236th nationally in three-point percentage and 307th in percentage of team points from outside the arc. The only player who did much from deep was Armaan Franklin and his offensive rating finished at just 97.4. Teams don’t have to be perimeter oriented to win at the college level, but you need to be better than that to win in 2021.

The highlights of the season included the non-conference wins over Butler, Providence, and Stanford and the upset wins over Iowa. Low points of the season included tough losses to Florida State and Texas, multiple losses against Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers, and the loss to Northwestern.

Individual statistical leaders were Trayce Jackson-Davis, Rob Phinisee, and Race Thompson. Jackson-Davis led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, and total win shares. Phinisee led the team in assists. Thompson led the team in steals.

2. Offseason Exits

Given the coaching transition, Indiana got off relatively light this offseason with departures. The Hoosiers return the core of last year’s team and nearly all of the team’s key players. However, there were still some notable departures. The departures were Joey Brunk, Cooper Bybee, Aljami Durham, Armaan Franklin, and Jerome Hunter.

The most notable departures here are Durham and Franklin. Both played starter level minutes last season and contributed in a variety of different ways. Durham avoided turnovers and could get to the line and Franklin was probably the team’s best perimeter threat. The two averaged to combine 62.6 minutes per game last season, so Woodson is looking at replacing two starters between these two.

None of the other three departures should turn many heads. Bybee was a walk-on, Brunk didn’t play last year because of injury, and Hunter’s contributions were mixed. Hunter arrived on campus with high hopes as a recruit, but simply never lived up to the billing, likely because of injury issues. He averaged 19.6 minutes per game last season, though he was generally pretty underwhelming during that time.

Again, while Indiana will have to find some new pieces to replace these departures, none of these look overwhelming. The wing group will be uncertain, but losing two starter level players and a depth option isn’t exactly massive in today’s world of transfers and early departures.

3. New Additions

This season, the Hoosiers will be adding two recruits and three transfers. The recruits are Tamar Bates and Logan Duncomb. Both are rated as four-star and top 75 prospects. According to 247Sports, Bates is a shooting guard and Duncomb is a center. Shaan Burke also joins the program as a walk-on.

The two incoming recruits both seemed poised to make an early splash. Bates has impressive length, should give the Hoosiers another shooter with Franklin’s departure, and joins a position of need. Meanwhile, Duncomb has impressive size and should add valuable depth for the frontcourt. He’ll have a harder path to playing time with Jackson-Davis ahead of him, but could be useful if the star forward gets into foul trouble.

Indiana will also be adding Michael Durr, Xavier Johnson, and Miller Kopp as transfers. And all three are going to play early and often. Durr will provide depth behind Jackson-Davis in the frontcourt, Kopp should be an immediate starter and contributor on the wing, and Johnson should push Lander for a starting role in the backcourt. Johnson is also a solid defensive player, which should fit in well with Indiana’s culture built under Miller.

We’ll see how things shake out, but Indiana should have an argument for the most impactful group of newcomers for any team in the Big Ten, especially if the freshmen hit. Most fanbases would be thrilled with a quality starter or two out of the team’s newcomers and Indiana could see three starters and two depth options as well.

4. Points of Optimism

For a team that went 12-15 last season and hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in five seasons, Indiana enters this fall with some genuine optimism. The roster has an underrated assortment of talent and experience, returns a bonafide star, and should have the energy of a new coaching staff. All of that suggests a team that might be ready to outperform the last few years of missteps.

Let’s begin with the roster itself. The Hoosiers might have had a losing record last season, but the team still finished 50th on KenPom. For perspective, that’s ahead of teams like Georgetown, Michigan State, UC Santa Barbara, and Virginia Tech, who all made the NCAA Tournament. They also finished above some of the highest seeds in last year’s NIT as well. This isn’t included to suggest Indiana was a great team. Rather, just that Woodson isn’t starting with a typical rebuild. This team was closer than some think.

That position is also supported by a general roster review. Verbal Commits suggests Indiana has the third-most talented roster in the Big Ten entering this season. And even if that valuation overrates the Hoosiers, one would be hard pressed to argue Indiana’s roster isn’t at least in the top half of the league. The team has experience, underclassmen who could be set for breakouts, and proven newcomers like Johnson and Kopp.

Indiana also has a proven star in Jackson-Davis. He was an All-American caliber player last year and should be one of the favorites for Big Ten Player of the Year this time around. And while basketball isn’t a one-on-one sport, having a star goes a long way. I rant about this every year in my previews, but it needs to be raised again. To compete in the Big Ten, you need at least a player or two in All-Big Ten first team consideration. Indiana has that entering this season, which should make things considerably easier.

The hiring of Woodson could also add a spark for the Hoosiers. He’s a proven coach at the NBA level and has as much or more experience than anybody you’ll find in college coaching. The conventional wisdom implies big things to come for Indiana. How he will approach the college game remains to be seen, but there should be a fresh spark. And we’ve seen plenty of stories about how that kind of spark can lead to early success.

5. Points of Concern

Of course, Indiana also enters this season with some concerns as well. And let’s start this with the obvious. While Indiana has as much (or more) history than any team in the conference, the program has underachieved for much of the last 20 years. And it’s been particularly rough since Yogi Ferrell departed in 2016. Indiana is amid its longest NCAA drought since 1972 and finished unranked in seven of the last eight seasons.

Simply stated, things haven’t gone all that well lately.

And that isn’t included to twist the knife into Hoosier fans. Rather, it’s to emphasize the trend that’s plagued Indiana in recent years. The Hoosiers have a cultural problem. And not one born of poor ethics or off-court conduct. The team and players simply don’t know how to win. That might sound overly simplistic, but getting over that hump isn’t an easy task. And it’s even tougher when you play in a league like the Big Ten.

The roster also has some fundamental issues, namely a complete lack of perimeter shooting. Indiana was one of the worst perimeter teams in the nation last year and things could get even worse this time around as the team’s two most productive shooters (Durham and Franklin) both left this offseason. The new additions also aren’t guaranteed fixes either, as players like Johnson weren’t even great shooters (32.1%) before coming to Bloomington. It’s probably going to take a few years to fix this issue, which means it’s probably going to remain a problem this season.

It’s also important to recognize Woodson is a complete unknown at this level. His resume clearly suggests he knows basketball, but doing it at the NBA and in college are two different things. While basketball is basketball, there are obviously some big differences between the two levels. Coaching up professionals is one thing while recruiting and coaching up teenagers is another. We’ve seen many coaches move between levels with divergent results. Don’t be shocked if it takes some time for Woodson to find his footing.

6. Top Player

Indiana enters this season with a clear leader for its top player. Jackson-Davis returns after an All-American campaign and figures to be in the Big Ten Player of the Year race from season’s tip. He was a dominant force inside last season and one of the most athletically gifted players in the conference. His only real limitations relate to his passing and perimeter game. However, neither is all that significant at this level.

If anybody is going to challenge Jackson-Davis, it’s probably going to be Lander or one of the new additions. Kopp was a proven contributor at Northwestern and Lander has immense potential, despite a rough 2020-’21 campaign. He’s simply too young to write off at this point. However, Jackson-Davis seems like the easy pick here.

7. 2021-’22 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/9 - Eastern Michigan
  • 11/12 - Northern Illinois
  • 11/17 - St. John’s
  • 11/21 - Louisiana
  • 11/23 - Jackson State
  • 11/27 - Marshall
  • 11/30 - at Syracuse
  • 12/4 - Nebraska
  • 12/8 - at Wisconsin
  • 12/12 - Merrimack
  • 12/18 - Notre Dame (Indianapolis, IN)
  • 12/22 - Northern Kentucky
  • 12/29 - UNC Asheville
  • 1/2 - at Penn State
  • 1/6 - Ohio State
  • 1/9 - Minnesota
  • 1/13 - at Iowa
  • 1/17 - at Nebraska
  • 1/20 - Purdue
  • 1/23 - Michigan
  • 1/26 - Penn State
  • 1/29 - at Maryland
  • 2/5 - Illinois
  • 2/8 - at Northwestern
  • 2/12 - at Michigan State
  • 2/15 - Wisconsin
  • 2/19 - at Ohio State
  • 2/24 - Maryland
  • 2/27 - at Minnesota
  • 3/2 - Rutgers
  • 3/5 - at Purdue

You can sometimes get a feel for a team or program based on how it selects its non-conference opponents. You can’t read too much into those selections, but there’s clearly a message being sent with Indiana’s slate this year. Indiana did everything it could to give itself a manageable opening slate. But for the contractually obligated requirements (ACC Challenge, Crossroads, etc.), there isn’t a great opponent to be found here. Indiana was clearly trying to give Woodson a chance to ease into his new job. And that’s probably a good approach given some of the challenges he will face.

Outside of the ease of the non-conference slate, this schedule looks pretty typical. Perhaps the most notable section of the slate is the team’s closing seven games:

  • 2/12 - at Michigan State
  • 2/15 - Wisconsin
  • 2/19 - at Ohio State
  • 2/24 - Maryland
  • 2/27 - at Minnesota
  • 3/2 - Rutgers
  • 3/5 - at Purdue

All of those games look tricky. They’re either on the road or against a team that could be solid this season. And if all goes right, that stretch will determine whether the Hoosiers can get into the NCAA Tournament. It’s going to take a few upsets to get there.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: Xavier Johnson (Rs. Jr.) - 65%
  • SG: Parker Stewart (Rs Jr.) - 70%
  • SF: Miller Kopp (Rs. Jr.) - 90%
  • PF: Race Thompson (Rs. Sr.) - 95%
  • C: Trayce Jackson-Davis (Rs. So.) - 95%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

This is surprising to say about a team coming off a 12-15 season, but Indiana enters this fall with a pretty clear starting lineup. While some of the new faces have to shake out, this figures to be one of the more proven and predictable groups in the league. There just doesn’t seem to be much drama here.

In the backcourt, the safe bets to start are Johnson and Stewart. Both arrive as pretty highly regarded transfers with plenty of experience. And as goes often with these types of transfers, it’s hard to believe these two came to campus to ride the bench. Expect each to start the season, though it may not stay that way as time goes on.

The primary backups here will be Khristian Lander and Rob Phinisee. Lander arrived as a mega prospect in 2020, but largely underwhelmed last season, struggling to see time as Big Ten play unfolded. Phinisee is an upperclassmen who has struggled for consistency. Other depth options will be Trey Galloway, Anthony Leal, and true freshman Bates.

On the wing, expect Kopp to and Race Thompson to lock down the starting roles. Both have their limitations, but they’re consistent and proven players. Kopp is a smart player who avoids turnovers and Thompson is a solid presence inside. Expect players like Jordan Geronimo and Leal to fill most of the backup minutes here.

Upfront, Jackson-Davis will lock down the five spot. He played 83 percent of the team’s minutes last season, so there won’t be many available minutes behind him. To the extent there is available playing time, it will be filled by Durr and true freshman Duncomb. Fans will hope Duncomb can emerge as the season continues, especially given the likelihood Jackson-Davis leaves after this season.

Overall, this is a pretty solid starting lineup. It’s rare to see this much experience on a roster in today’s college basketball, and even rarer when you add in an All-American candidate in Jackson-Davis. The backcourt looks like the weakest part of the roster, but there is room for grow. Fans will hope they can pick it up as the season continues.

9. Realistic Team Goals

There are really only two realistic goals for the Hoosiers this season. First, to get Woodson seamlessly transitioned into the program. That won’t guarantee success, but it’s going to get the program back to respectability and avoid some of the collapses we’ve seen from poor hires elsewhere in the league, such as Eddie Jordan at Rutgers. The program needs to get a base established.

Additionally, Indiana needs to strive to get back to the postseason. This team has some roster issues related to outside shooting, but there is enough there to believe an NCAA Tournament is possible. That needs to be the primary goal once Woodson gets his feet under him.

10. Overall Season Outlook

The last two decades haven’t been pretty in Bloomington. There have been some nice moments along the way, but Indiana has routinely struggled to field quality teams since Bob Knight’s exit. And those missteps have resulted in plenty of coaching turnover as well, including multiple head coaching terminations.

Indiana has now turned to Woodson as its latest hope to get things turned around. He’s a proven coach at the NBA level who will hope to bring that expertise to Bloomington. The question is whether he can transition to the college level and how long it will take. Basketball is basketball, but running a college program is materially different than an NBA team. It’s an entirely different world and who knows if Woodson will work in this world.

Fortunately, Indiana has some pieces for Woodson to work with this year. He inherits a superstar in Jackson-Davis and has plenty of experience around him. If he can mitigate Indiana’s shooting woes, the Hoosiers could do big things. However, until those issues are addressed, it could be tough sledding.

Big Ten Prediction: 10th Place