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Indiana men’s basketball: What will Xavier Johnson’s absence mean?

The Hoosiers are better when Johnson is on the floor. What will his absence mean?

NCAA Basketball: Jackson State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The loss to Kansas wasn’t the only thing weighing heavy on the minds of Indiana’s fans on Saturday. Xavier Johnson, the Hoosiers’ starting point guard, went down with an injury in the first half and didn’t return.

Johnson was later seen leaving Allen Fieldhouse in crutches and Mike Woodson gave an update during his radio show on Monday:

You may have noticed the next tweet where Woodson says “if he ever gets the chance to come back.” I’d wait until Woodson has the chance to clarify, which would happen either pregame or postgame tonight, to put much stock in that. Indiana will know more Wednesday.

One way or another, it looks like Johnson will be out for an extended period of time. That dramatically changes what Indiana is going to be doing on the court, especially on the offensive end.

Here’s what we think that means:

Jalen Hood-Schifino assumes Johnson’s role for the foreseeable future

NCAA Basketball: Jackson State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Of Indiana’s highly-praised 2022 recruiting class, none received more preseason hype than Hood-Schifino.

A 5-star recruit, Hood-Schifino committed to Indiana just prior to the 2021-22 season out of Montverde Academy in Florida. He was reportedly the most impressive Hoosier when Indiana held its Pro Day ahead of the regular season and Trayce Jackson-Davis said he wouldn’t be surprised if Hood-Schifino spent just a single year in Bloomington.

Without another experienced ballhandler to play off of, it’s officially the Hood-Schifino show for the immediate future.

He’s shown flashes of that ability against inferior nonconference foes early in the season, but created for himself a bit more when playing alongside Johnson. He should have established chemistry with his teammates through practices, but has a chance to get into a flow against the likes of Elon and Kennesaw State.

Trey Galloway moves into a starting role

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Personally, this is what I’m most interested to see.

When considering Johnson’s absence, I thought back to last year’s offense when he was the sole ballhandler and Indiana had immense issues with spacing thanks to starting two catch-and-shoot guys in Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp.

Galloway is what prevents that from happening. He’s not Johnson or Hood-Schifino, but he has some experience as a ballhandler and it’ll be good for him to get more of it in game action that isn’t against Northwestern due to a ton of suspensions.

He also brings a ton of energy to the floor, which the Hoosiers were sorely lacking against Kansas. You’ll see it in how the team reacts when Galloway makes a key play (which happens fairly often), they love the guy and feed off of his energy. He’d likely be starting already if Indiana didn’t have so much experience ahead of him.

His shot from the perimeter has also largely improved. He’s not a knockdown shooter by any means, but he’s taking more of them and making them at a higher rate.

Indiana is going to need even more from Trayce Jackson-Davis

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana simply didn’t get enough out of its preseason All-American and centerpiece against Arizona and Kansas. It’s important to realize that this is the same guy who got a triple double against Nebraska, the amount of which in program history can be counted on a single hand.

It’s a rather unfortunate realization that Johnson was likely Indiana’s second option after Jackson-Davis, which isn’t exactly what you want your point guard to be. Mike Woodson told him countless times that he didn’t have to do it himself, yet there he was taking shots or crashing into the paint when those of his teammates weren’t falling.

Without Johnson, Indiana’s second option is less clear. Miller Kopp? Probably not. Race Thompson? Maybe against certain Big Ten teams. Hood-Schifino? He has other things to worry about. Indiana’s gonna have to answer that question against Elon and Kennesaw State. After that, it’s just gonna need more from Jackson-Davis.

It’s no secret that Jackson-Davis isn’t an ideal matchup against his fellow Big Ten bigs. He’s a true power forward being asked to guard and score on paint-dominating centers like Zach Edey. But he has the speed and athleticism to get past those guys and, apparently, the shooting ability to knock down a few if need be.

Until Indiana can really figure out who its No. 2 guy is, Jackson-Davis has to take control of games. It’s what he’s here to do.