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Indiana men’s basketball: How Xavier Johnson’s waiver decision will impact the future

Xavier Johnson raises the Hoosiers’ ceiling next year should he be able to return.

NCAA Basketball: Elon University at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The promise of Indiana men’s basketball’s 2022-23 season was largely dependent on the backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and 5-star freshman NBA prospect Jalen Hood-Schifino.

Johnson’s experience, driving ability and budding chemistry with Trayce Jackson-Davis looked to pair well with Hood-Schifino’s raw talent on both ends of the floor. Indiana seemingly went years without even one dependable ball-handler to run its offense. Suddenly it looked like the Hoosiers had two.

Instead the two played just a handful of games alongside one another due to Johnson suffering a broken foot during a loss to Kansas during Indiana’s nonconference slate. Indiana stumbled through the first few games of Big Ten play, largely as a result of missing Johnson.

The Hoosiers’ lack of guard depth showed throughout the season with Trey Galloway having to step up as Indiana’s secondary point guard at times. Hood-Schifino’s skills usually covered up his lack of experience, but his season wasn’t without its freshman moments.

On the bench, Johnson effectively became another coach, speaking with the team prior to games and during timeouts while providing energy alongside his teammates. All of that experience, seeing the game from a new angle, could prove extremely valuable should he be able to return next season.

Johnson applied for an injury waiver to receive an additional year of eligibility in the closing days of Indiana’s season. Should he be able to return, he’ll immediately raise the ceiling of the 2022-23 Hoosiers. If he can’t, Indiana will likely seek more experience at guard in the transfer portal.

Few things would be better for rising sophomores like Malik Reneau, C.J. Gunn and Kaleb Banks than learning the game and playing alongside Johnson. With so little experience returning, it’d be difficult to argue that the Hoosiers would be anything but Johnson’s team.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Johnson is why Indiana got into the 2022 NCAA Tournament in the first place, with his play down the stretch proving critical to Indiana’s improving resume heading into Selection Sunday.

If Johnson isn’t able to return, Mike Woodson will almost have no choice but to seek an experienced guard in the portal. That isn’t to speak ill of Galloway or incoming freshmen Gabe Cupps and Jakai Newton, but if you can add experience to run the team and help those guys come along you simply have to.

Johnson himself was a transfer portal addition during Woodson’s first offseason, so there’s evident ability to evaluate talent in the portal.