One word comes to mind when thinking about last year’s Indiana Hoosiers season … weird.
The Hoosiers started 12-2 and 3-0 in the conference. They were well on their way to a top four or five-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They blasted Marquette. They took care of Louisville. Even though the offense wasn’t fully clicking, they looked like a force to be reckoned with.
After that start? The Hoosiers went 3-12 in their next 15 games, but the three wins were against Michigan State (twice) and Wisconsin. Again ... weird.
After ultimately missing the NCAA Tournament, it would be easy for Big Ten fans to write off the Hoosiers for this season. I think that would be a huge mistake.
“But we are losing our two best players! We’ll be even worse!”
Is that possible? Sure. Anything is possible. But unlike many other sports, success or lack thereof is not always linear for college teams.
Losing Juwan Morgan will be a big loss. Losing Romeo Langford’s talent will be a big loss, though reliable sources have told me there were chemistry issues last season, partially due to Langford. Despite these losses, I’m convinced Indiana will be better this season- possibly much better. Here are some reasons why:
Trayce Jackson-Davis won’t replace Juwan Morgan’s production from day one, but he might be closer than you think. This kid has a chance to be special, and he should produce right away. On the path to be named Mr. Basketball in Indiana last season, bringing in someone of that caliber is always a positive.
Armaan Franklin is another solid recruit, slightly underrated — and he finished shooting around 40 percent from three in his senior season. The Hoosiers badly need more shooters, and backcourt depth, something Franklin could provide.
The forgotten man on last year’s team, due to injury. This is the guy that has “as much upside as anybody we have,” according to Head Coach Archie Miller. Did you catch that? As high upside as anybody, which included Romeo Langford when he said it.
The versatile offensive game that Hunter has, and the ability to create for himself is something Indiana didn’t have much of last season. Archie Miller also said Hunter’s best asset is his 3-point shooting. So far, so good in Hunter’s hopeful return. According to IU, he’s been involved in every aspect of their program so far this season, with no setbacks.
A common mistake fans of college basketball make — assuming your team will be the same except for replacing the seniors with freshmen. Player development is more important to your success than your recruiting class.
Rob Phinisee reminds me of Yogi Ferrell. They actually had similar numbers as freshmen. Can Phinisee take the same sophomore jump that Ferrell took? I’m not sure. But I do expect Phinisee to take a big step next year. This is a four-year player that will be a centerpiece for the future success of the program.
Just as fans shouldn’t write off next season, they shouldn’t write off Justin Smith. He’s been frustrating to watch at times, but the talent is there. Remember Juwan Morgan’s massive leap his junior year? Justin Smith is capable of taking one himself. He’s already put up big numbers in several games this season.
The Other Guys
Al Durham, De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green’s senior seasons, Race Thompson, Clifton Moore, and some of the freshmen that haven’t played much- If even a few of these guys take a leap forward in production, this is going to be a good basketball team.
You’d also have to think the Hoosiers will have more luck in the health department this season. Archie Miller should be more comfortable with more of his players and system in place. While most outlets have the Hoosiers finishing 9th or 10th in the Big Ten, I look for Indiana to surprise some people and finish in the top seven of the conference. I also think they’ll be dancing this March. Time will tell.
Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girl’s basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.