The Daily Hoosier spent the week down in The Bahamas in connection with IU basketball’s foreign tour and had several opportunities to see the team in action. Since nothing was televised and not everything was public, we are going to go player-by-player in jersey number order to share our thoughts on what we saw and what to expect from Indiana’s 2021-22 roster.
As it stands right now, Indiana’s starting point guard is Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson. And after seeing him in action, it is fairly easy to see how he got there.
Head coach Mike Woodson wants to play with a fast, attacking mindset offensively, and he wants to put pressure on the ball defensively. With a motor that always seems set on all gas, no brakes, Johnson looks like he could be the straw that stirs the 2021-22 IU basketball drink.
But don’t take that to mean Johnson has checked every box Woodson is looking for from the position. If anything became crystal clear in The Bahamas, it was just how much Woodson gives the point guard spot special significance. He said that more than once. And right now Johnson seems to be in a to whom much is given, much will be required place with the IU staff.
“It’s just not being the point guard, rolling it out and saying go play, you’ve got to be able to think the game, you’ve got to get other players involved, get the ball where its got to go, and still you’ve got to defend,” Woodson said after the second game on Sunday.
It won’t be surprising at all if Indiana has its best point guard since Yogi Ferrell this season, but what we saw over the two games might be the perfect example of the dichotomy you can expect with Johnson. Throughout his three-year career at Pitt, Johnson has been an up-and-down player, and that was the case in The Bahamas.
In my opinion Johnson was the most valuable player on the court for IU in the second game, and I think that is particularly noteworthy as we look forward to the Big Ten portion of the schedule. That Sunday contest was a much more bogged down, half-court affair similar to what IU will see in league play, and Johnson showed that he can get past his man and break down the defense in those kind of games. Sometimes in those games you need a guy who can also just create his own shots, and Johnson can get that done.
The problem Johnson had in The Bahamas is that he wasn’t efficient when he found space for scoring opportunities. Just a 40.2 career shooter from the field over three years at Pitt, Johnson made just 6-of-23 shots (26.1 percent) over the two games.
We knew coming in that Johnson’s shot mechanics are unorthodox, and that hasn’t changed. His release his low and he pushes the ball from the middle of his body rather than favoring his right side. Johnson is a career 33.6 percent 3-point shooter and he made just 1-of-6 vs. BC Mega.
Indiana fans will have to live with a little Devonte Green when it comes to Johnson’s highs and lows scoring the ball, especially from 3-point range. He will probably be able to do what he wants against a relatively weak non-conference schedule, but Big Ten coaches will likely try to sag off Johnson, go under screens and take their chances that he’ll miss from long range. He’s had eight games in his career with three or more 3-pointers, and four games just last year with 21 or more points, so there will be some scoring outbursts.
But Johnson wasn’t recruited to IU to be a high volume scorer. His job is to break down the defense, read, and react.
“I’m a fearless guy going to the rim,” Johnson told me on Sunday. “That’s my job is getting into the paint, that’s what coach recruited me for and I’m just going to keep doing that for him.”
Johnson’s 10 assists against two turnovers was a major headline coming out of The Bahamas. BC Mega couldn’t stay in front of him in the second game, and Johnson punished them with his ability to quickly dissect the second line of defense, more often than not setting up his teammates for opportunities. It is that relentless, attacking mindset that allowed IU to have good looks at the basket all day on Sunday, even if many of the shots didn’t go in.
Indiana went on a scoring drought when Johnson came out of the game in the first half, but as his plus-23 on the plus/minus chart indicates, the Hoosiers got right with him in the game.
On the defensive end, Johnson is bought in, and his lateral quickness is going to give IU a second high-impact defender on the ball. The combination of Johnson and Rob Phinisee on the ball means opposing teams never get a break from pressure defense. As their 39 turnovers over the two games can attest, BC Mega was never comfortable trying to run offense. That is especially noteworthy against BC Mega, a team that featured 26 year-old point guard Scoochie Smith, a very talented college player who has been a pro for four years.
On many occasions IU picked up full court, with Johnson on the ball. With a 30 second shot clock in college basketball, he can make the first 10 seconds a challenge to just get the ball up the floor and initiate actions. Johnson also had very active hands in half court passing lanes, and he played a major role in disrupting attempts by BC Mega to get out and run.
If there is a downside to Johnson on the defensive end it is his propensity to get into foul trouble, and that showed up on Friday when early fouls sent him to the bench for most of the first half. Because Indiana has depth at point guard that shouldn’t be as much of a concern this season.
From an intangible perspective, I’m not sure if alpha is the right way to describe Johnson, but he certainly has an edge to him. Johnson competes and always seems to be going 100 percent. Indiana fans won’t question his effort. Historically there have been times when he struggled to keep his emotions in check, but that wasn’t apparent in The Bahamas.
XAVIER JOHNSON’S STATS IN THE BAHAMAS
- Game one: 21 minutes, 4 points, 2-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-1 FT, 0 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 0 blocks, 0 steals
- Game two: 21 minutes, 13 points, 4-15 FG, 1-4 3FG, 4-4 FT, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 turnover, 1 block, 1 steal
- Averages: 21 minutes, 8.5 points, 26.1% FG, 16.7% 3 FG, 80% FT, 1.5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover, .5 blocks, .5 steals
See also: Johnson interview after game two
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