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Indiana men’s basketball: Xavier Johnson is back, here’s what that means

Xavier Johnson has been granted an eligibility waiver from the NCAA. Here’s what that means.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Indiana Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana men’s basketball received some much anticipated, expected good news on Wednesday with the announcement that Xavier Johnson has received an injury waiver from the NCAA and will return in 2023-24.

This obviously carries massive implications for next season, though it’s worth noting that the decision for Johnson not to return and various other moves gives off the impression that this was an expectation for the program. Now it’s confirmed.

Here’s x.

Indiana could very well be Xavier Johnson’s team

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

Trayce Jackson-Davis has been the Hoosiers’ leader on and off the court for the past two seasons, but now that he’s off to the NBA there’s a role that needs to be filled.

Johnson, who started his college basketball career in 2018 and will turn 24 years old in October, is the most experienced player on the roster by some distance. He’ll also play a key role as Indiana’s lead guard.

Indiana’s seniors will include Trey Galloway and Anthony Leal and the team only has one junior as of right now in Ball State transfer Payton Sparks. There’s going to be plenty of untested talent between next year’s sophomores, Malik Reneau, Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn, and the incoming freshmen, Gabe Cupps and Jakai Newton.

Having spent the latter half of the season on the bench, it’s worth noting that head coach Mike Woodson said Johnson was effectively another coach, helping out the guards. That’s plenty of time spent around Woodson and the rest of the coaching staff, and it looks like Johnson maximized that opportunity to learn even more.

Johnson’s return should raise next year’s floor thanks to his experience running Indiana’s offense. Indiana, at the least, knows what it’s getting.

It’s good news for incoming freshman Gabe Cupps

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Incoming four-star freshman point guard Gabe Cupps probably has a high enough floor to make some form of immediate impact for the Hoosiers. However, Xavier Johnson being around means less will be put on his shoulders and he’ll have more room to learn and grow in Indiana’s offense.

Indiana will likely use Johnson and Galloway to handle the ball, as the latter did throughout last season to general success, and I’d expect that to have a role in C.J. Gunn’s development as well.

But Cupps is a true point guard. He’s not quite the five-star one-and-done that Jalen Hood-Schifino was, but again that could benefit him with less pressure on his shoulders. I expect Indiana would’ve sought experience at the point in the portal as a priority if Johnson hadn’t received his waiver.

He’ll be able to learn from Johnson, who’s seen plenty of college basketball in both the ACC and Big Ten, and build off of that as he likely looks to take the reins in the future.

Indiana’s transfer portal situation becomes clearer

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Little Rock at Indiana Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not saying Indiana doesn’t need more in the backcourt from the portal, but Johnson gives them literally all the experience they could ask for at point guard and creates less of a need for that.

Granted, the staff likely expected this outcome and operated accordingly. They have returning starting experience at the one, now what can they do with that?

For one, that presents an additional point in recruiting pitches. If you choose Bloomington you’ll have one of the most experienced guards in the country to get you the ball. Kinda like how it’s much easier for an NFL team to sign free agents when they have an established franchise quarterback in place.

Johnson has worked with Trayce Jackson-Davis and looks poised to do similar things with Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware. Those guys are gonna draw plenty of attention for a portal target (or a high schooler) to find a good look from the arc, and Johnson can get them the ball one way or another.