Mike Woodson’s first Indiana basketball team has arrived on campus.
Obvious caveats are required here. There are still five months between now and November, which is plenty of time for a player to decide he wants to go elsewhere, and there are plenty of players in the portal who could still be brought on to replace them. Indiana has made personnel decisions later in the year than this.
But Indiana has 13 players for its 13 scholarships for the 2021-22 season and they are fully enrolled.
As of now, only one of those players knows exactly what his role will be in this season. All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis will be the centerpiece of the roster as he tries to build his case for the NBA. Everybody else has a battle to win for playing time and with Woodson bringing in a four-out, one-in offensive system, the potential lineup permutations are much different than they were a year ago.
So here’s a look, player-by-player divided by class — as determined by eligibility remaining following the COVID-19 season that didn’t count against eligibility — at each player on the roster and the position they find themselves in as they return to Bloomington.
Michael Durr, center, 7-0, 250 pounds, 8.8 ppg and 7.9 rpg at South Florida in 2020-21
Outlook: The Hoosiers lost their veteran backup center to transfer when Joey Brunk left for Ohio State, but in Durr, Indiana got a player who scored and rebounded at higher averages in 2020-21 than Brunk has at any point in his career. Brunk wouldn’t have counted against Indiana’s 13 scholarships and Durr does, so that’s the only drawback, but Durr should bring more production. He hasn’t always been as efficient as Brunk, but he has shown increasing willingness to step out and shoot 3-pointers which could make him a weapon as a pick and pop option.
How much playing time Durr gets could depend a lot on the ability of other players to add to their perimeter skills. He can play with Jackson-Davis if Jackson-Davis greatly improves his outside shot and handle to step out to power forward on occasion or if the Hoosiers want to occasionally work in two-big lineups with the four-out, one-in standard. Same with forward Race Thompson. One way or another, there will be minutes behind Jackson-Davis at the five that he can take while freshman Logan Duncomb gets comfortable with the college game.
Xavier Johnson, guard, 6-3, 200, 14.2 ppg, and 5.7 apg at Pittsburgh in 2020-21
Outlook: The Hoosiers had two point guards on the roster already, but Woodson wanted somebody more explosive who would command more attention to the dribble drive, forcing teams to either collapse and leave shooters or get torched one-on-one. Johnson absolutely fits that bill. He’s electric off the bounce and got 42.6 percent of his shot attempts at the rim last season, finishing on 56.2 percent of those attempts. Plus he has 415 career assists in three seasons so he knows how to find shooters and cutters when the drives aren’t there.
Johnson is also a dynamic defender, averaging 1.5 steals per game, and his size and length allows him to defend either on the ball or off the ball, so he can handle positions 1-3 if need be, which in turn makes it possible for the Hoosiers to play him together with returning starting point guard Rob Phinisee.
Johnson has an issue with turnovers — he’s committed 302 in his three college seasons while Phinisee has committed 129 in the same period with Phinisee having played two more games. He also has an issue with technical fouls, which caused friction between him and Jeff Capel’s coaching staff at PItt. So the Hoosiers will have to work on making sure he plays under control, but they’ll deal with mistakes in return for his dynamism. Of the new additions, he seems most likely to start right away.
Miller Kopp, forward, 6-7, 215, 11.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg at Northwestern in 2020-21
Outlook: To play four-out, one-in, a team needs tall players who can shoot 3-pointers, and that’s why the Hoosiers targeted Kopp in the transfer portal. Kopp hit 122 3-pointers at a 36 percent clip in three years as a starter at Northwestern, so he fills an obvious need for a team that hit the fewest 3-pointers in the Big Ten last season at 5.9 per game and finished 11th in the conference in percentage at 32.4 percent. Physically, he’s perfectly suited to play as a small forward in bigger lineups or a stretch power forward in smaller ones. His presence guarantees at least that four-out, one-in is a possible formation for the Hoosiers to use. He’s even more necessary now that wing Jerome Hunter transferred out to Xavier. Kopp hit 34 3-pointers last season and 65 the year before. Last season, no returning player hit more than 25 and just one hit more than 12.
The rest of Kopp’s game outside of the jumper will still factor in to determining his playing time. As tall as he is, he’s never averaged more than 3.5 rebounds per game in a season. He averaged 1.0 steals per game which was an indicator of better overall defense, but it’s still not necessarily his strong suit. He could find himself the starting power forward if Race Thompson doesn’t prove he can make shots and handle from the perimeter, but he could also find himself coming off the bench if Thompson does improve in that area, as Thompson shines as a defender and rebounder.
Rob Phinisee, point guard, 6-1, 187, 7.1 ppg, 2.9 apg, in 2020-21.
Outlook: None of Indiana’s returning players have more game experience than Phinisee, who won the job as starting point guard as a true freshman and has logged 69 career starts. However, he hasn’t been as consistent or productive as the Hoosiers hoped, bringing pedestrian career averages of 7.1 points and 3.1 assists into his fourth college season. He’s never averaged more than 7.3 points or 3.4 assists in a season, and he’s a career 36 percent field goal shooter and 29.8 percent 3-point shooter.
Those figures put him in position to lose his spot in the starting lineup, especially if Johnson matches his usual production level. However, he has always been a sturdy on-ball defender — assistant coach Dane Fife, trying to build his confidence, called him the best on-ball defender in the Big Ten during a Zoom press conference with reporters — so that might keep him in the rotation. Johnson has the size and length to defend bigger wings, so it’s possible to put both on the same floor at the same time. Phinisee could help himself a lot by proving he can be a better 3-point shooter than he has. His 25 3-pointers last season are the most among returners, but he hit on just 26 percent of his attempts. He might get better looks playing off the ball and getting spot-up catch-and-shoot opportunities, but that would have to make a major difference. Phinisee has never hit more than 33.3 percent of his 3s in a season or more than 27 total 3-pointers in a year.
Parker Stewart, 6-5, 200, 19.2 ppg, 3.8 apg in 2019-20 with Tennessee-Martin
Outlook: Stewart is another big wing who can shoot who serves as a necessity in a four-out, one-in offense. He’s not quite big enough to be a stretch four, but the Hoosiers can put him at either the 2 or the 3 and expect points.
He hasn’t played in a season and is coping with the tragic loss of his father in November, so it’s hard to tell from the outside exactly what kind of player the Hoosiers will have when he finally puts on an Indiana uniform in a game. Still, it’s obvious why getting Stewart out of the transfer portal was a key objective for the staff when Woodson was hired. He has played two college seasons — one at Pitt and one at Tennessee-Martin — and hit 71 3-pointers in each of those seasons. How the rest of his game translates to the Big Ten is hard to tell, as he’s three seasons removed from his time in the ACC. His 2-point shooting, rebounding and assist numbers were drastically better when he moved down a level, so it’s hard to say what they’ll look like now that he’s back in Power 5 basketball. But they can expect the 3-ball to be there, and the Hoosiers’ desperate need for more of that gives him the inside track for a starting job on the wing.
Race Thompson, 6-8, 228, 9.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg in 2020-21
Outlook: Considering Indiana’s change in offensive philosophy, it was somewhat surprising Thompson decided not to stay in the transfer portal because the wide-open, 3-pointer oriented system does not necessarily play to his strengths. Thompson operated as a back-to-the-basket power forward last season, and that clearly fit his skill set. He got 52.7 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com, and made 61.8 percent of those attempts. If he plays power forward under Woodson, he will have to be able to handle and shoot from the perimeter.
Woodson believes Thompson can be effective from outside. He was a strong 3-point shooter as a high schooler in Minnesota. However, he’s made just six on 28 attempts in his college career, three in each of the last two seasons.
If he can’t play the 4, there will be some minutes for Thompson at the 5, but the Hoosiers will be a much better defensive team if he can play power forward. He finished second on the team in rebounds last season. He led the team in steals with 28 and finished second in blocks with 34. He can defend on the perimeter and in the post and fits perfectly with Woodson’s defensive style, which utilizes switching.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, 6-9, 245, 19.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg in 2020-21
Outlook: Keeping Jackson-Davis in the fold was Woodson’s most important recruiting coup so far. The third-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten pick said he was planning on entering the draft and hiring an agent before he met with Woodson, but Woodson convinced him he would become a better player — and improve his draft stock — by sticking around.
So Jackson-Davis will be an important test case for Woodson. If he can get Jackson-Davis to improve his right hand and develop a jump shot, as promised, not only will Jackson-Davis be even more effective, Woodson will instantly have more credibility as a recruiter. The Hoosiers have every reason to believe they’ll get a third very productive season from Jackson-Davis at the center spot. If he improves his game well enough to become a first-round draft pick in 2022, he’ll be valuable for Woodson and the program at large for years to come.
Freshmen who played in 2020-21
Trey Galloway, 6-4, 210, 3.6 ppg, 1.6 apg in 2020-21
Outlook: Galloway was the most advanced of the true freshmen when the season began in 2020-21 and that allowed him to break into the starting lineup for a brief moment. He at least held his own as a defender, though he wasn’t quite the lock-down defensive ace he was as a high school player. He never played point guard, but proved that he could break down defenders off the dribble from the wing, finishing fourth on the team with assists with 39. By certain metrics, he was Indiana’s best finisher at the rim among its guards. He got 54.8 percent of his shots there and making 56.5 percent of those attempts according to hoop-math.com.
The problem he had was the shots away from the rim. He only took five mid-range shots according to hoop-math.com and made three of those, but from beyond the 3-point arc he made just six of 33 attempts, a woeful 18.2 percent.
Galloway has a body that fits Woodson’s switching defense, a high basketball IQ as a coach’s son and a competitive edge. But his minutes will be limited if he can’t shoot, especially with additional competition this season at the wing spot. The Hoosiers don’t have any individual as proven as Armaan Franklin, who transferred to Virginia, but Phinisee, Stewart, and Tamar Bates could take up a lot of minutes there and Galloway will have to make some shots to get on the floor. He was a decent, though not great, shooter at Culver Academies, so a progression in that area is very much possible.
Jordan Geronimo, 6-6, 220, 2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg in 2020-21
Outlook: Geronimo arguably had the most intriguing season of anyone in the freshman class. Because of his size, athleticism, and ability to hit at least occasional 3-pointers, he appears to have the most upside of the group and he still has four years to make a leap.
Geronimo had some struggles with turnovers and free throw shooting — he was 5 of 18 at the line — and often seemed to make the wrong first step on defense. But he made up for that with hustle and energy and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with post players, even some of the country’s best. His post defense on Luka Garza in the Hoosiers’ first game against Iowa was one of the biggest reasons they were able to hold on and pull off that upset. He was a strong outside shooter as a high schooler and he made four of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc as a freshman. He made more 3s in 169 minutes than Thompson made in 761. He also made 73.7 percent of his shots at the rim, finishing well in transition, off of rebounds and cuts.
The potential is clearly there. It’s just uncertain how much of it Geronimo will realize in 2021-22. Perhaps he can play his way into a rotation with Kopp and Thompson at the 4. Perhaps he can even surpass them.
Khristian Lander, 6-2, 185, 2.1 ppg, 1.6 apg in 2020-21
Outlook: Indiana and Lander both took criticism for his decision to reclassify, leave Evansville Reitz High School early and play his freshman collegiate season when he would have ordinarily been a high school senior. He certainly had some ugly moments, making just 25.7 percent of his field goals and 27.3 percent of his 3-pointers. But the good news is that he didn’t lose a year of eligibility and got indoctrinated into the college game and college lifestyle. His confidence took a hit, but he also has a better sense of what he has to do to succeed physically and mentally in the Big Ten.
The wide-open offense seems to fit Lander better than the slower-paced style the Hoosiers played under Miller. It allows point guards more space and opportunity to use ball screens and attack off the dribble and also provides opportunities for drive-and-kick assists with three shooters spread around the perimeter. That style of play was what made Lander so difficult to stop at Reitz and with Indiana Elite on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit.
Of course, Lander’s path to playing time is a little more clogged with Xavier Johnson added to the mix. The Hoosiers could find some more minutes for Lander if they can shift Phinisee and occasionally Johnson off the ball, but it’s hard to imagine the former five-star recruit will be able to beat Johnson out for the starting job. However, he still has plenty of time to develop and if he has the patience for it, he can be primed to take the keys whenever Phinisee and Johnson move on.
Anthony Leal, 6-5, 210, 1.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg in 2020-21
Leal was recruited because he can shoot, and he has a chance to find a role on Woodson’s roster because he can shoot.
He didn’t knockdown a ton of them in his first year at Indiana, finishing nine of 30 from 3-point range, but he made it clear that the outside shot would be his focus. He took just two shots inside the arc, making one.
Leal is powerful and showed some promise as a defender, so for Indiana at least he fits as a 3-and-D type. The wing positions are relatively wide open, so if Leal fulfills his promise in those areas and makes a standard freshman-to-sophomore leap, there should be playing time available for him at the 2 and 3.
Tamar Bates, 6-5, 180, 11.4 ppg at IMG Academy in 2020-21
Bates became available when Shaka Smart left Texas and he turned out to be Woodson’s first major high school recruit. The ranking services took notice of his strong season on a loaded IMG roster and bumped him up to a five-star, and he finished his high school career ranked No. 28 in the Class of 2021 per the 247Sports.com composite rankings. That makes him the highest rated Indiana incoming freshman since Romeo Langford in 2018, as Jackson-Davis finished No. 30 in his class.
Bates is long-armed, he cares about defense, and he can shoot the ball, which means he’s everything Woodson wants in a wing. He also drew high marks for basketball IQ and leadership potential. He can handle point guard duties if necessary, and can create off the bounce and pass. He’s still a freshman, but top 30 freshmen generally have a chance to start right away and that seems possible at the shooting guard and small forward spots for Indiana where nothing is set.
Logan Duncomb, 6-9, 235, 13.5 ppg and 9.1 rpg at Archbishop Moeller High School in 2020-21
The addition of Durr means Duncomb doesn’t have to make an immediate impact as a backup behind Jackson-Davis, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. He has a college-ready body at 235 pounds, he can rim run and he can absolutely rebound. The odds of him stepping out away from the rim aren’t great so all of his minutes will probably come at the 5 and it’s hard to say how many of those there will be. That being said, getting limited action behind those two now could set him up well for the future, and he could be a starter by 2022 or 2023 at the latest.
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