Indiana men’s basketball enters its 2021-22 season following a disappointing 12-15 finish last season. It fired head coach Archie Miller and hired Mike Woodson, a former Indiana player under Bob Knight and a 20-year NBA coaching veteran, to lead the way.
Indiana opens its season at home against Eastern Michigan University at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Before the team’s season opener, the Indiana Daily Student men’s basketball reporters share their predictions and analysis for the upcoming season.
Most valuable player
Da’Qwan Dockery: It’s hard to say, but one answer that comes to mind is junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. This is the most anticipated season of his college career. Fans are expecting to see Jackson-Davis dominate on both ends of the floor carrying his team different heights. As a Karl Malone Award finalist, Jackson-Davis is expected to be a dangerous presence on the boards, being seventh in the Big Ten conference in both rebounds and blocks last year. I have no doubt he won’t exceed my expectations, but he has to be willing to step up and lead this Hoosier team into a winning culture this year.
Kamil Gut: There’s only one answer: Jackson-Davis. He was a point and a rebound away from averaging 20 and 10 last season, which rightfully earned him preseason first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Indiana completely runs through his leadership and presence on both ends of the court. The scariest part about Jackson-Davis is he hasn’t reached his full potential, and all signs point to Mike Woodson as the key to unlocking an offensive skill set opposing Big Ten defenses will be thrown off by.
With Woodson’s encouragement to shoot the ball more as part of a free-flowing, aggressive offensive game plan, Jackson-Davis is poised for another highly productive season that makes the decision to enter the NBA Draft much more clear when this spring comes around.
Tristan Jackson: This one is a no-brainer, it’s Jackson-Davis. Woodson said he’s been forcing Jackson-Davis to take jump shots in practice and improve his long-range shooting, and I feel for any team tasked with slowing him down if can knock those down consistently. Jackson-Davis averaged 19 points last season without a reliable jumper and was named preseason first-team All-American heading into this one, so there’s no question in my mind this team will go as far as Jackson-Davis can take it.
Breakout player of the year
Dockery: I would have to say senior guard Rob Phinisee. He has been the most underrated player since playing with the Hoosiers. He was named team captain for a reason and it’s only a matter of time before he is able to show what he really can do. His time is now.
Gut: There’s so many to choose from, including the newcomers, but I’ll say Phinisee. He’s had to share the backcourt duties with Armaan Franklin and Aljami Durham in years past, but both of those players have transferred. Even though he’ll be battling for minutes and touches with University of Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson, he’s taken on a role as a leader for Indiana’s guards this season and more will be expected of him. Regardless of the numbers he puts up, the competition with Johnson will bring out the best version of him.
Jackson: Senior forward Race Thompson is someone I think will surprise a lot of people this season. Under the tutelage of Woodson, who said he wants Thompson handling and shooting the ball more, I believe he’ll see the biggest improvement from last season. He’s solid on the defensive end already, so if Woodson can help him reach his full potential on the offensive end I could see him playing a role similar to Draymond Green on the Golden State Warriors. I’m curious to see Thompson’s ability to distribute the ball, but if he develops as a ball handler it will stretch the floor and make room for Jackson-Davis in the paint, plus it will give Indiana’s shooters better looks from long range.
Newcomer of the year
Dockery: Xavier Johnson has been on a mission since leaving Pitt. He’s an aggressive and versatile guard who is able to put it on the floor when the time is right. In three seasons, Johnson started 81 of the 84 games, totaling 1,152 points, 311 rebounds, 415 assists and 124 steals in 84 games at Pitt. Not only is he able to get going on the offensive end, but he is also a hard-nosed defensive player on the other. Johnson is a tremendous addition for the Hoosiers, considering the team is rebuilding around being a defensive presence in the conference.
Gut: Senior forward Miller Kopp is fitting right in with his new teammates at Indiana, and he’ll need to provide the same shooting spark that led to a 36% 3-point field goal percentage across three seasons at Northwestern to gain the Hoosier faithful’s complete acceptance. Aside from his scoring abilities, which Indiana will desperately need to keep up with the Big Ten’s best offenses, Kopp brings a level of confidence that’s already rubbed off on his teammates. Look for him to make some timely and important shots over the course of the season.
Jackson: Don’t sleep on transfer center Michael Durr this season. Durr is a 7-foot senior who rebounds and blocks shots well, plus he’s not afraid to let a 3-pointer fly — he made four with the University of South Florida last season. One thing this team missed last season was a consistent big man who could come on in relief of Jackson-Davis, a role Durr can fill perfectly. Players like Kopp and Johnson may average more points and play more minutes, but the role Durr will have may be Indiana’s most important in terms of newcomers.
Game to watch
Dockery: Indiana’s matchup against Michigan on Jan. 23. This will be a true test to see what this year’s roster can do against an opponent like the Wolverines. It will test if this team has what it takes to beat March Madness contenders and get its place in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Hoosiers lost to the Wolverines with a final score of 73-57. Hopefully, with Woodson as head coach this year, they’re prepared for a better outcome against the Wolverines this season.
Gut: Despite all the tasty matchups on the conference schedule to choose from, I think I speak for most fans when I say Purdue. Indiana hasn’t beaten Purdue since 2016, losing nine straight games in the time since. The first of Indiana’s annual pair of meetings against its in-state rival comes on Jan. 20 at Assembly Hall, just over halfway into the schedule. A double-digit losing streak to Purdue looms, and the importance of this rivalry will surely not be lost on any newcomers with Woodson at the helm. You simply have to win at least one of these two, preferably on home court.
Jackson: Indiana’s matchup with Syracuse University on Nov. 30 is going to be a big one. It will be a chance for Indiana to get its first resume-building win for the NCAA Tournament and a chance for Woodson to show what he can do at the college level against a solid, Power 5 program in Syracuse before it heads into conference play. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is always a spectacle in college basketball, and Indiana will have the opportunity to prove it belongs in the NCAA Tournament conversation against a team that received votes in the preseason AP Poll.
Dockery: Every year, I always have high expectations for the Hoosiers and always end up being wrong about how dominant the team will be. Miller’s replacement gave me some hope to believe a change will come for Indiana. As crazy as it sounds, I am expecting the Hoosiers to be one of the best basketball teams in the conference. I won’t go crazy and say they will make a tournament run this year, but they will definitely make some noise to let teams know they are coming for it no matter the challenge. I see the Hoosiers having a 20-11 record along with being one of the best teams in the Big Ten conference.
Gut: Call me optimistic, but I think a 20-win season isn’t out of the question, but I wouldn’t go any higher than 20-11. Indiana’s non-conference schedule doesn’t appear too challenging on paper aside from Syracuse and the University of Notre Dame, who can shock Indiana simply due to lack of other real competition in its first dozen games. The Big Ten is very top heavy with teams like Michigan, Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois leading the pack, but the lower half looks unconvincing. Wins against teams in rebuild mode like Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern are there for the taking, and if Indiana’s offense turns out to be as dynamic as it’s been hyped up, we won’t see the same amount of upsets Indiana teams in recent seasons suffered due to seriously poor stretches of offense.
Jackson: The thing about this Indiana team is it drastically underperformed with Miller last season. The team lost six-straight games to end the season and it seemed like Indiana’s fan base lost faith in Miller well before then. That being said, I think Indiana’s roster is more than talented enough to make a tournament run, and Woodson brings the breath of fresh air this program needs to make it happen. With an All-American forward roaming the paint and solid outside shooters for him to kick it out to, even if this team loses games, it’s going to be in exciting fashion. I think Indiana ends its regular season at 19-12 with a 10-10 record in the Big Ten. I think the team enters the Big Ten Tournament on the NCAA Tournament bubble and gets a bid with at least one win in the conference tournament.