While Indiana went 0-of-9 from beyond the arc Saturday afternoon, there was something ironic about watching an Indiana kid connect for three 3-pointers, his nine points from long range being the difference in a 70-62 Illinois win.
Make no mistake about it, Luke Goode wanted to play college basketball at Indiana. His father played football at IU, and his uncle is former Hoosiers’ quarterback Trent Green. He almost certainly would have jumped at the chance to follow in those footsteps in Bloomington.
But the scholarship offer never came from Archie Miller, who instead only landed Logan Duncomb in the 2021 class.
Goode hasn’t turned into an All-Big Ten player, but he has become something Indiana is desperately missing — a career 40 percent 3-point shooter (64-of-161) who has enough athleticism and length to hold his own at the high major level.
Building a college basketball roster is more art than science. But with only 13 scholarship spots available, roster construction is a critical component of success. Purdue coach Matt Painter readily admits his down years in West Lafayette were a function of losing sight of the core attributes he values, and instead becoming enamored with rankings and measurements.
Whether it’s Purdue or Wisconsin atop the Big Ten, what’s clear this year and has been for some time, is an experienced roster with continuity and cultural fit is more valuable than winning the team recruiting rankings every year. And skill is more important than vertical and wingspan.
That’s true even in the transfer portal era, when rosters can be overhauled in a flash. The more one-off targeted additions of Lance Jones at Purdue or A.J. Storr at Wisconsin are proving more valuable than assembling a hodgepodge of incongruent parts. For these teams the transfer portal is more of a strategic tool to fill a need rather than the backbone of a recruiting strategy.
Purdue and Wisconsin are proving that things like shooting ability and basketball acumen are more valuable than how people who have never coached the game rank players for national media outlets.
People thought Purdue’s Braden Smith (12.1 points, 7.7 assists, 43.8 percent from three) was too short. They thought Miami’s Nijel Pack (career 14.6 points, 280 made threes at 41.2 percent) was too short also. They thought Northwestern’s Brooks Barnhizer (14.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 36.5 percent from three) wasn’t athletic enough.
Plenty of people were wrong about Goode, Iowa’s Tony Perkins, and Clemson’s Alex Hemenway too, all who have filled important high major roles. And those are just some of the in-state evaluations plenty of people misjudged, including Indiana’s Miller.
All of those of course are a hindsight is 20-20 rehashing of what we now understand to be recruiting missteps. And to be sure, Miller landed guys like Trey Galloway, who would be welcomed on any Big Ten roster, and Armaan Franklin who is now in the NBA G League.
But what we also now fully understand after watching Indiana basketball in 2023-24, is proper roster construction is everything. It’s foundational. Coaching tenures rise and fall on getting the roster right. And even with talent, if the parts don’t form a functioning team, it won’t work.
What is a functioning team here in 2024 is of course complex. But it seems clear things Indiana does not have in great abundance — continuity, experience, elite shooting ability, basketball IQ, and positional/role fit — all have significant parts to play. Indiana had some of this formula on its 2022-23 roster, along with two NBA players, and finished second in the Big Ten.
But the real secret sauce is maintaining high level play year-over-year while the others ride the roster roller coaster.
If Indiana is going to change its trajectory, it seems an overhauled recruiting philosophy will be an important part of the turnaround. Perhaps they are already on their way.
There’s still a place for elite 5-star talent. Class of 2024 IU signee Liam McNeeley is clearly a good shooter and he seems to be an intelligent and highly competitive basketball player who will likely play the college game for multiple seasons. Derik Queen, if Indiana can land him, is another highly skilled, team oriented, smart and likely multi-year college player.
You take those players all day long.
But one-and-done cannot form the foundation of a recruiting strategy, especially when there’s no sign of passing Duke and Kentucky when it comes to landing the best-of-the-best. High ceiling, high ranking, length and athleticism players with unproven skill sets cannot be the constant either. And five new players from the portal every year? Probably not going to work.
Indiana needs to recognize what, or better yet, who is contributing to winning basketball in the modern game. And they need to adjust.
The recipe is out there. Take the players with proven skills, proven competitive instincts, proven coachability, and proven basketball IQ. Prioritize shot-making ability at all positions, even if the measurements don’t add up and there are no stars behind the name. Let them marinate, and plug the gaps via the portal.
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