It’s fair to call this IU basketball season a success, and the future uncertain
No, Indiana didn’t win a national title in 2023.
And if that’s your only way to measure success for IU basketball, well then, you just experienced failure for the 36th straight season.
Of course that’s an absurd standard.
But the expectations were indeed high for this edition of the program. And those high expectations were reasonable. On paper Indiana was talented and deep, and they enjoyed a degree of roster continuity that very few other teams could claim.
By some measures, IU didn’t live up to the preseason noise.
They were a near consensus favorite to win the Big Ten, but instead finished tied for second. They reached the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but once again came up short.
And now they were unable to reach the second week of the NCAA Tournament.
But still, don’t call this season a failure. Under second year head coach Mike Woodson, it was a season of progress, stacked on the progress of his first season.
The Hoosiers delivered on the expectations early on. There was a road win at Xavier, a team now in the Sweet 16. There was a dominant win over a North Carolina team that certainly had talent if not cohesion. IU started 7-0, and they were ranked in the top-10.
And then came trouble.
Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino both had early season back issues that caused them to miss time. And then the real blow came at Kansas when starting guard Xavier Johnson suffered a season-ending broken foot.
His name was brought up by multiple players in the post-Miami locker room when they were asked to reflect on the season.
“We needed him in the worst way,” Trey Galloway said of Johnson on Sunday night in Albany.
When Indiana lost Johnson, they lost a lot — he was their best perimeter defender, their fastest player, he could score, facilitate and rebound, and perhaps most significant of all — he was their edge.
“The intensity he brings, we always say he’s the dog of our team and we’ve missed that,” Race Thompson said a couple weeks ago.
The original starting five never played together again after that 7-0 start, save for the portion of the first half at Kansas before Johnson broke his foot.
In total IU’s original starting five plus Galloway missed 38 games, 24 of which were attributable to Johnson.
This was a team built on defense first and foremost, and without Johnson, that identity took a big hit.
And Indiana went sideways.
The Hoosiers were blown out at Kansas, and then fell into a three game Big Ten losing streak in January. They lost Thompson to a knee injury in one of those three losses, and he wasn’t himself again until March.
IU dropped to 10-6 overall and just 1-4 in the Big Ten. They appeared to be teetering on a cliff.
“A lot of people were counting us out, but we fought after that and came together,” Galloway said.
Also, Jackson-Davis got healthy around that time, and he hit the turbo button.
Indiana rattled off five straight wins and won eight of nine. They knocked off nemesis Wisconsin, took down No. 1 Purdue, and snapped a long losing streak to Rutgers during that span.
The waters got choppy again from there.
Indiana closed the season just 5-5 over its last 10 games, but that did include a first road win at Mackey Arena since 2013. There were certainly some losses in that closing mix where you were left to wonder — what if a guy like Xavier Johnson was available? Quick guards who could get downhill like Northwestern’s Boo Buie and Iowa’s Tony Perkins gave IU serious problems. We saw that again against Miami on Sunday evening in Albany.
But in the end, IU recorded its most wins since 2016, its highest finish in the Big Ten since 2016, and advanced further in the NCAA Tournament than any year since 2016.
What were reasonable expectations coming into the season? A Big Ten Tournament double-bye and the Sweet 16? Probably. Indiana was right there.
All things considered, and especially down an All-Big Ten caliber guard for the back two-thirds of the season, this season was a success. It was a step forward. It simply was.
But a third year of progress will be a real challenge for Woodson.
The promise of the 2022-23 season was built on a foundation of returning production, and that’s something that will be in very short supply come November.
Save for the coaching change years, it is hard to remember a time over the last decade when the program faced more uncertainty going into the offseason.
What we know — Jackson-Davis, Thompson and Miller Kopp are all done for sure. And Hood-Schifino is almost certain to to go the NBA. That’s more than 50 points per game off the board.
Four of this season’s original starting five will be gone — and it’s no certainty yet Johnson will be back either.
And that’s all before we even begin to speculate on who from Indiana will enter the transfer portal. We won’t speculate, but you know it’s coming. That’s just the reality of college basketball in 2023.
The bottom line is that there is a massive production void to fill via the transfer portal, and no longer can IU count on Jackson-Davis to save them.