The last four years didn’t happen. They weren’t a thing and they didn’t exist. Archieball? Buddy. I’ve never even heard of it.
There have been 1,612 days since Indiana University’s men’s basketball program last played a game — the National Invitation Tournament loss at Georgia Tech — that this blog will henceforth acknowledge. Mike Woodson has taken over for Tom Crean, Center Grove star Trayce Jackson-Davis has miraculously appeared on the roster, IU legend Dane Fife has been spotted on the streets of Bloomington, and things are looking up for the ol’ Hoosiers men’s hoopers.
A new era in Indiana basketball lore starts today.
The Hoosiers are in The Bahamas for a quick, two-game run against Serbian professional side BC Mega, with games scheduled for 7:30 Eastern tonight and 1 p.m. Sunday. Neither of the contests will be televised or carried on IU Radio Network affiliates, so we’ll have to lean on the outlets that are there (along with the IU men’s basketball Twitter feed) for boots-on-the-ground updates. In the meantime, here’s what you ought to know ahead of the first two (very unofficial) games of the Woodson Era.
What’s the word on BC Mega?
They’re pretty legit! Mega, which plays in the Adriatic Basketball Association, features a couple names of note. First, shooting guard Nikola Jovic is a potential lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 18-year-old averaged 15.8 points per game last season while displaying an advanced handle that has caught the attention of scouts in North America. Jovic works alongside point guard Scoochie Smith, a former standout at Dayton, who averaged nearly 14 points per contest as a senior for the Flyers during the 2016-17 NCAA campaign. As a group, Mega’s average age is approximately 21 years old, so this isn’t some ragtag team of advanced age and questionable quality. Mega should provide some really strong competition at this stage in the offseason. That’s good.
How does IU’s roster look?
Here’s a quick peek:
Unfortunately, IU won’t be at full scholarship strength for the weekend, per Inside The Hall’s Tyler Tachman. Check that link for more.
Is there a matchup to monitor?
It feels like this weekend ought to provide a decent early-preseason tuneup for IU’s point guards, as Xavier Johnson, Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander each prepare to take on a veteran backcourt presence like Smith.
At least, that’s the hope for Woodson.
“I’m just trying to get Rob and Xavier, and young Khristian to learn how to be point guards and run your team when they got the ball in their hand,” Woodson said. “I think Rob has stood out a little bit in terms of where he was a year ago, in terms of being more relaxed and comfortable and playing. I’m going to need him to stay there and continue to grow because that position is important. A lot of times the ball will be in his hands and Xavier’s hands, as well. You need them to be able to make the right decisions when the ball is in their hands.
“With the Mega team, we are watching film on them. They are a big team. They are a team that plays well together. They have got a pretty good little point guard that kind of directs traffic, so we really going to have to control him and put heat on him when he’s got the ball in his hand.”
What about the other guards?
Good question! This will also be IU’s first chance to get a look at how shooting guards Parker Stewart and Tamar Bates will fit into the backcourt.
To Woodson, Stewart looked like the best player in the gym during workouts earlier this summer. The long-range specialist has since cooled off, Woodson says, so IU will be looking to put him in a position this weekend to build confidence and finish strong ahead of the fall.
“I’m trying to retool him and get him back to how he was playing earlier when he first started,” Woodson said. “But he’s doing fine.”
Bates, a former four-star prospect who was selected to the Jordan Brand Classic roster this spring, will also get his first run in an IU uniform. Not only has he begun to transform his 6-foot-5 frame, Bates has also approached practice with a can-do attitude that’s left a mark on his coach.
“He’s a typical freshman,” Woodson said. “The good thing about him is he’s put on about 12 pounds from the time he’s come in here and that’s a bonus because he was real light in the butt. We needed him to pick up some weight. He’s a cocky kid that is not scared and I kind of like that in him.”
And what about TJD?
It sounds like he and Woodson are off to a good start together. Affectionately called “The Big Fella” by his new coach, Trayce Jackson-Davis seems to be approaching the upcoming season as a man on a mission. And, as you might imagine, he’s the only player on the roster with a guaranteed starting spot waiting for him, according to Woodson.
“From the time we started to where we are now, he’s made some improvement in terms of how he’s running and playing,” Woodson said. “He’s playing, to me, much more aggressive than he did in some of the tapes that I watched last season. And we’re going to need him to be that guy, the guy that plays aggressive and if he can average 20 and double rebounds, that’s a major bonus, again, for our ballclub.”
What can we actually learn from this trip?
I mean, it’s the middle of August, so I’m not sure we should be making any grand pronouncements about the things we see and hear from this trip. But there’s still some value to be discerned. It’s a chance for this group to get a little better, build confidence, learn a new offense, digest some new defensive principles and feel out their new coach’s sideline style in a competitive atmosphere. And give Woodson and his staff credit for that last bit. Scheduling BC Mega, a team that has beaten Michigan and played Kentucky in recent years, shows that the Hoosiers didn’t just fly down to The Bahamas to go through the motions. Woodson wants a challenge at this stage, and it appears IU is going to get it.
And yet, perhaps more than anything else this weekend, it’ll just be good for these guys to bond for a few days at a beachfront resort. Play some ball, hang out by the pool, and get to know each other. Make it that simple. The true reward of these trips is hardly found on the exhibition floor, but elsewhere in the resort. And for a team with plenty of new faces, both on the roster and in the coaches offices, the opportunity to kick back and make connections feels as important as any other objective the Hoosiers can accomplish over the coming days.