Do you know that “inside you there are two wolves” meme?
You know, the one that’s been posted to death and was probably funny at some point for a good five minutes? Well, that’s currently the state of discourse around Indiana men’s basketball.
To some, it feels a lot like Mike Woodson has done a u-turn of epic proportions in just a single season. Between maintaining his current pool of talent and bringing in a top-10 class in year one, it’s easy to see why such a narrative has formed.
You’ve seen the tweets and articles from the national writers. There’s “The Big Ten goes through Bloomington,” “Darkhorse Final Four Candidate Indiana” and so on and so forth. This is wolf number one.
Wolf number two is the comparatively much more knowledgeable of the state of the program local beat, urging Indiana fans to temper their expectations and not let themselves be blinded by rose-colored glasses.
You should always, under every circumstance, trust the latter much more than the former. They know more by the nature of their job and they’ve seen a thing or two. Also, supporting local journalism is always a good idea.
If you buy into the hype a bit too much and declare your team among the greatest in program history, you could end up losing to a 15-seed and sending it to the Elite Eight for the first time in recorded history and never hear the end of it in the ensuing years.
Beyond this totally hypothetical, made-up, not real scenario, it’s generally not wise to drink the kool-aid of the national narrative.
Could Indiana do it? Maybe! It is always within the realm of possibility for a team to go on a run, just look at Oregon State or the long list of small schools that have done so. But don’t start acting like it before the first tip-off because you could end up paying the piper down the line.
The incoming freshman class looks good and we’ve heard glowing things about them from their veteran teammates and one another, but you’re all smart enough to know that’s what teammates do.
We have yet to see live action that shows us how Woodson plans to deploy those freshmen who’ll have to compete with upperclassmen for minutes. It could be immediate usage or something that evolves as the season goes on and Woodson finds the best lineup and matchups, we just do not know right now.
The obvious issue at hand for this team is shooting. We know they’ll have reliable play from the 4 and 5 because we’ve seen it before and frankly the team wouldn’t have made the tournament last year without the emergence of Xavier Johnson.
Now Johnson has Jalen Hood-Schifino behind him as an additional boost, this team should be perfectly fine at the point guard spot (which feels like a weird thing to say when you look at the past few years).
None of the freshmen were particularly vaunted shooters in high school and Indiana didn’t bring in any portal talent, so Woodson simply has to work with and develop what he’s already got.
That could come from Miller Kopp, Tamar Bates, Race Thompson or even occasionally Trayce Jackson-Davis. Perhaps even a few of the freshmen.
But the fact of the matter is we haven’t seen the practices, won’t see and don’t know what this team is going to look like until they play a game. Indiana’s rough Big Ten and nonconference schedule doesn’t do much help either (though it could be great if they do well!)
So do your best to listen to the local guys, reserve judgement and don’t get carried away when (insert national guy here) calls this The Team To Beat.