Indiana men’s basketball plays its second and final exhibition game tomorrow after a dominant 78-42 victory over Marian in the first exhibition. While these games don’t mean all that much, we’re only five days out from the true season opener with Morehead State on November 7, and a little over two weeks away from the Gavitt Games matchup with Xavier.
So let’s preview this year’s team.
I had the chance to preview each of these guys this summer and this is a talented bunch on paper. Reneau and Hood-Schifino both came to Bloomington as five-star recruits, and Hood-Schifino has been looking like a starter since he walked on campus. I expect Hood-Schifino to start alongside Xavier Johnson in the backcourt to start the year, which immediately gives Indiana a different look than it’s had in recent seasons. Having two guys capable of driving, scoring and distributing the ball should help the offense flow a little better and keep opposing defenses moving even when the shots aren’t falling.
Reneau being penciled in as a starter in the first exhibition game also gives us an idea of where he’ll be this year in the rotation. He’s unlikely to start when Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis are both healthy, but Woodson starting him with Thompson means that he’s comfortable with him in the 4 and 5 spots. Along with a newly bulked up Logan Duncomb, Indiana should have some depth that will allow Thompson and TJD to catch their breath when they need it.
Banks and Gunn don’t figure to see as much time this year, but they each have had streaks of impressive shooting in practice so far this year, so they could potentially shoot their way into some playing time depending on how things shake out.
In case you haven’t heard, people are excited about this Indiana team. For the first time since 2016-17, both the men’s and women’s teams were ranked coming into the season.
Aside from being a consensus top-15 team, most of the analytics and media people like the Hoosiers to win the Big Ten this season. The hype this season is not limited to a small group of insider, homer reporters. It’s real.
Part of the heightened in-conference expectations for this group has to do with the simple fact that Indiana returns more players who have played more meaningful minutes than any other team in the conference. Trayce Jackson-Davis is once again receiving preseason All-America honors, and the way Xavier Johnson was playing at the end of last season left many believing that he was one of the top guards in the conference.
Indiana’s non-conference schedule this year also affords it the opportunity to notch some ranked wins even before the Big Ten season gets underway with both Kansas and North Carolina appearing in the AP top-5 to start the season. Arizona is not too far behind at 17. Kenpom currently likes Indiana to win at least two of these three games, which would solidify them as one of the top teams in the country, not just the conference.
As Luke has documented, Indiana hasn’t exactly solved it’s most glaring issue: 3-point shooting. Miller Kopp looks slated to start again this season, which means he may be showing signs of returning to the 41.2% three-point shooter that he was as a sophomore in Northwestern.
Like I said above, I think having another true ball handler in Hood-Schifino will help to open things up for the offense. I also believe that there are enough potential shooters on this roster for this to not be a huge stumbling block for the Hoosiers, so long as the entire team doesn’t go cold at once.
There’s also the case to be made that Indiana may not be as far from where it needs to be in that category as many fans believe. To take the two teams that played in last year’s national title, Kansas and North Carolina, neither were in the top 50 teams for three-point shooting.
Kansas finished the year shooting 36.1% from deep and only attempted threes on 33.1% of its possessions, which could be a reasonable goal for an Indiana team that hit 33.3% of its threes on 31.1% of its possessions. Sure, it would take a step forward, but not a huge one.
Maybe the only other lingering concern would be the fact that this group simply hasn’t won very many games together and may lack experience when it comes to closing out games. This certainly seemed to be the case for portions of last season, like the collapse in the Kohl Center or the home loss to Rutgers.
Personally, I would say these concerns are a bit overblown considering the second gear that Indiana found last year when the season was on the line. Considering how much has happened since the hire, it’s easy to forget that last year was Mike Woodson’s first season coaching college basketball EVER. That he had a less talented group playing at that level when it really mattered last year tells me everything I need to know about how his teams will compete going forward.
It’s not going to be a repeat of the ‘76 perfect season, but there’s reason to believe that this group could be pretty special. 86% of teams ranked number 13 in the AP preseason poll have gone on to make the tournament, and the more preseason votes a team gets, the more likely they are to win games in the tournament.
Indiana will need to show improvements in 3-point shooting and closing out games, but the pieces are all there for that to happen. I don’t think there are too many rosters in the country that have the combination of talent and experience this group has, so I am probably even higher on them than most.
If Woodson can have this group outperforming its talent level the way last year’s team was to close out the season, the 2022-23 Indiana Hoosiers could be a team to remember.