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Indiana men’s basketball: Thinking about wings

I did some Research

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

As the portal and draft madness winds down, it’s still not clear if and how Indiana will fill its remaining scholarship. The focus seems to be on wings, but there are a limited number of players still available now that practices have begun across the country.

We’ve speculated as to how the spot may be filled and considered the significance of this offseason for the Woodson tenure generally, but as of today, none of us bloggers have any clue as to what Woody and his staff are up to behind the scenes. This offseason in particular has shown how limited even “insider information” is in this new landscape of NIL agents and big time transfers.

While this staff has certainly performed miracles on the recruiting trail, especially in these shorter recruitments, it does seem distinctly possible that none of the players available this offseason are up to Woodson’s standard. There was some early chatter that the Hoosiers may have been involved with Caleb Love (part three????), but that talk has seemed to die down as Indiana continues to get elite 2024 prospects like Boogie Fland to campus for visits.

So what would next year look like if the Hoosiers open the season with the roster they have now, banking the scholarship for a class in which they have traction with a number of top players? There are still too many variables to know for sure, but it could end up being better than people might expect.

According to Bart Torvik’s “funalytics” 2023-24 projections, the Hoosiers would open the season as the 25th best nationally, up ten spots from where they finished in 2022-23. To underscore the significance of the Mackenzie Mgbako addition, removing him from the roster drops the Hoosiers down to 40th.

There are, of course, some limitations to Torvik’s model, so it shouldn’t be taken as gospel at this point. Notably, it projects Anthony Leal to be among the ten biggest contributors, slotting in just behind freshmen Gabe Cupps and Jakai Newton.

Another notable quirk in Torvik’s model is that it projects Leal, Cupps, and Newton to get more playing time than sophomore C.J. Gunn, who seemed to be earning his way to more minutes as the season went on with the energy he brought on the defensive end of the court.

If Woodson and company decide not to use their remaining scholarship, the play of Gunn, Newton, Kaleb Banks and, of course, Mgbako will likely determine Indiana’s ceiling and floor for the 2023-24 season. We more or less know what we’re getting from Trey Galloway, but the other guys who will see minutes on the wings are a bit more of a mystery.

To try to predict how each of these players might produce next year, I looked at the statistics for players at their position and within ten spots of their final* recruiting ranking. For all three players, I looked at everyone who fit that description going back to the class of 2017, also looking at how they improved between freshman and sophomore years for projecting how Gunn and Banks could help this year.

Here’s what I learned:

General Notes:

  • Mike Woodson plays freshman FAR less than some of his peers. The exception is obviously elite players like JHS and Malik Reneau, but Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn played far fewer minutes than similarly ranked players at their positions.
  • Sophomore year production is very important for retaining players beyond their first two seasons. Basically everyone who didn’t see a modest increase in minutes in their sophomore season hit the portal shortly after, with some exceptions like Matthew Mayer, who really developed into an elite player as a senior at Baylor.
  • It’s difficult, and possibly ill-advised, to make too many generalizations about players in this recruiting range (about 85 - 120). While Woodson does stand out for playing freshmen less than most schools, there are still outliers like Patrick McCaffery, who saw action in just two games as a freshman playing for his father at Iowa. Instead of looking for averages across these player pools, it’s probably more useful to highlight individual player comps to help understand how each of these three players could contribute next year.
  • I put an asterisk next to “final ranking” because I used Jakai Newton’s junior year ranking of 85 for the purposes of this exercise. After he tore his meniscus and saw limited action, his ranking fell to the about the range of C.J. Gunn. It remains to be seen whether Newton will be 100% by the season start, which means he could have a limited role like Gunn did as a freshman. If he is healthy though, the difference in ranking between he and Gunn could mean a bigger role for Newton’s freshman season. With Banks as a 3, Gunn and Newton will probably be in direct competition for minutes at the back up 2 spot.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the player comparisons for these three back up wings:

C.J. Gunn

  • Ceiling: Devonte Schuler (Ole Miss, 10.3 ppg in 32.2 mpg as sophomore), Dereon Seabron (NC State, 17.3 ppg in 35.8 mpg), Keith Williams (Cincinnati, 9.9 ppg in 25.9 mpg)
  • Floor: Chase Hunter (Clemson, 2.9 ppg in 14.1 mpg; -3.4 ppg from freshman year), Brandon Newman (Purdue -11 mpg and -3.4 ppg)
  • Most Comparable: Darrius Maddox (Virginia Tech, 6.4 ppg in 17 mpg as sophomore), Jaylen Clark (UCLA, 6.7 ppg in 18.1 mpg)
  • Notes: There are some guys who were ranked similarly, like Devonte Schuler and Dereon Seabron, who took advantage of their increased load as sophomores and eventually made it to the NBA. Those guys saw more minutes as a freshman than Gunn, but didn’t emerge as true starters until their sophomore year. Of the players who got worse, they also had bigger roles as freshman than Gunn. If he does beat out Newton for the back up two guard spot, 15 minutes or so per game seems realistic, which makes guys like Maddox and Clark intriguing comparisons. Personally, I would take roughly 7 points per game from Gunn and could see him even improving on that if he starts seeing some threes go down.

Kaleb Banks

  • Ceiling: Jordan Nwora (Louisville, 17 ppg in 31 mpg as sophomore), Chris Ledlum (lol Harvard, 16.7 ppg in 29.6 mpg), Jaime Jacquez Jr. (UCLA, 12.3 in 34.9 mpg)
  • Floor: Isaiah Ihnen (Minnesota, 2.8 ppg in 14.8 mpg; -.6 ppg +1 reb from freshman year), Keon Edwards (Depaul, Nebraska, -1.3 ppg and -2.2 mpg), Matt Cross (Miami, Louisville, -1.1 ppg in -7.2 mpg)
  • Most Comparable: Kyle Young (Ohio State, 6 ppg in 20.5 mpg as sophomore), Pete Nance (Northwestern, 8.5 ppg in 26.2 mpg), Isaiah Cottrell (West Virginia, 4.2 ppg in 16.1 mpg),
  • Notes: Again, the ceilings here are guys who were able to break into the starting lineup as sophomores, which may be a tougher hill to climb for Banks with Mackenzie Mgbako ahead of him. If he does make a big leap like some of those players, he would really help Indiana on those inevitable games when Mgabko will look like a freshman. It’ll be interesting to see how Woodson deals with Mgbako’s struggles as compared to JHS, who was forced to play more minutes when Xavier Johnson got hurt. Of the guys who posted worse numbers as sophomores, two were freshman during the COVID-19 season and transferred after both their freshman and sophomore seasons. I think Anthony Walker will be mostly at the 4 spot, meaning Banks is the only other 3 on the roster and should see a big increase in minutes this year. I think around 6 points per game is a reasonable expectation from him, but if he got to the higher end of the comparable range with 8.5 ppg like Pete Nance, Indiana would be in great shape.

Jakai Newton

  • Ceiling: Jaden Ivey (Purdue, 11.1 ppg in 24.2 mpg as freshman), Prentiss Hubb (Notre Dame, 8.1 ppg in 33.6 mpg), Noah Locke (Florida, 9.4 ppg in 25.4 mpg)
  • Floor: Malik Thomas (USC, .3 ppg in 2 mpg), Shane Nowell (Arizona, .8 ppg in 3.5 mpg), Dajuan Harris Jr. (Kansas, 2.4 ppg in 16 mpg)
  • Most Likely: Robby Carmody (Notre Dame, 3.7 ppg in 10 mpg), A.J. Hoggard (Michigan State, 2.5 ppg in 13.2 mpg), C.J. Noland (Oklahoma 3.9 ppg in 12.6 mpg)
  • Notes: Pretty wild to see that Jaden Ivey was so underrated in his class, though it’s highly unlikely that Newton coming off an injury sees that much time or produces at that level as a freshman. Woodson has shown a preference for experience and defense, so it’ll be tough for Newton to beat out Trey Galloway for those kinds of minutes at shooting guard. That said, if he only ends up seeing around 2 minutes per game, like Malik Thomas, it probably means Gunn is playing closer to his ceiling, which is also good for Indiana. Worst case scenario is probably a Dajuan Harris situation where he plays a lot without contributing much. Guys in his rating range averaged 18 minutes per game as freshman, but between his injury and Woodson’s preference for experience, I don’t really see that for Newton at Indiana unless he really earns it in practice. Adding around 3-4 points in 10 minutes or so off the bench as a freshman would be a good start for Newton’s Hoosier career and help take the pressure off of guys like Gunn and Galloway who haven’t been huge scorers at the college level thus far.

The big caveat to this is that the offseason is technically not over, meaning Mike Woodson could still add somebody to the lineup that could take minutes from any of these three, depending on the fit. In the age of the portal, it could mean losing one or two of these guys by next year.

Regardless, Indiana’s wing/shooting guard depth this year may not be as dire as some fans think, especially if Gunn or Banks take big steps as sophomores. As mentioned above, this team is already projected to be better than last year’s, so it may be worth giving these guys the chance to develop into these roles rather than looking for a short-term solution via the portal.