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Indiana will need Juwan Morgan’s leadership and consistency this season

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Juwan Morgan made The Leap last year. Now he’ll need to be a consistent leader of this young Indiana team.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The most important player to Indiana basketball’s success this season isn’t Romeo Langford.

Instead, I’d argue that it’s Juwan Morgan.

The senior forward, a native of Waynesville, Missouri, first came to Indiana in the fall of 2015, along with fellow Missourian OG Anunoby. Neither were ready to be immediate starters like fellow freshman Thomas Bryant. It was Anunoby, however, who rocketed to stardom, with a more NBA-ready game, a few viral highlights, and a breakout sophomore season that unfortunately came to an early end after an ACL tear. All the while, Morgan kept working and getting better. In his sophomore season, he averaged 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.

But in a bit of irony, Morgan’s breakout season came with a new coach whose teams were more known for their guard play.

Under Archie Miller, Morgan excelled and made The Leap. In a way, Morgan had no choice but to step up his game — he played the 5 on a team with no regular players over 6-7 after De’Ron Davis tore his Achilles in January. But in Miller’s smallball system, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Morgan. Already, he’d put up some great numbers — the Notre Dame overtime victory comes to mind, in which he had 34 points and 11 rebounds. During Big ten play, however, Morgan broke through with a run of incredible performances, including a 28-point, 11-rebound line in a loss to Michigan State. On the season, he finished with 16.5 points and 7.4 boards.

The leadership and strong play led to Morgan receiving All-B1G Second Team honors at the end of last season. In addition, Morgan tested the NBA Draft waters, but eventually decided to come back to Bloomington for one final season.

Juwan Morgan has already been through a lot of volatility at IU. He’s seen Indiana win a conference title and get to a Sweet 16, but also been through a coaching change. He’s gone from playing primarily at the 3 in a backup role during his freshman year, to being the starter at the 5 his junior year. In just three years, he’s gone through more than most players ever would in a program.

All the while, he’s kept working his way into one of the top players in the conference. Not only are his points and rebounds steadily improving, but his blocks and steals keep going up, while his turnover rate is way down. Every time the Hoosiers ask more from him, he’s delivered. And he’s done this with a sense of humor as well — last year he developed a reputation for his subtle jabs at teammates on their Instagram accounts.

And yet, there are areas in which Morgan could still improve. His free throw percentage has declined since freshman year, as the more he gets to the line, the lower it goes. And while 3-point perecntage isn’t terrible, if he wants to impress NBA scouts, he’ll need to shoot more than 53 of them in a season. Morgan made 14 of his 37 threes during Big Ten play last year. So if he can keep that percentage up while shooting more threes, this wouldn’t just benefit his team, but also his professional prospects.

In addition, it’s now Morgan’s turn to show what type of senior leadership he has. Other than Morgan, Zach McRoberts and grad transfer Evan Fitzner, this is a young team in Bloomington. There’s a lot of raw talent that may have on or off nights or experience the same growing pains that Morgan once did, so having gone through that once himself, he can use that experience to help his team. His work already seems to be paying off — he already has earned the first “gold jersey” of the season for his efforts in practice.

Indiana’s had three up-and-down years during Juwan Morgan’s time in Bloomington. Despite this, he’s developed into one of the top players in the conference. IU fans already know what a great talent he can be on the court. And with an improved supporting cast, Morgan has a chance to guide this team to heights that haven’t been seen in Bloomington since he was a freshman.

I look forward to seeing what he can accomplish.