Let’s get something out of the way really early: Indiana basketball’s past season was a extremely frustrating. After winning the Big Ten regular season title in 2015-16, their 2016-17 campaign was like all the ill-fated Matrix sequels: confusing and disappointing.
But as the old saying goes, there’s always next year.
There are still a lot of uncertainties about the Hoosiers’ roster for next season. OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr. could all potentially leave for the NBA draft. Blackmon has reportedly already declared for the draft, but will do so without signing an agent. The possibility of some of Tom Crean’s recruits leaving due to the hiring of Archie Miller also remains.
However, not everybody is thinking about leaving, as soon to be junior forward Juwan Morgan has already made it clear that he will be staying in Bloomington and senior Collin Hartman announced he will return for a fifth year of eligibility.
There is plenty of young talent for Miller and his staff to get excited about, especially in this past season’s freshman class. De’Ron Davis, Curtis Jones and Devonte Green all had productive first seasons in Bloomington and are expected to only improve before next season.
Davis in particular showed flashes of being a dominant presence in the post on both ends of the court. Davis’ development might even benefit if fellow big man Bryant decides to leave for the draft. Without Bryant clogging up the lane alongside him, Davis could get much more playing time and freedom to really unleash his full arsenal of post moves. However, if Bryant does decide to return, it could give Indiana the option of throwing out a lineup with two big men that they showed off several times late in the season. That could be much needed in a big man-dominated league like the Big Ten has been recently.
If everybody returns, the Hoosiers will have plenty of backcourt experience as well. Starters Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk will return for their senior years after having productive yet inconsistent seasons in 2016. If Blackmon decides to return instead of going to the draft, Indiana could have one of the deepest backcourts in the Big Ten with Johnson, Newkirk, Blackmon, Jones and Green.
It looks likely that Anunoby will leave for the draft, but Hartman’s return will soften the blow from the hole OG would leave on the perimeter, considering IU played half of the season without either player due to injuries in 2016.
If Freddie McSwain Jr. can translate his impressive athleticism to production similar to Anunoby’s, the Hoosiers could actually fill that hole rather easily.
If Miller can get improvement out of either Grant Gelon or Tim Priller, the depth on the perimeter will only improve. Gelon especially showed flashes of potential with a sweet shooting stroke but he will need to get much stronger and adapt to the game speed of college basketball much quicker if he wants any playing time next year. However, if Miller can convince Crean’s incoming recruits to stay and the veterans all decide to return, one of the two will most likely lose their scholarships.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of next year’s squad will be the incoming freshmen. Al Durham and Clifton Moore both asked for releases but Miller is trying to convince both to stay. While swingman Justin Smith seems likely to stay and Miller has said publicly that bringing back Durham is a priority, Moore might not be as likely.
Durham, a three-star recruit, could get lost in the backcourt shuffle in his first year especially if Blackmon opts to stay but Smith, also a four-star recruit, could get significant playing time as a 6-7 forward. He could help fill the void if Anunoby does in fact decide to leave.
2016-17 definitely wasn’t the Rolls-Royce of seasons for Indiana. It wasn’t even the Pontiac Grand Am. However, with a new era of basketball coming to Bloomington and an opportunity of some serious depth on their roster, Indiana could buy into Miller’s system and give fans the season that they expected from last year.