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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Indiana men’s basketball roundtable: IDS reporters predict the Hoosiers’ 2023-24 season

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Indiana men’s basketball fields its most uncertain roster in multiple seasons. After losing four of their five starters from last season — including program legend Trayce Jackson-Davis and first-round NBA draftee Jalen Hood-Schifino — the Hoosiers brought in 10 newcomers. 

Indiana will look to improve on a 2022-23 second-place Big Ten finish that earned it a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where the Hoosiers were ultimately knocked out in the second round.  

Here are the Indiana Daily Student basketball reporters’ predictions for the 2023-24 season: 

Most valuable player 

WILL FOLEY: Redshirt senior-plus guard Xavier Johnson’s presence was heavily missed last season and will be the key to the Hoosiers’ success this year. After going out for the season following a foot injury against Kansas on Dec. 17, 2022, Indiana missed its lead ballhandler and perimeter defender the duration of the season. Those qualities and Johnson’s veteran leadership will be significant in gelling Indiana’s 10 newcomers and conducting the Hoosiers through the Big Ten gauntlet, even if the stats don’t show it. 

MATT PRESS: I’m going to agree with Will here about Johnson. Indiana sorely missed him on the court for the latter part of last season, both in terms of his playmaking and defensive ability. The Hoosiers will undoubtedly lean on Johnson more than they have in previous seasons given the question marks with the rest of the lineup, but I think he has the maturity and acumen to answer the call. Head coach Mike Woodson jokingly called the sixth-year Johnson an “old man” back at Indiana’s Basketball Media Day, and I think Indiana’s lead guard will prove to be the team’s most valuable player in his final collegiate season. 

DANIEL FLICK: I’ll go with freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako, who carries a 5-star pedigree. On the court, Mgbako’s drawn praise from teammates and coaches for his ability to make tough shots, and with the Hoosiers replacing four of five starters, there are plenty of shots available. Last season, Indiana grew reliant on Hood-Schifino, who finished second on the team with 13.5 points per game. Mgabko has the opportunity to follow in Hood-Schifino's footsteps as a first-round NBA Draft pick, and whether he’s able to play at that level may ultimately dictate just how far the Hoosiers can go.  

Breakout player of the year 

FOLEY: Sophomore forward Malik Reneau is the runaway candidate for breakout player. The former 5-star played backup to Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson last year and now enters the starting lineup with big expectations. He has his share of flaws to clean up — most notably a heavy foul rate — but if fully realized down low Reneau will blossom in an Indiana offense with much better floor spacing than previous years. 

PRESS: I think sophomore guard CJ Gunn is a really enticing breakout option. Gunn played sparingly as a freshman and was a highly inconsistent shooter, both from inside and beyond the arc. Still, after a majority of Indiana’s 2022-23 offensive production departed, the Hoosiers will need someone to step up and help recoup scoring. I see Gunn — a 6-foot-6, former 4-star recruit — as a player who could come off the bench and score in bunches while providing solid energy on the defensive end. With a season under his belt and an enhanced knowledge of Woodson’s system, I think Gunn is primed for a breakout campaign. 

FLICK: Continuing the trend of picking sophomores, I’ll go with forward Kaleb Banks. At IU’s Basketball Media Day, Banks, who’s missed the last few weeks with a groin injury, noted he felt more confident and comfortable in his second season and Woodson reiterated similar ideas. As a freshman, Banks played with high effort and flashed defensive upside but averaged only 2.0 points per game. Woodson has spoken at length about needing more from his second-year players, and the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Banks has the size and athleticism to impact games on both ends of the floor. 

Newcomer of the year 

FOLEY: There are two or three reasonable answers here, but I’m rocking with sophomore center Kel’el Ware. The former 5-star and University of Oregon transfer struggled in his freshman year with the Ducks and faced constant slander for his lack of hustle. Similar to Reneau, if head coach Mike Woodson can realize Ware’s potential, I believe his ceiling is All-Big Ten level. The 7-footer can score at all three levels and can become a strong rim protector for the Hoosiers. 

PRESS: I’ll go with freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako here. Woodson beat out Bill Self and the University of Kansas for Mgbako’s commitment in May, and there’s a reason Indiana fans felt like they won the lottery. The 6-foot-8 Mgbako ranked as the No. 10 overall player in the class of 2023, and No. 2 power forward in the nation. He should be thrust into the starting lineup immediately and offer a jolt of 3-point shooting and midrange expertise. Mgbako has excellent size to guard multiple positions and score from all three levels. He’s already projected as a 2024 NBA Draft lottery pick, and he’s my easy choice for this superlative. 

FLICK: Considering I already tabbed Mgbako as Indiana’s Most Valuable Player, it’s safe to say he’s also my pick here – but to keep things fresh, I’ll support Will’s choice of Ware. With Jackson-Davis gone, Ware has big shoes to fill, but he’s talented enough to play at the next level. Recently named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabar Watch List alongside the nation’s best centers, Ware’s facing lofty expectations, but he has the size, athleticism and versatility to stretch the floor offensively and alter shots at the rim. Jackson-Davis finished his career as the Hoosiers’ all-time leading shot blocker, and his presence significantly affected opposing offenses. Ware has a chance to do the same, and while he won’t be the same dominant post player, his shooting touch may bring a new element to IU’s offensive attack. 

Game to watch 

FOLEY: Indiana will play four of the top-6 ranked teams from the preseason AP Poll, so there are plenty of options here. That being said, I think its matchup against the University of Connecticut is the one to keep an eye on. It’s the Hoosiers’ fourth game on their schedule and the teams will clash in Madison Square Garden, not to mention the Huskies are the defending National Champions. The matchup will be a good litmus test to see how Indiana will fare against top-level competition all season. 

PRESS: Purdue, UConn and Michigan State are fantastic options here, but I’ll go with the matchup against Kansas on Dec. 16 in Bloomington. The Jayhawks are slotted in at No. 1 on the most recent AP Poll, so you can’t really ask for a much more difficult contest. Kansas was surprisingly knocked off by the University of Arkansas in last year’s NCAA Tournament, so I think they could have some revenge on the mind for this season. Mgbako’s commitment decision adds a nice wrinkle into the clash as well, so that’s my game to watch. 

FLICK: With Indiana’s two biggest non-conference games off the table, I’ll turn towards the most anticipated Big Ten game – a Jan. 16 home matchup against Purdue. The Hoosiers lost nine consecutive games to the Boilermakers before Woodson took over, but they’re 3-1 since, including a sweep over their archrival last year. Undefeated against Purdue at home under Woodson, Indiana’s seventh conference game promises to take place in a raucous Assembly Hall, and the Boilermakers, who are ranked No. 3 in the preseason, should poise a formidable opponent. The Hoosiers will get a chance to make a statement win and continue their recent success over Purdue, making this arguably the most intriguing game to watch. 

Postseason predictions 

FOLEY: I have the Hoosiers finishing around fifth in the Big Ten and earning a high single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament, anywhere from the six to nine range then bowing out in the first or second round. It will be a regression from last year barring a Sweet 16 run, but it should be expected. One of the biggest questions for the Hoosiers will be who will take control of a game down the stretch, as they lack the star power they had with Jackson-Davis and Hood-Schifino last year. Nonetheless, Indiana could very well play spoiler in the Big Ten and is capable of knocking off some top-ranked squads. 

PRESS: I have the Hoosiers finishing sixth in the Big Ten, which is roughly in line with the national consensus. I’m struggling to move them any higher simply based on the question marks surrounding the team’s chemistry and ability of newcomers, but there is tremendous upside with this group. I truly believe their ceiling is as high as some of the top teams in the country if Ware, Mgbako and others can mesh and reach their potential, but I just as easily could see immense growing pains that linger throughout conference play. I agree with Will about their NCAA Tournament seeding ranging from about six to nine, but I’ll say they make another second-round exit in March Madness. 

FLICK: I have with the Hoosiers slotting in seventh in the Big Ten, winning roughly 20 games entering the postseason and landing a No. 9 seed in the Big Dance. Woodson has frequently noted his team has 10 new players, and the loss of so much production from last year creates a considerable void. The talent is there to fill that void, but there’s always the question of how well the pieces gel together. Indiana has a high ceiling, but its floor is dauntingly unclear at this stage. Woodson’s earned the right to inspire confidence he can guide this team to the tournament but, as Matt alluded, it feels like growing pains are a matter of when, not if. The Hoosiers are new, relatively young and extremely talented – so buckle up, because 2023-2024 is sure to be full of entertainment, for better or worse. 

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