BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 09, 2022 - guard Xavier Johnson #0 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics

IU basketball: Woodson says he’s not sure when or if Xavier Johnson can return this season

Can Indiana get back to its original starting lineup before the postseason arrives?

It’s getting late in the shot clock.

With just three regular season games remaining, IU basketball coach Mike Woodson said on Thursday he still doesn’t know if starting point guard Xavier Johnson will return to the floor.

Johnson has been seen on the court participating in some light shooting and shootaround activities, but he still hasn’t crossed over to full contact basketball.  And that’s leaving his head coach unsure on how things will play out.

“He’s doing some individual stuff, but contact, and doing drills with the team — we haven’t been able to get there yet.  We’re hoping next week,” Woodson said on Thursday morning as his team prepares for its final road trip of the season on Saturday at Purdue (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX).

Johnson suffered a broken foot in December, and that type of injury factors into the decision to let Johnson return — a player best known for his speed, quickness and change of direction.

Will he be able to return and immediately do the things that made him one of the top point guards in the Big Ten last year?

That is where this all gets tricky.

Conversations on that are still taking place — even today.

“I’m going to sit down with X today and see what his thinking is,” Woodson said.  “Because my thing is, it’s going to come down to him being able to bang a little bit, cut and do his speed to do what he does, but if that’s bothering him then I don’t know if he’s gonna play.  Only time will tell.  He’s not doing enough for me to be on the floor to play, I know that.”

Adding to the complexity is the timing of a potential return by Johnson.

With three regular season games remaining, Indiana is currently vying for a top-four finish in the Big Ten which would give them a double-bye in the league tournament.  That starts in less than two weeks, and then it’s straight to the NCAA Tournament.

Indiana has been playing reasonably well lately.  They’ve won 9 of their last 12 games.  But they are a far from perfect team, and one of the reasons why is a lack of reliable depth in the backcourt.

Woodson knows if his veteran point guard is physically able to go, he has to find a way to make his return work for a team that has adapted to playing without him for more than two months.

“You never run away from your talent,” Woodson said, who went on to admit he isn’t sure exactly how he might fit Johnson back into the rotation.

A lot of that might depend on what’s best physically for Johnson.

“X is a talented player, and he has been good for our ball club, so somehow you have to fit him back in,” Woodson continued.  “You know, I don’t know if I’ll start him or bring him off the bench. A lot of that has to deal with once he warms up, is it good to start him instead of him sitting over there coming off cold? There’s just a lot of intangible things that come into when players get hurt.

“A lot of that’s going to be on X, too. I’ve got to feel good. I don’t want to mess up what chemistry we do have, but he is still a big piece to what we do. I mean, he changes — he is a game-changer to me.

“So if he is good to go, I’ve got to feel like I’ve got to put him back in there, and we’ve got to play off of him and see where we are.”

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