Trayce Jackson-Davis returns to Indiana: Can the Hoosiers win the Big Ten?

With Trayce Jackson-Davis returning to Indiana, can the Hoosiers win the Big Ten in ’22-23?

The Indiana men’s basketball program received massive news Friday when forward Trayce Jackson-Davis announced that he will be opting out of the NBA Draft process and returning to the Hoosiers.

Jackson-Davis’ announcement is below.

With Jackson-Davis back on campus for his senior season, expectations in Bloomington are as high as they have been in years. The Hoosiers have been unranked in the preseason AP Top 25 in each of the last five years and last reached the Sweet 16 in 2016 under Tom Crean.

Things will be different this time around, though.

The Hoosiers exceeded expectations in Year 1 under Mike Woodson, advancing to the Big Ten Tournament semis and winning their First Four tournament matchup against Wyoming before the first-round loss to Saint Mary’s.

Though Woodson’s hire last spring drew plenty of national criticism, IU figures to be a legitimate Big Ten contender in just his second season on campus.

Woodson, a longtime NBA head coach, has transitioned relatively well to the college game in just 13 months. Indiana saw a nine-win improvement last season, clinched its first NCAA Tournament bid in six years, and has secured substantially more talent under Woodson than under the previous coaching regime.

Let’s dive into next season’s roster and how Indiana could compete for the Big Ten title.

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Projected starting lineup

Xavier Johnson: The former Pitt transfer had his best college season this past year, ranking 14th nationally in assist rate to steer the IU offense. He was also a career-high 38.3 percent on 3-pointers, hitting several key shots throughout the season. Better yet, the sometimes-reckless Virginia native took care of the basketball, especially as the year progressed. If he can manage the pick-and-roll offense with Jackson-Davis like he did to close the season, the Hoosiers potentially have an all-conference talent at the point guard position.

Jalen Hood-Schifino: A 6-5, 210-pound combo guard, Hood-Schifino is Indiana’s sixth-highest-rated commit in program history, per 24/7Sports. Hood-Schifino can excel at either backcourt position, giving IU two skilled lead guards to operate the offense. A physical presence, Hood-Schifino will manufacture most of his offense around the basket on drives. He also projects to be an above-average rebounder and capable defender.

Miller Kopp: The 6-7, 220-pound Northwestern transfer is the expected starter at the small forward position after starting in each of his 35 appearances. Kopp, known for his perimeter scoring, started off the season hot from deep but cooled later on in the season. Can he return to form? If not, the Hoosiers have guys like Jordan Geronimo, Tamar Bates and Trey Galloway ready for more playing time in a smaller lineup.

Race Thompson: Every team needs a “Glue Guy” and that’s exactly the role Thompson has played for the IU program. While Jackson-Davis is the star and Johnson leads the team in usage, Thompson brings veteran leadership and a physical presence to the frontcourt, averaging 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds last season. Having endured injuries, a redshirt season and a coaching change, Thompson’s had a winding career but is pivotal to IU’s success.

Trayce Jackson-Davis: Jackson-Davis is the bonafide star of the group. A former top-30 recruit, TJD has enjoyed a hugely productive career, averaging 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds over 94 career games in a Hoosier uniform. Jackson-Davis attempts about 70 percent of his shots around the rim; Indiana will hope he can step out a bit more for pick-and-pop opportunities to create better offensive spacing. He’s one of the country’s most prolific dunkers, knows how to get to the free-throw line, and has evolved into a skilled rim-protector.

Biggest strength

Indiana has unquestioned physicality and will be one of the nation’s best defensive teams. The Hoosiers were one of just eight teams last season to rank in the top 25 nationally in 2-point percentage defense, adjusted defensive efficiency and block rate. T-Rank currently has Indiana projected as the No. 10 overall defense for next season, the best among Big Ten teams.

Size played a major role in IU’s defensive success. The departed Rob Phinisee was the only rotational player lighter than 200 pounds, and the team had an average height of 6-6, per KenPom. Indiana’s 10th-ranked recruiting class is listed at an average of 6-foot-6.5 and 202.5 pounds. Woodson’s staff has made size and physicality a priority, lending its way towards a tough group that can make plays around the paint.

Biggest question

Will Indiana have enough perimeter shooting? The Hoosiers shot 33.3 percent from deep last season, ranking 200th nationally. More concerning, though, is Indiana largely operated inside the arc, oftentimes creating spacing issues. IU’s 3-point attempt rate of 31.1 was 321st in the country and last in the Big Ten. Additionally, Indiana’s top perimeter shooter last season, Parker Stewart, exhausted his eligibility. He was the only Hoosier with more than 40 3-point makes.

Kopp and Johnson will likely be the primary perimeter threats this season, though both are streaky shooters. Kopp went 24-of-62 (38.7 percent) from deep through the end of January and then made just 15 of his 46 attempts (32.6 percent) the rest of the season, including eight consecutive misses to end the year. Johnson, meanwhile, hit 48.3 percent of his triples in IU wins last season and just 22.2 percent in losses. IU’s success hinges greatly on these two consistently hitting from deep.

Is Indiana a legitimate Big Ten threat?

The 2022-23 season is expected to be an underwhelming one for the Big Ten. Both ESPN and CBS Sports have the Big Ten shut out of the top 10 in their way-too-early Top 25 rankings. Michigan, with Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate potentially turning pro, is the only top-15 team in both polls. While ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has seven Big Ten teams reaching the Big Dance in 2023, the Wolverines are the only projected top-4 seed.

Overall, there are more questions than answers in the Big Ten for next season. Indiana is the exception, returning roughly 80 percent of its minutes from last year to go along with a pair of 5-star recruits in Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau. No other team in college basketball can check both boxes.

It’s a golden opportunity for a storied Indiana program to get back on track. The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team that hasn’t finished above .500 in conference play since the start of the 2016-17 season. This streak is surely to snap this season, but IU fans will be hopeful for much more than a top-half Big Ten finish. If Indiana’s newcomers are ready to contribute right away and enough perimeter shots fall, there’s no reason why Woodson’s team can’t compete for a Big Ten title and a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.