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The Hoosiers were the highest-ranked Big Ten representative in the preseason AP Poll and have mostly lived up to the hype. December and early January were a bit rocky, but Indiana followed up that tough patch with eight wins in nine games to solidify itself as one of the conference’s best. This team carries victories over Xavier, Michigan State, Illinois twice, and most importantly (and impressively) Purdue twice with it into the postseason.
After six-straight seasons without a winning record in Big Ten play, this will be the best team Indiana takes to the NCAA Tournament since 2016. Bloomington is always praying for a return to past glory days, and second-year head coach Mike Woodson has greatly improved this program from where it was when he took over but is Indiana ready to make a run at a national championship?
Last National Championship: 1987
Last Final Four: 2002
2023 Title Odds: +4000 (as of March 8, 2023)
Why Indiana Will Make a Run
Trayce Jackson-Davis is a special player. He’s one of 25 scorers in the country averaging better than 20 points per game, and he does it with such efficiency. Jackson-Davis shoots nearly 57 percent from the floor, and if he gets the ball anywhere close to his favorite spots, you might as well turn around and jog back. The veteran is also an elite rebounder and rim protector – he’s second in the Big Ten in rebounds per contest (11.0) and first in blocks per outing (2.75). If you want to learn proper interior footwork, watch this guy. On both sides of the ball, Jackson-Davis dominates the paint.
Indiana emphasizes shooting from inside the arc, but because of Jackson-Davis and other interior helpers, the Hoosiers generally find decent space on the perimeter for their marksmen. The Hoosiers don’t take too many triples, but when they do, they’re among some of the best in Division I at connecting. Miller Kopp and Trey Galloway are especially lethal, averaging 45.2 and 47.5 percent from three, respectively. The success of Indiana’s offense is much more predicated on how it does from closer to the basket, but this team has the ability to make threes, and that’s crucial for winning a national championship.
Why Indiana Will Exit Early
There’s a big dropoff from Jackson-Davis to the rest of his teammates. That’s not to say Indiana doesn’t have other good players, because it does. But Jackson-Davis has an almost 30 percent usage rate for a reason, and he’s responsible for about one-third of the team’s rebounding and half of its blocks. He’s generally pretty good about defending straight up, but if an opponent were able to get Jackson-Davis into foul trouble or otherwise limit his effectiveness, that would put Woodson in an unfortunate spot.
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This team isn’t elite at anything. Jackson-Davis himself is an elite player, but the Hoosiers as a collective are not one of the top offensive or defensive teams in the country. They don’t dominate in any single category of the game – they’re just an all-around, solid side. That’s great, and it’s why Indiana is looking at a nice seed and expectations for a tournament run. To win the national championship, though, something about Indiana will have to transcend good and become great.
What It’ll Take to Win
If you’ve made it this far in this preview, then you already know the answer: Trayce Jackson-Davis. If it wasn’t for Zach Edey, Jackson-Davis would be the player everybody’s talking about in the Big Ten. The senior forward has been around the block and steadily improved through every season in Bloomington. In the Hoosiers’ First Four victory over Wyoming in last year’s tournament, Jackson-Davis had 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and nine rebounds. In the team’s defeat to St. Mary’s in the next game, he had 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and five rebounds. Indiana will need more of the first, and less of the second, to win the national championship.
Injuries have befallen the Hoosiers this season. Xavier Johnson broke his foot in December, and Galloway and Race Thompson both missed games at points of the year. Without Johnson, an already-thin frontcourt became thinner, and dealing with pressure defense has stung the Hoosiers at times. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jalen Hood-Schifino has to be sure-handed, take good care of the basketball, and find ways to get the rock inside for Indiana to have any shot at a national championship win.