However this season ends for Indiana, the conversation will quickly pivot to rebuilding the roster for the 2024-25 campaign.
Yesterday we told you things could get messy in Bloomington if the Hoosiers continue to play poorly over the next few weeks. But in the transfer portal and “NIL” era, a college basketball roster can be overhauled in a good month or two.
That means a lot of negativity towards what appears to be a very a disappointing current season can be washed away quickly with hope for the future. There’s always next year, you know.
Indiana fans would probably be very enthusiastic about a 2024-25 starting lineup that featured Malik Reneau, Mackenzie Mgbako, and Liam McNeeley, along with two of the top guards from the transfer portal. Oh, and Trey Galloway and Derik Queen, if they land him, as the first two players off the bench?
It’s hard to say for sure until we see who enters the portal, but it isn’t difficult to imagine Indiana being thought of as a preseason top-25 team with that kind of core rotation.
Obviously there is one massive assumption built into that admittedly rosy outlook for next year’s lineup. Landing even one elite guard from the portal will be challenging. And to really flip the switch and immediately turn to a promising forecast for 2024-25, IU needs two. That is, two proven, dynamic, playmaking guards with scoring mentalities and the ability to make threes on a high volume.
To do that, Indiana has to navigate the portal this year with a much higher degree of focus on building a roster full of complimentary pieces. Because the greatest missteps as it relates to the current season happened before it ever started — last spring.
The national talking heads aren’t always right when they give drive-by opinions on Indiana, but they nailed the main concern for this 2023-24 edition of IU basketball: flawed roster construction.
Indiana added pieces via the portal they didn’t need in the frontcourt, and they struck out famously in the backcourt. Indiana was recruiting players in the portal who could have made a real impact on this team. For example, Dalton Knecht is averaging 19.9 points and shooting 39.1 percent from three for Tennessee. Caleb Love is averaging 18.9 points and shooting 34.2 percent from three for Arizona.
Last spring the anticipated return of Xavier Johnson muddied the waters a bit when it came to adding a point guard. It’s less clear why they struggled to add a shooting guard. The staff will have to do a better job of overcoming whatever obstacles stood in their way there. Lessons must be learned.
The pitch to portal guards should be relatively easy. Indiana has top-tier NIL opportunities, wide-open playing time, and they should have a very talented frontcourt to work with. The Hoosiers would seemingly help their pitch to guards if they’d stop playing a two-big system, and space the floor for shooters and playmakers. Elite guards aren’t looking to develop their post-entry skills.
Even if they add two of the better portal guards and Queen, IU will still probably have a few roster openings next season. They need to go all-in on perimeter shooting, and take flyers on a couple additional guys who perhaps play at the low-major level, at least look the part, and might translate. Don’t pass on guys who can shoot because of perceived shortcomings. Error on the side of shooting all day long at multiple positions, and fill the roster. Players like Matt Roth, Nick Zeisloft, and even Anthony Leal against Iowa show you — shooters who aren’t elite athletes can still change the game. Three is greater than two.
Not all of the work has to be done in the portal. The class of 2024 decommit rumors are already swirling. Indiana has had success via that route in the past, and already has eyes on a few possibilities there. Mikel Brown is an elite point guard who could reclassify to the 2024 class, and he’s been reported to be possibly visiting IU for NBA All-Star weekend. As is the case every year, other names will emerge.
Indiana should also have Gabe Cupps back, and Jakai Newton should finally be healthy. Newton will need to shake off some rust after missing two seasons, but people are already saying he’s the fastest, most athletic player on the current team.
None of this will be as easy. For every guard Indiana adds, the next one becomes more difficult to convince. Top portal guards, and even elite high school guards expect to play immediately. That’s the challenge of recruiting this way, and part of the reason why it’s a dangerous path to follow year-over-year.
But the point is, in this era, the outlook can change in a hurry. Indiana fans were generally happy with the direction of the program a year ago. And a good spring can have them optimistic once again.
Mike Woodson and his staff may have made their bed with portal failings this season, but they don’t have to lie in it next year.
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