It is mid-March and the Indiana University men’s basketball team has been in offseason mode for two weeks now. Okay, technically only a week, since they officially learned that they did not receive an invite to the NIT last Sunday night. But unofficially we all knew that the Hoosiers were done.
At the risk of sounding disingenuous, it was probably just as well that the season mercifully came to end. At best, the Hoosiers were going to the NIT. At the very best, they might have been able to secure a home game or two in the NIT with a couple wins in the Big Ten tournament. Fans weren’t showing up for Big Ten games that still mattered. Can you imagine what the Hall might have looked like for an NIT game with the students on spring break? Well okay, the student section would not have looked much different.
But this thing needed to end. The season wasn’t going anywhere. The guys were still giving good effort, but there were holes everywhere. Hopefully one day we’ll look back on this brutal 2017-18 season as the foundation of the return of Indiana as a consistently elite program.
If it was the foundation, then this off-season will be a critical time to build upon the initial progress that we saw with a more fundamentally sound and aggressive defense, a more fluid half-court offense, and a team that commits less turnovers. But let’s face it, in today’s era of high roster turnover, any transformation into a NCAA tournament team by next year is going to start with who is on the roster.
Today we take a look at the major roster questions and other program-wide considerations that will be addressed between now and early November.
It has reached epic, some would even say ridiculous, proportions. Even grandmothers and five year old kids who know nothing about basketball know about “Romeo”. We don’t know if this young man is just enjoying the recruiting process, is truly undecided, or really just wants to put it off until everything else is out of the way — but this Romeo Langford recruiting process has been one long, drawn-out affair. And Indiana fans really don’t know the half of it, with the Hoosiers only getting into the process about a year ago when Archie Miller was hired.
It shouldn’t be the case that a recruit that will only wear a college basketball jersey for four months should carry so much weight, but it is. It isn’t just what he can bring to the team next year. Indiana needs to become a destination program again for 5-star national talent and elite in-state talent. Langford checks both of those boxes and could help create the momentum that ensures a steady pipeline of elite talent to Bloomington.
IS J-MO A PRO?
Either one of Langford or Juwan Morgan on next year’s roster will be a good thing for IU. But both of them? A roster led by Morgan and Langford could make for a very exciting 2018-19 season. Indiana would have the length, talent and depth on its roster that we haven’t seen for some time.
But Juwan Morgan is an emerging star with a professional career clearly in front of him. It is really just a question of what he wants to do at this point. It is a long way to the June 21 draft. The other key dates between now and then are April 22, which is the NBA early entry eligibility deadline; May 16, which is the NBA combine; and June 11, which is the early entry withdrawal deadline.
So Morgan can declare for the draft now without signing with an agent, and then go through the whole process without penalty. It would be very surprising if he doesn’t at least do that to get important feedback from NBA scouts and executives.
His name hasn’t been appearing on most NBA draft boards, but that doesn’t mean that Morgan couldn’t take the James Blackmon, Jr. route and continue his development in the NBA G-League or overseas. Morgan seems to come from a disciplined and traditional family, and you could convince yourself that might mean that they place an emphasis on staying in school — but we could never claim to know what is in his or his family’s hearts.
It is going to be a long 2 to 3 months as Hoosier fans will have to sweat this one out.
SCHOLARSHIPS AND TRANSFERS IN / TRANSFERS OUT
This could get interesting. With Langford, IU would have one open scholarship remaining (due to the transfer of Curtis Jones). Without Langford the Hoosiers would obviously have two. It is possible that one of the open scholarships will go to Zach McRoberts, who is clearly deserving of it.
Archie Miller is on the record saying that he won’t fill open scholarships just for the sake of filling them. It is going to have to be the right fit.
Graduate transfers have historically been far from a sure thing, but Indiana might have just found one. There has been an interesting development just this week as Evansville star Ryan Taylor is requesting a transfer, and Indiana appears to be in the hunt. They have a lot of competition however.
The 6-foot-6 redshirt junior will graduate in May and would be eligible to play next season. Taylor was first-team All-MVC this season after averaging 21.2 points per game. He shot an amazing 42.4% from behind the 3-point line. Clearly he would be a huge addition to an Indiana roster that sorely needs perimeter shooters.
So with Langford and McRoberts claiming scholarships, would IU be out of the hunt for Taylor? Does McRoberts even want a scholarship? Would Taylor come to IU and compete for minutes and glory with Langford? With no Langford or Taylor, does IU seek other alternatives, such as an additional class of 2018 freshman (e.g. recent UConn decommit and #95 in the nation James Akinjo) or a JUCO transfer (e.g. Isaiah Tisdale).
Obviously there are more questions than answers right now.
And of course this all completely ignores the other side of the docket — transfers out. We’re not going to name names, but there are a couple guys on the roster whose names we wouldn’t be surprised to see in the news in this regard. Those announcements typically come right about now, so stay tuned.
Obviously this is a very fluid situation and it is possible that nothing will happen until Langford makes his announcement. At that point be prepared for a whirlwind.
THE 2019 RECRUITING CLASS
We’ve discussed the significance of the 2019 recruiting class as potentially being transformational. With a top 2019 class Indiana could stack highly ranked recruiting classes and build momentum on the in-state initiative, establish IU as an elite destination program, and to build depth on the roster. It won’t impact the 2018-19 team, but those announcements could start coming in the off-season too.
We won’t know how it turns out until they put on the candy stripes for the first exhibitions in October, but every player on the roster has developmental needs that will need to be addressed over the next eight months.
- Can Justin Smith get stronger around the rim?
- Can Devonte Green find consistency?
- Can Juwan Morgan improve his perimeter and free throw shooting?
- Can Al Durham and Zach McRoberts become more reliable scoring options?
- Can De’Ron Davis come back from a major injury, improve has assertiveness on the glass, and stay out of foul trouble?
- Can Clifton Moore and Race Thompson become front court players that are ready for the big stage? Indiana will need at least one of them to be ready to play meaningful minutes next year.
Don’t forget about IU’s incoming 2018 class either, which as it stands now is in the top 25 in the country even if you exclude redshirt freshman Thompson. Which one of those guys will be ready to play in the fall? More than anyone, the Hoosiers will need Rob Phinisee to be ready to play and perhaps start at point guard from day one. Jerome Hunter could also have a big role depending on what happens with Langford and Taylor. The opportunity is also there for Damezi Anderson and Jake Forrester if they are ready.
We certainly saw signs of Archie Miller’s system starting to take hold in Bloomington. It wasn’t a complete transformation, as old habits continuously resurfaced, but we saw the incremental change that Miller was hired to orchestrate.
With veterans that now know the system and can help indoctrinate the freshmen, it is reasonable to expect that we won’t see the false starts that we saw last November. Last year you had a complete roster that was learning the pack-line defense and Archie’s offensive sets. This time around, more than half of the roster will know what is going on. With limited access with the coaches, the key here is that players like Morgan, McRoberts, Green and others take an active leadership role and have the new guys ready to go.
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