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Indiana men’s basketball mailbag: TJD, expectations and player development

The CQ staff answers your #iubb questions.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Indiana vs Saint Mary’s Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the very first (under this staff at least!) run of the Crimson Quarry mailbag.

We’re in the offseason now and news is difficult to come by as recruiting has (presumably) wrapped up for the most part and everyone waits on Trayce Jackson-Davis’ NBA decision. So we’ve decided to get a bit more creative with our content, and by that I mean doing what a ton of other sites do anyway.

So, here it is. Your #iubb questions answered:

1. Where’s the #iufb mailbag?

That’s not an #iubb question (we’ll see.)

2. What of Mike Woodson’s abilities with player development?

This question starts off with a very good point. We’re obviously still early in Woodson’s tenure and won’t get a better idea of what he’s like as a developer until this incoming recruiting class is a few years in.

That being said, it’s been a major selling point for recruits that Woodson is a former NBA coach who can develop them for the next level. He can show them tape of themselves compared to guys like Carmelo Anthony and lay out how he can get them there.

But whether or not he can deliver on that will make or break Indiana’s recruiting.

Xavier Johnson is a pretty good in-season example. His play was up and down during the beginning of the season, to the point that Indiana fans booed him at the Crossroads Classic. But in the end, Indiana wouldn’t have been in the NCAA Tournament without Johnson’s play down the stretch.

This was mostly Johnson coming into his own and settling within Woodson’s system. Statistically, he’s pretty similar to who he was with Pitt for the three previous years with one key exception: his 3-point shooting.

Johnson hit a career high 38.3% of his attempts from beyond the arc with Indiana, three percentage points better than his previous high as a freshman at Pitt. This can at least somewhat be attributed to Woodson’s ability to get open looks for his players.

As for Trayce Jackson-Davis taking that next step? Well, it’s a much more complicated issue than you’d think at first.

Based on a few videos we’ve seen of Jackson-Davis in practice sessions with fellow NBA prospects, he has a smooth jumper and the ability to knock down those shots from midrange or beyond the arc.

But could he afford to in games this season?

The Big Ten is known for tough, physical play in the paint by absolutely huge centers. Indiana’s “issue” is that it didn’t have one of those outside of Michael Durr. So the task of countering those behemoths usually fell to Jackson-Davis, a natural power forward.

Trayce had some issues against these bigs, but he had a clear advantage in agility and athleticism in an offensive matchup. Once he got the ball, he could spin or speed his way past them in the paint for a bucket with success. The best example of this can be seen in Indiana’s Big Ten Tournament run.

So, if that’s where Trayce is most efficient, why would he back away from it?

Woodson wants Jackson-Davis to take more shots, asking him to try taking two per game, but Jackson-Davis said he doesn’t because he’s sticking to the paint for the above reasons. It isn’t because he hasn’t developed, but he’s more efficient in the Big Ten sticking to the paint and leveraging his strengths against those bigs in the paint.

I’d say the development was clear with multiple players like the two mentioned above and others like Trey Galloway throughout the season. But only time will tell.

3. What could Indiana look like with/without TJD next season?

Let’s start with the things that won’t change with or without TJD next season.

  • The backcourt will be more talented. Jalen Hood-Schifino finished 23rd in the final iteration of the 247 Sports rankings for the class of 2022 and led Montverde Academy to its second straight national championship last year. The Hoosiers add him to a group that includes Xavier Johnson, Tamar Bates, and Trey Galloway - three of Indiana’s four top guards last year in terms of minutes played.
  • The shooting issues are not solved (completely). Parker Stewart, Indiana’s best 3 pt. shooter from last season, is using his final year of eligibility back at UT-Martin. Hood-Schifino is going to be a good point guard but isn’t currently known to be an elite shooter. CJ Gunn, Indiana’s other incoming guard, has shown improvement as a shooter over the course of his high school career so he may be one to watch.
  • Mike Woodson will lineup flexibility. While some fans disliked his tendency to sub out all five starters at once, his willingness to use a deeper bench than some of his peers could create some interesting rotations with this roster. Hood-Schifino and Johnson should be able to play together if Woodson wants to go small and Jordan Geronimo is reportedly trying to turn into more of a three, which could give him size and athleticism on the wing that most Big Ten teams don’t have.

Indiana might miss Trayce most on defense now that he’s developed into an elite rim protector in Mike Woodson’s scheme. Obviously the Hoosiers would also struggle to replace his offensive production, but given the lack of surefire shooting and aforementioned roster flexibility, the offense may have to get creative to score either way.

Trayce just happens to make it much, much easier to get points when nothing else is falling because of the how he dominates games like nobody else on Indiana’s roster can.

4. What should we expect from Indiana next season?

If Trayce returns, I think it’s reasonable to expect a finish in the top 1/3rd of the conference and a better seed come March. I’m going to refrain from making any predictions about what happens in the Big Dance, but I would say overall the floor should be higher for this Indiana team compared to last year’s.

The offseason departures (Parker Stewart, Michael Durr, Rob Phinisee, and Khristian Lander) may look bad on paper, considering Indiana will now have to replace about 15 ppg on the on offense without last year’s best shooter, Parker Stewart. Further, the Hoosiers relied on both Phinisee and Durr defensively in tight games last year.

On the other hand, Indiana is bringing in a new class that, as discussed above, should be a talent upgrade in the backcourt. The Hoosiers may be looking for a last-minute big from the portal if Trayce doesn’t return, but the overall roster moves probably result in a net positive, from a talent perspective.

Talent aside, teams usually see improvement under second-year head coaches as the roster becomes more familiar with the offense and defense under the new regime. Even Archie Miller, who famously could not get the program out of neutral, saw modest improvements in offense and defense in his second year as the Hoosiers’ head coach.

If somebody on the current roster - Anthony Leal, Tamar Bates, JHS, or CJ Gunn - develops into the kind of shooter Indiana’s been lacking since Devonte Green graduated, this team could end up being pretty dangerous. I’m sure this has been said each of the last five-six seasons, but it remains true this year and we likely won’t know until December or so whether Indiana finds its shooter or not, so it bears repeating.