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Season in review: Xavier Johnson

Johnson’s play in the last month of the season helped save the Hoosiers’ season and gives fans a reason to be optimistic heading into 2022-23.

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

Indiana would not have made the 2022 NCAA Tournament without Xavier Johnson.

Full stop.

After the program’s positioning and plans at point guard appeared to be lost in the metaphorical wilderness for the better part of five years after Yogi Ferrell’s graduation in 2016, the Hoosiers found an unquestionable answer in Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson, even if it took the better part of three months for him, and his critics, to reach that point.

Fiery, feisty and flashy, Johnson brought both an edge and production to the program that it so badly needed.

Below is a line graph of Johnson’s point total in each game this season, as well as his five-game, rolling average, both of which show a player who found his way in late January and then hit his stride in mid-to-late February.

Through the first five Big Ten games in January, which included games against Penn State, Minnesota and Nebraska, Johnson scored a total of just 41 points, or 8.2 points per game.

At his peak — from his 26th through 30th games of the season, which were Indiana’s final four regular-season games plus the Hoosiers’ Big Ten tournament opener against Michigan — he averaged 19.2 points per game over a five-game stretch, which featured three opponents that were soon-to-be NCAA tournament teams.

Playing for a team that made a third of its 3-pointers — Indiana literally finished the season at 33.3 percent — Johnson, obvious hitch in his jump shot and all, was second on the team in 3-point percentage (38.3 percent, only one percentage point behind Parker Stewart) and third in 3-pointers made (36). From Jan. 20 on, starting with Indiana’s home win over Purdue, he made multiple 3-pointers in 16 of his final 17 games, including at least three 3-pointers in 12 of them.

Somehow, Johnson didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer in three of Indiana’s first seven games, including in his 26 minutes in a road loss at Syracuse.

Remarkably, Johnson’s assists patterns last season followed a very similar trend as his scoring, peaking at 8.2 assists per game in Indiana’s second-to-last game of the season in terms of his rolling, five-game average.

For the fleeting frustration that Johnson showed at times on the court or made Indiana fans feel while watching the Hoosiers, he played like an All-Big Ten point guard in the last month or so of the season, which should provide both the veteran ball-handler and Hoosier fans confidence heading into next season if No. 0 is back in Bloomington, especially if he’s paired with Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was on the receiving end of countless lobs out of the pick and roll late in the season.

Johnson’s worst moments — the (admittedly overblown) final possession in Indiana’s loss at Purdue, his play late in the road loss at Ohio State, his inclusion in the group of suspended players for the game at Northwestern — were ones many Indiana fans may hold on to. But Indiana likely wouldn’t have been competitive in West Lafayette or Columbus without him, just as the Hoosiers probably wouldn’t have ended their five-year NCAA tournament drought without the transfer from Pittsburgh.

If Johnson returns to Bloomington for a fifth season of college and if he picks up where he left off in the 2021-22 campaign, then not only is Indiana’s point guard situation in a comfortable place heading into a season for the first time since the fall of 2015, but the Hoosiers will have a higher floor and ceiling next season in what could be a Big Ten Conference that’s in transition.

Season in review: Trayce Jackson-Davis