The potential prospects to fill Indiana’s final roster opening are dwindling by the day.
There’s little doubt what the priority need is for IU’s available scholarship. The Hoosiers have a clear opening for a volume scoring shooting guard who is proven in college and projects at the high major level. Beyond that, there isn’t much sense in recruiting over the current roster.
And at this point there’s just as good of a chance that Indiana doesn’t add another player to next season’s roster.
What does it look like next season if the roster is set? Below we take a look at the current 2023-24 backcourt as things currently stand.
Point guard is set
Xavier Johnson probably never dreamed he’d be at Indiana as long as he was at Pitt, but the sixth-year point guard gets one more go at Indiana by way of a medical hardship waiver.
Will it be as simple as Johnson regaining his late 2022 All-Big Ten form, along with dominant efforts against Xavier and North Carolina last season before the injury? Of course not. Johnson can be inconsistent, he’ll have to adapt to a new roster and playing style, and there is a natural concern about re-injury. Although on that latter point, his decision to not return during the 2022-23 campaign would seem to help.
Johnson functions as a true point guard, and behind him will be another in freshman Gabe Cupps. The Ohio product should come into a pretty good situation at IU, getting a year to go against Johnson every day at practice along with backup minutes at the high major level.
We saw last year how things can change in a flash, and Trey Galloway has proven he can function at the one if necessary too. At this stage of his career, it would even be reasonable to suggest that point guard is Galloway’s best position.
Can Galloway find another gear as a scorer?
Sitting here right now in May, most would project Galloway as Indiana’s starting shooting guard based on the current 12-man roster.
There is very little Galloway cannot do on a basketball court, but can he function as the high-volume scorer the Hoosiers seem to need at the two? That’s a reasonable question.
Indiana lost more than 60 points per game from last year’s roster, including its top four scorers. There’s a massive void to fill. And while Galloway was highly efficient as a junior (56.4 effective field goal percentage), his production came on very low volume (5.1 field goal attempts per game in 27.7 minutes).
No one would have believed Galloway would shoot the 46.2 percent from three he managed last season after two ugly years from beyond the arc. So he’s shown he can grow his game. But if Galloway does end up as IU’s starting shooting guard next year, he’ll need to make another major developmental leap in 2023-24 to give the Hoosiers the production they need.
Could anyone else slide in at the two?
Who is in play to get minutes at shooting guard?
Beyond Galloway, Indiana has sophomore C.J. Gunn, and freshman Jakai Newton as options who could reasonably play the two next season. The Hoosiers could also try to go with two point guards on the floor with Johnson and Cupps.
So if we’re talking about Gunn, Newton and Cupps, the constant there is unproven potential.
Gunn is a player most believe will have a solid college career. He has very projectable physical attributes and skills. But he went through the kind of struggles that aren’t uncommon for freshmen. Of particular note, Gunn made just 2-of-24 from three. We’ve soon other young players like Armaan Franklin and Galloway overcome those kind of early career shooting struggles. True to his name, Gunn isn’t afraid to shoot. If those shots start going in at a high rate, he’ll be just what the doctor ordered for IU next season.
Newton will arrive next month in Bloomington with a very high ceiling, but also reasonable questions when it comes to year one expectations. The long, physical and athletic Georgia product had knee surgery a year ago. He’s back to full contact now, but the Newton breakout could still be a year away.
It may just come down to in-season development
To this point in his time as head coach at IU, Mike Woodson hasn’t been one to let players work through their mistakes and develop in games during the non-conference portion of the schedule when the competition is a bit lighter. At least not to any significant degree.
It could make sense for Woodson to break from fixed lineups and rotations and let Cupps, Gunn, and Newton see oversized roles early in the season to see which of them can be ready to deliver for him in the back half of the season. He won’t need all of them to come through this year, but finding just one of the three who can exceed expectations would be a major plus.
It will be interesting to see if Woodson dials back Johnson and Galloway’s minutes early to let that happen.
Are they done in the portal?
As I started writing this article, Rutgers’ Cam Spencer, a career 41 percent 3-point shooter, went into the transfer portal. He’d be a fairly obvious fit for what Indiana needs next season, although he’s probably already got another pre-determined destination in mind elsewhere.
A couple days before that, North Carolina/Michigan transfer Caleb Love went back on the market.
Spencer and Love probably won’t end up at IU, but the bottom line is, you just never know who might still be available, especially as players exit the NBA Draft in the coming days.
Graduate transfers like Spencer can still put their name in the portal and be eligible immediately for next season.
Indiana has an attractive opening for a potential starting role at the two, on what could be a top-10/15 team if they find the right fit. And their players do well from an NIL standpoint. As was the case for Mackenzie Mgbako, the opportunity checks a lot of boxes.
Yes, we are already in the back half of May, but there’s still much to play out.
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