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Season in review: Trayce Jackson-Davis

After an up-and-down February, the second-team All-Big Ten forward put together a March to remember.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

If Indiana fans have seen the last of junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis in a Hoosiers uniform, then he’ll have ended his college career on a high note, at least relative to both his own previous performance and what the program had been through since its last Big Ten regular-season title and Sweet 16 appearance in 2016.

After a tumultuous February in which Indiana lost five games in a row — a streak that started with Jackson-Davis putting up just six points and six rebounds in a 17-point home loss to Illinois and a 13-points-on-13-shots effort in a road loss to Northwestern — both the team and its leading scorer changed potential narratives about the individual and the collective in March. The Hoosiers won five of their final eight games, with their last two regular-season losses coming by a single possession, before they reached the Big Ten tournament semifinals for the first time since 2013, while Jackson-Davis, a second-team All-Big Ten honoree, averaged 21.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in March.

In a four-game stretch starting with the Big Ten tournament’s second round and ending with the team’s First Four win over Wyoming in the NCAA tournament, Jackson-Davis scored 105 points, including a 31-point, 10-rebound, three-assist effort on 15-for-21 shooting in Indiana’s Big Ten tournament loss to Iowa.

Jackson-Davis’ 43-point night against Marshall in November 2021 will go down as his career-high scoring performance, but it was his play on consecutive days against Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, with Indiana’s NCAA tournament fate still uncertain, then against a tall Wyoming squad in Dayton, that will be remembered as the best performances of his career, adjusted for the stakes, opponents and the time of the calendar.

Like many of Indiana’s players last spring, Jackson-Davis had to be convinced by Indiana’s then-newly hired coach Mike Woodson to return to school.

As we wrote at CQ last spring:

While Jackson-Davis’ return was unquestionably pivotal for Woodson and the program’s current and future status as he represented a building block in Year 1 of a new coaching tenure, Woodson’s promises for the junior forward and the player’s personal progress left more to be desired, from a shot radius that expanded further from the basket to a much-improved right hand. After not attempting a single 3-pointer in his first two seasons of college, Jackson-Davis attempted just three in the 2022 season, missing each. Meanwhile, teammate Race Thompson went from a redshirt junior season in which he made just three of his 15 3-point attempts in 2021 to going 15-for-55 (27.3 percent) on the season in 2022, so there was proof of concept of Woodson & Co. being willing to let a developing big expand his game, even if the results didn’t necessarily warrant the number of attempts from outside.

However, Jackson-Davis’ late-season chemistry with point guard Xavier Johnson in the pick and roll led to numerous high-percentage baskets, which could also be viewed as something of an emotional catalyst for the team and its fans. If Jackson-Davis and Johnson both return for the 2022-23 season, their two-man game, built through some growing pains in their first season playing together, could be the most encouraging sign for an Indiana offense that ranked 10th in Big Ten play in terms of efficiency, per kenpom.com.

Defensively, Jackson-Davis became the most productive version of himself as a rim protector, in his three-season career, as his block rate — the percent of 2-point shots he blocked when he was on the floor — increased by 75 percent, year over year.

Below are Jackson-Davis’ traditional and advanced stats from each season of his career. Advanced stats are courtesy of kenpom.com.

Jackson-Davis became less of a focal point of the offense, relatively speaking, as Johnson was the highest-usage player on the team, and the former’s efficiency climbed from his sophomore season as a result.

Now comes decision time for Jackson-Davis, much like many of his teammates. Khristian Lander, Rob Phinisee and Michael Durr have entered the transfer portal — you can follow all of the latest moves with our offseason tracker — and Parker Stewart will not be returning to Indiana, whether it means a professional future or him transferring as well.

Jackson-Davis is not projected to be selected in the 2022 NBA Draft, according to most mock drafts — Jackson-Davis is projected as a late first-rounder by nba draft dot net; you can generally ignore that site and its projections. So, could Jackson-Davis find a home in the late second round? Would he rather go undrafted, preferring to find a good fit as an undrafted rookie who could potentially have more flexibility in determining his future?

Or, will NIL come into play and Jackson-Davis, perhaps being told directly or indirectly by NBA decision-makers that he’s not a surefire fit for the next level, could earn similar, or even more money as a senior at Indiana, where he could be a potential preseason first-team All-American and one of the biggest names in the sport?

Whatever he decides, he played the best basketball of his career to date in the most important month of his most recent season, helping to end Indiana’s NCAA tournament drought and starting the Woodson era with a debut season that’s an unquestionable success if graded on a pass/fail basis.

If Indiana fans wanted more from the former top-30 recruit — more jump shots outside of eight feet from the hoop, more offensive moves beyond right-shoulder spins and left-handed finishes, more makes at the free throw line, more team success for such a decorated player — those desires aren’t necessarily without merit, but Jackson-Davis proved, by the end of his third season in college, that what he’s good at, he’s often great.

As far as the rest?

That will likely dictate what stay-or-go decision Jackson-Davis makes (or is even made for him, by NBA evaluators), and if his third season in Bloomington turns into a fourth, then he and Woodson will have one more chance to go through the same song and dance about expanding his shooting range and his comfort with his right hand, and if realized, that could create a more well-rounded player that keeps Indiana involved even longer in the Big Dance.