The 2023-24 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2023-24 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.
Without Trayce Jackson-Davis for the first time in four years, Indiana begins to truly chart its path forward in a new era under Mike Woodson.
1. 2022-23 Season Performance
- Record: 23-12 (12-8, 2nd in Big Ten)
- KenPom ranking: No. 30
- NET ranking: No. 31
- Postseason: NCAA Tournament second round
Indiana is entering year three under Mike Woodson and will have to replace plenty of talent from last year’s team. The program build off of its year one momentum with the best season of Jackson-Davis’ Indiana tenure and a stellar freshman campaign from one-and-done guard Jalen Hood-Schifino.
Woodson has made the NCAA Tournament during both of his first two years in Bloomington, the first Indiana coach to accomplish this feat since Mike Davis in 2002 (Kelvin Sampson’s second team reached the postseason, but he resigned midseason due to NCAA rules violations).
Last year’s team was heavily reliant on the sheer ability of Jackson-Davis and the upside of Schifino, who turned in a signature performance with 35 points against rival Purdue in Mackey Arena. The team ultimately fell to an eventual Final Four team in Miami.
It’s worth noting that Indiana lost guard Xavier Johnson, a key player in the 2021-22 season, to an injury against Kansas in December and was thin in the backcourt for the remainder of the year.
2. Offseason exits
- F Trayce Jackson-Davis
- F Race Thompson
- G Jalen Hood-Schifino
- F/W Miller Kopp
- G Tamar Bates
- F/W Jordan Geronimo
- C Logan Duncomb
It’s a rather long list of departures for Indiana but few if any came as a surprise. Jackson-Davis made it known that last season would be his final with the Hoosiers, multiple seniors/super seniors like Thompson and Kopp ran out of eligibility and Hood-Schifino was an NBA Draft prospect from day one.
Indiana lost some talent to the portal, but none of the additions caught the fanbase by surprise. Bates hit a slump that he could never get out of and transferred closer to home, Geronimo never seemed to enjoy his role and Duncomb was out all of last season with a sinus issue before also transferring closer to home.
While expected, all of the non-transfers are huge losses. Jackson-Davis was one of the best players in the country, Thompson was a multiyear starter in the frontcourt, Kopp was the team’s best 3-point shooter and Hood-Schifino had massive upside as the No. 2 option.
That’s four of Indiana’s five starters gone, a rebuild/reload was due no matter what happened.
3. New Additions
- C Kel’el Ware
- F Payton Sparks
- F Anthony Walker
- G Gabe Cupps
- G Jakai Newton
- F Mackenzie Mgbako
And reload Indiana did.
Woodson and the staff were all over the country throughout the spring and summer bringing in talent for this year’s roster to replace the massive losses with a few surprises coming along the way.
Starting with portal additions, Indiana landed Oregon transfer and former 247Sports top-10 prospect Kel’el Ware after a disappointing freshman season in Eugene. Ware has all the tools could could ask for from a modern big from rebounding, post play and perimeter shooting. The issue lies in consistency, as Ware was maligned for his perceived lack of energy with the Ducks.
Should Indiana unlock his talent, he’ll be among the best centers in the conference and a surefire NBA Draft prospect.
Indiana’s other two portal additions also came in the frontcourt, Anthony Walker and Payton Sparks. Walker was on the same Miami team that beat Indiana and went to the Final Four while Sparks starred at Ball State after growing up dreaming of playing for the Hoosiers.
Walker provides veteran leadership that the frontcourt lost from Jackson-Davis and Thompson and knows what it takes to win in the postseason. Sparks can more than handle the physical play present throughout the Big Ten and is more than willing to do work under the rim.
The freshman class is an intriguing one. Guards Gabe Cupps (131st overall prospect) and Jakai Newton (No. 127 overall prospect) had been committed to Indiana for over a year while Mgbako was a late add after decommitting from Duke. Indiana earned his signature after a recruiting battle with Bill Self and Kansas.
Cupps has enough of a floor to be an immediate contributor off the bench as a freshman as he eases into his career. Newton is dealing with a knee injury and recently underwent a procedure with his status in doubt for the coming season.
Mgbako was the No. 8 overall prospect in this past recruiting class and has an NBA ceiling as a McDonald’s All-American. He’s capable of scoring in the post and from 3-point range with some defensive upside.
Indiana’s backcourt is likely set, but it’ll be interesting to see how the frontcourt works out. We’ll get into that more below.
4. Points of Optimism
Between Ware and Mgako, Indiana has some legitimate NBA talent on the roster. Both can make shots from the perimeter and are the types of players that could take over a game if they get hot. We have yet to see that from Ware (though he did have an admirable performance against UConn last year) and it’ll be interesting to see how Mgbako is utilized.
Indiana should get a second-year jump from Malik Reneau, who was limited on the defensive end by near-constant foul trouble as a freshman. He’s a legitimate, strong scoring threat in the post and is likely working on adding a 3-point shot to his game (not that he’ll be taking many but just look at Race Thompson’s attempts under Archie Miller and Woodson).
The brightest spot, without a doubt, is the backcourt. Xavier Johnson is back for a sixth year and Trey Galloway was impressive as a full-time starter last season. Experience matters quite a bit in college hoops and the Hoosiers will have a good amount of it from their guards.
5. Points of Concern
Indiana had to replace so much production in such a short amount of time this offseason and doesn’t have a ton of practice time to make sure all the pieces fit. There hasn’t been this much roster turnover in Bloomington in quite a while.
The frontcourt is the primary concern, who can replace Jackson-Davis and Thompson’s production there? If Ware can’t reach his ceiling and Reneau is still in foul trouble, things could take a turn for the worse quickly.
Can Xavier Johnson return to form now that he’s healthy? He missed most of last season and will probably need some time to get up to speed, especially with so much new talent on the roster and chemistry to build.
Speaking of which, chemistry. Will all the pieces fit? Indiana’s going to need to figure out its go-to frontcourt rotation early and solve who starts at the three. You can see whatever you want from Indiana. A squad loaded with talent that can compete with the Big Ten’s best or a project that’ll need some work.
6. Top Player
For the first time since 2019, this isn’t Trayce Jackson-Davis.
With the roster in such a weird state, it’s difficult to see who can step up to be that go-to guy. The easy answer would be Xavier Johnson were he not coming off of an injury. It’s difficult to project any of the newcomers either as we haven’t seen them under Woodson.
So… the easy answer it is! Xavier Johnson.
It could very well be someone else by the end of the year but Johnson is the one in charge of distributing the ball to Indiana’s talent, so for now he’s the most important player on the roster.
7. 2022-23 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/7 - Florida Gulf Coast
- 11/12 - Army
- 11/16 - Wright State
- 11/19 - UConn
- 11/20 - Louisville/Texas
- 11/26 - Harvard
- 12/9 - Auburn
- 12/16 - Kansas
- 12/19 - Morehead State
- 11/21 - North Alabama
- 12/29 - Kennesaw State
Indiana has an interesting non-conference slate this year. First, there’s no true road games with Kansas traveling to Bloomington following last year’s matchup in Lawrence.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some incredibly daunting contests, defending national champion UConn will be a tough matchup with a new frontcourt against Donovan Clingan, Auburn is in Atlanta so there’ll be plenty of Tiger fans in the stands and Kansas is a title favorite even as a home game.
New York is something of a second home for Mike Woodson. He was drafted by the Knicks out of college and coached there. He has plenty of connections in the area and it’ll be interesting to see who makes the trip to Madison Square Garden.
Other games, like the opener against Florida Gulf Coast, Harvard in Indianapolis and Kennesaw State at Assembly Hall, could prove interesting. There’s enough lesser opposition on this schedule to allow for a largely rebuilt, developing roster to jell before Big Ten play.
Speaking of which…
- 12/1 - Maryland
- 12/5 - at Michigan
- 1/3 - at Nebraska
- 1/6 - Ohio State
- 1/9 - at Rutgers
- 1/12 - Minnesota
- 1/16 - Purdue
- 1/19 - at Wisconsin
- 1/27 - at Illinois
- 1/30 - Iowa
- 2/3 - Penn State
- 2/6 - at Ohio State
- 2/10 - at Purdue
- 2/18 - Northwestern
- 2/21 - Nebraska
- 2/24 - at Penn State
- 2/27 - Wisconsin
- 3/3 at Maryland
- 3/6 at Minnesota
- 3/10 - Michigan State
- 3/13-17 - Big Ten Tournament
Opening things up with a Maryland squad that should be firmly in the top half of the league isn’t ideal, but Indiana gets them at home.
It’s hard to project any draw as easy or difficult when you don’t really know what the team will look like to begin with. This could end up being a decently favorable draw if all the parts work together as designed.
Stretches that stick out to me are:
- 1/16 - Purdue
- 1/19 - at Wisconsin
- 1/27 - at Illinois
- 3/3 at Maryland
- 3/6 at Minnesota
- 3/10 - Michigan State
That first stretch will ultimately define Indiana’s season… but won’t be what makes or breaks it. Indiana will absolutely need to have itself figured out by then or it’s staring right down an 0-3 stretch in Big Ten play.
Purdue is the reigning champion, returns just about everyone of importance, is Indiana’s rival and will seek vengeance following last year’s Boiler Sweep. The Kohl Center has been a house of horrors for Indiana and Illinois returns enough talent with an arena that has The Juice to create some headaches. And there’s no Trayce Jackson-Davis for Brad Underwood to refuse to double anymore.
The second may not look as compelling but I’m more interested in how Indiana finishes out the season. Maryland will be a daunting road test for a team that, in an ideal world, is a fully realized version of itself, Minnesota should be an easy win and Michigan State at home on senior night is the Hoosiers’ lone matchup with the Spartans on the year.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Xavier Johnson - 100%
- SG: Trey Galloway - 100%
- SF: Mackenzie Mgbako - 50%
- PF: Malik Reneau - 50%
- C: Kel’el Ware - 50%
Johnson and Galloway are locks to start in the backcourt but everywhere else is… interesting.
Miller Kopp started at the wing for his two seasons in Bloomington as the team’s go-to 3-point shooter in the latter. Mackenzie Mgbako has made the lineup decision a bit complicated.
Woodson could opt to start him at the three with Reneau and Ware at the four and five with all three taking shots from the arc to combat spacing issues but that’s still a rather sizable starting five.
The lineup could change as the season goes on. Woodson could opt for a rotation of Reneau and Ware at the five with Mgbako starting at his more natural position at the four. In which case, the three would have to be someone like CJ Gunn should he take a leap as a shooter.
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
9. Team Perspective from Crimson Quarry
It’s… me. I’m the guy who writes about this team over at Crimson Quarry so I’m gonna give you my thoughts on this situation, moreso than I already have.
For the first time since the early Crean era and like a week after the Romeo commitment, Indiana feels like it has some momentum as a program. Woodson went out and went toe-to-toe with Bill Self for a top-ten recruit’s signature and he won. Then he did it again.
The Romeo commitment wasn’t a forgone conclusion but the kid was basically a folk hero in Southern Indiana with lines wrapped around the gym for standing-room only spots to watch him play. Indiana was always going to be one of his final schools, that’s just how it works.
Mgbako was different. He’s a kid from Jersey who’s in Bloomington because his mother knew about Woodson from his Knicks days, only heard good things and reached out to the man herself to pitch her son.
The same can be said for McNeeley, someone with no ties to Indiana outside of watching “Hoosiers” a few times as a kid.
All that being said, I’m going to break from the Indiana sentiment at large and say I’m cool with however this season goes. Woodson is trying to run a preferred system as opposed to what he did with his first two teams. You’re not running off an All-American who excels in the post/pick-and-roll, you’re winning games with his talents.
That’s not necessarily what he’d like to run. He’d prefer to space the floor with more 3-point shooting and probably run less of the offense through post play. His comfort zone is what he ran in New York, where the Knicks set 3-point records.
This is probably going to be an extremely weird year with mixed results. They’ll win games they shouldn’t and probably lose some they really shouldn’t. There’s proof of concept with the first two seasons and two dudes from those teams in the NBA.
I’m willing to have some fun along the ride.
10. Overall Season Outlook
This should be a tournament team but probably won’t contend with Purdue and Michigan State for the conference crown.
Their ceiling is probably somewhere around a top-five team in the league and I’d struggle to see them finishing any lower than seventh or eighth. There’s too many teams with worse rosters.
Big Ten Prediction: 5th Place