The initial whirlwind is over, and a little over three weeks after the hiring of Mike Woodson as head coach, Indiana has what appears to be a final sense of the personnel it will bring in to the 2021-22 season.
The Hoosiers have their full assistant coaching staff in place, a number of off-the-floor positions filled and a new behind-the-scenes heavy hitter in Thad Matta, the long-time Ohio State head coach who is now the associate athletic director for basketball administration. Of the seven players who entered the transfer portal, they kept four and lost three. They added two outside players from the portal and added an incoming freshman to the 2021 class.
For now, they are at the limit for scholarship players with 13. It’s certainly possible there could still be some movement. Players who didn’t initially enter the portal now have a better idea of who they’ll be battling for playing time, and they might come to consider the hill in front of them too steep to climb. But for the moment, the dust has settled and the Hoosiers know what they’re working with.
So now seems like an appropriate time to consider the roster position-by-position, and imagine how it might actually function.
By their nature, Mike Woodson’s NBA-style systems on both sides of the floor are meant to be position-fluid. Playing four-out, one-in on offense as he intends to implies that four of the men on the floor at any given point in time are essentially guards. His defense will be multiple, and one thing he asks of his players is that they be able to defend multiple positions to make switching as much as possible a viable option.
That being said, there are still specific functions and responsibilities for the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 spots and players still are, to an extent, what they initially defend. So considering those positions is still the best way to imagine the shape of Indiana’s roster and what the Hoosiers’ lineups might actually look like.
Below is a first-blush analysis of every position considering who all could possibly play it. Players who could play multiple positions are listed in multiple spots. More than six months still separate the Hoosiers from the 2021-22 season and what happens in Cook Hall between now and then could crystallize the picture significantly. At this point however, the IU coaching staff has a lot of difficult playing-time decisions — not a bad problem to have.
Returning Starter: Rob Phinisee (6-foot-1, 187 pounds, Jr., 7.1 ppg, 2.9 apg in 2020-21)
Other Returner: Khristian Lander (6-2, 185, Fr. 2.1 ppg, 1.2 apg)
New Addition: Xavier Johnson (6-3, 200, Jr., 14.2 ppg, 5.7 apg at Pittsburgh in 2020-21)
Outlook: Phinisee has 69 starts under his belt and new assistant coach Dane Fife called him the best on-ball defender in the Big Ten, but at this point it seems like he’ll have an extremely difficult time holding Johnson out of the starting spot. Phinisee has had some outstanding defensive performances in his career and hit some critical shots, but he’s never averaged more than 7.3 points or 3.4 assists in a season and he’s a career 36 percent shooter, including 29.8 percent from the 3-point arc. Johnson is bigger, stronger, more explosive and more efficient, even though his jump shot is his weakest asset. His career scoring average (13.7 ppg) nearly doubles Phinisee’s (7.1 ppg), he’s never averaged fewer than 4.5 assists in a season and he’s a better shooter at both 2-point range (43.1 percent to 40.6 percent) and 3-point range (33.6 percent to 29.8 percent) than Phinisee is. Johnson also has 40 more career steals. The only edge Phinisee has is — and it is a significant one — is that he’s much, much more careful with the basketball with 129 career turnovers to Johnson’s 302, and he doesn’t have Johnson’s propensity for technical fouls. However, Woodson wants to play fast and wants his point guards to play downhill, so he might be willing to accept the risk for the reward.
Even if Phinisee loses the job, he will surely get some work at the point and so will Lander, the five-star recruit from Evansville Reitz who reclassified to play as a freshman last season. He still has four years of eligibility and Woodson’s wide-open offense plays to his strengths. He clearly dealt with confidence issues in his first year, and the opportunity to be more creative in the open floor might help that, even though he’ll likely get those opportunities off the bench.
Returning Starter: Rob Phinisee (6-1, 187, Jr., 7.1 ppg, 2.9 apg)
Other Returners: Parker Stewart (6-5, 210, Jr., 19.2 ppg, 3.8 apg at Tennessee-Martin in 2019-20; Trey Galloway (6-4, 210, Fr., 3.6 ppg, 1.6 apg), Anthony Leal (6-5, 210, Fr., 1.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg).
New Addition: Tamar Bates (6-4, 185, Fr., 11.0 ppg at IMG Academy in 2020-21)
Outlook: At both the 2 and the 3, which can be effectively interchangeable, the Hoosiers have a number of options depending on what they need on the floor at a given point in time.
Phinisee gives them an option as a second ball-handler, and he has proven over the past three seasons that he can operate off the ball with another point guard on the floor. That has allowed him to play off both Aljami Durham, who transferred to Providence after four years, and Lander. He probably wouldn’t have a problem playing off of Johnson either.
Bates, Stewart, Galloway and Leal all allow the Hoosiers to go bigger at the 2. Stewart is the most proven shooter with 142 career 3-pointers in just two college seasons, but both Bates and Leal have reputations as excellent high school shooters. Phinisee, Galloway, and Bates also have reputations as exceptional defenders, and Galloway and Bates have the ability to defend multiple spots with their length. Galloway started seven games this season and proved extremely effective at attacking the rim and creating for others off the drive. The son of a successful high school coach, Galloway has an advanced basketball IQ. However, he struggled to make outside shots, hitting on just six of 33 attempts from 3-point range (18.2 percent).
The importance of shooting to the four-out, one-in offense gives Stewart the advantage, and he has the best chance of the group of being a starter, whether at shooting guard or small forward. However, Phinisee, Galloway, Leal and Bates should all get a real opportunity at extended minutes at multiple positions as well. Outside shooting could be the determining factor for which one gets the most time.
Returning Starter: None
Other Returners: Parker Stewart (6-5, 210, Jr., 19.2 ppg, 3.8 apg at Tennessee-Martin in 2019-20; Trey Galloway (6-4, 210, Fr., 3.6 ppg, 1.6 apg), Anthony Leal (6-5, 210, Fr., 1.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg). Jerome Hunter (6-7, 215, r-So., 6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Jordan Geronimo (6-6, 220, Fr., 2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
New Additions: Tamar Bates (6-4, 185, Fr., 11.0 ppg at IMG Academy in 2020-21), Miller Kopp (6-7, 215, Jr., 11.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg at Northwestern in 2020-21)
Outlook: Stewart, Galloway, Leal and Bates are all fits at the 3 for the same reason they are fits at the 2, and the Hoosiers could obviously put two of them on the floor at the same time. Hunter, Kopp and Geronimo are all options of the Hoosiers want to put out a bigger lineup, though Geronimo would have to do some more perimeter handling work to be able to get to that level. Any of those three could also play the 4, and they could play together if need be.
Each of them are fits for Woodson’s offense because they each have 3-point range. Kopp is the most proven of the three, having hit 122 3-pointers in three seasons at Northwestern at a 36 percent clip. The Hoosiers were hoping for more from Hunter by now, but he does have 44 career 3-pointers to his name and hit on 34.2 percent of his attempts last season. His 25 made 3s last year match Phinisee for the most by a returning player. Geronimo showed some range in high school, and hit on four of his attempts in 2020-21.
Returning starter: Race Thompson (6-8, 228, r-Jr., 9.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Other Returners: Jerome Hunter (6-7, 215, r-So., 6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Jordan Geronimo (6-6, 220, Fr., 2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
New Addition: Miller Kopp (6-7, 215, Jr., 11.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg at Northwestern in 2020-21)
Outlook: Thompson’s situation is interesting because under former coach Archie Miller, he thrived in an offensive system Woodson is trying not to replicate. He mostly played with his back to the basket and in the paint, giving the Hoosiers a second post with center Trayce Jackson-Davis. He was very effective in his role, making 51.5 percent of his field goal attempts. He made 55 of his 89 shots at the rim according to hoop-math.com, putting him second on the roster behind Jackson-Davis in both figures.
By definition, that means he did not space the floor, however, and that is a job requirement for a power forward in a four-out, one-in offense. Kopp, Hunter and even Geronimo have been much more effective from 3-point range. Thompson was 3 of 15 from beyond the arc last season. Geronimo made more 3s in 169 minutes in 2020-21 than Thompson had in 761. Kopp hit four in a single game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff and three in a game six more times last season.
But Woodson believes he can make Thompson an effective and confident 3-point shooter, in part because Thompson made 45 percent of his attempts in his final season at Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Minn.. That would be a huge help, because Thompson was arguably the Hoosiers’ most well-rounded player last season. He led the team in steals with 28, finished second on the team in rebounding and even dished out 37 assists against just 31 turnovers. Out of the available options, no one is better at defending multiple positions and no one is better on the glass, and the Hoosiers have to be able to get stops and rebounds before they can push the ball up the floor. He can also rim run and score on the break. He will almost certainly be one of the Hoosiers’ five best players, but it’s hard to imagine his minutes won’t take some kind of hit if he doesn’t find shooting range.
Kopp is the best shooter of the group, and he can defend multiple shots, but the Hoosiers will need more than 3.0 rebounds per game from him. According to KenPom.com, of the 92 Big Ten players who played in at least 40 percent of their team’s minutes last season, Kopp was 78th in defensive rebounding percentage at 9.2 percent. Thompson, by contrast, was 25th at 17.5 percent. Hunter and Geronimo were both better on the glass, but both need to be more consistent on both ends, particularly Hunter.
Geronimo might be the Hoosiers’ long-term answer as a stretch 4. In limited minutes, he showed flashes of high-level of athleticism and energy, though he wasn’t always in the right spot.
Returning Starter: Trayce Jackson-Davis (6-9, 245, So., 19.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
Other Returners: Race Thompson (6-8, 228, r-Jr., 9.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Jordan Geronimo (6-6, 220, Fr., 2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
New Addition: Logan Duncomb (6-9, 240, Fr., 13.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg at Archbishop Moeller High School in 2020-21).
Outlook: The one certainty on the roster is that Jackson-Davis will be Indiana’s starting center. Woodson convinced him he could improve his draft stock playing for a coach with an extensive resumé of NBA experience, and Jackson-Davis bought in and gave a full-throated endorsement in a press conference announcing his decision. The third-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten pick still has a lot to work on and Woodson made it clear that it will be demanded that he use his right hand more and take more shots away from the rim. Jackson-Davis has yet to take a 3-point shot in his college career and 67.5 percent of his field goal attempts last season came at the rim according to hoop-math.com.
Joey Brunk’s decision to transfer to Ohio State cost the Hoosiers some depth at the position. He wouldn’t have counted against Indiana’s limit of 13 scholarships because he was getting an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but since the Hoosiers are now at their limit, they can’t replace him. That being said, Brunk missed all of last season because of back surgery, so even without his return they still have more depth at the 5 than they did in 2020-21.
Thompson got most of the minutes at center whenever Jackson-Davis came off the floor last season, so he’s perfectly equipped to do so again. Geronimo proved he could hang in the post when he slowed down consensus national player of the year Luka Garza when the Hoosiers upset Iowa in Iowa City. Duncomb, a four-star recruit, is the No. 73 player in the Class of 2021 and is renowned for his tenacity on the glass and touch around the rim. He made 60.2 percent of his shots at Archbishop Moeller last season including 20 of his last 27 to end the season.
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