IU basketball coach Mike Woodson said on a podcast released Wednesday freshman guard Jakai Newton has been hurt, and implied his availability for the upcoming season is unclear.
If Newton did turn out to be unable to go at the start of the 2023-24 season, IU would be down to just five guards — Xavier Johnson, Gabe Cupps, Trey Galloway, Anthony Leal and C.J. Gunn.
And obviously just two of those five have a proven track record at the high major level of college basketball.
The IU staff had a number of lines in the water when it came to guard prospects in the transfer portal. To varying degrees they pursued players like Dalton Knecht, Caleb Love, Jordan Dingle, Nick Timberlake, and several others.
But while the Hoosiers assembled a fairly imposing frontline for the upcoming season, they repeatedly came up short in the backcourt.
Johnson and Cupps should be a quality duo at point guard for Indiana, and Galloway has the ability to function as a primary ball handler as well to the extent Cupps isn’t ready. But the depth void appears to be at the shooting guard position and small forward spot. And if Newton cannot go, that problem is only exacerbated.
The good news for Woodson is Galloway has appeared ready to take another step forward after he improved considerably as a shooter a season ago.
“Gallo has probably been the best player in the gym right now, in terms of shooting and defense,” Woodson said of his team’s summer workouts. “As it stands right now, he’s earned the starting job.”
So Johnson and Galloway could be a strong starting duo, especially on the defensive end. And while Gunn and Cupps have promise, they’re unproven players IU will have to rely on too. One key injury in that group could spell serious trouble, and Woodson knows it.
His plan right now is to test out 6-foot-8 freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako and 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Kaleb Banks on the wing. Both of them are probably best described as combo forwards, and some might even suggest power forward is their best position based on where they are with their development.
But with Malik Reneau and Miami transfer Anthony Walker available to play the four, Woodson has other ideas.
“We’re a little thin (on the wing),” he said. “We might have to move Mackenzie over some and Kaleb to the two and three, for sure three with those two guys. So I’m going to have to mix and match based on who’s doing what.”
The only other alternative at this point would be to make a roster addition.
Indiana currently has 12 scholarship players on the team, and they’re allowed to have 13.
But it’s pretty late for that, even in the transfer portal era.
“We’re looking,” Woodson said. “But it’s not easy finding people at this stage of the game.”
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