After solid season, Hoosiers enter an offseason of unknown

Trayce Jackson-Davis sent a love message to Indiana University basketball fans on social media the other day, also doubling as a goodbye message.

Although he could come back to Bloomington to play a bonus year because of the NCAA’s largesse in granting COVID-19 extra eligibility, if anyone was optimistic enough to think he would take it, this dashed the thought.

Jackson-Davis completed a magnificent all-around career in the Hoosiers’ NCAA tournament second-round loss to Miami and should next be heard from negotiating his way through NBA challenges.

Likewise, also out of time at IU are Race Thompson and Miller Kopp, other linchpins of the 2022-23 season’s 23-12 club. Jackson-Davis was a unique, all-around talent, an agile 6-foot-9, high-leaping player who improved all four years until he was chosen a first-team All-American this winter.

Every Hoosier player felt they had it in them to last a little bit longer in the NCAA tournament, but just as often occurred in regular-season games, flashes of smoothness were counteracted by lulls in performance, and the Hurricanes just moved farther and farther away in the late going.

As a grade, in coach Mike Woodson’s second season, the Hoosiers probably deserve a B. The loss of starting guard Xavier Johnson to a broken foot rearranged the lineup and diminished bench strength. Johnson has applied for a medical redshirt, but there is no guarantee the NCAA will grant him another year since he played in 11 games.

Johnson’s injury forced the hurry-up development of guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, the Big Ten’s freshman of the year. The 6-6 newcomer averaged 13.5 points a game, and his potential is enormous. So much so that there has been recent talk Hood-Schifino is now on pro teams’ radar screens for the upcoming draft.

These days, in the free-for-all that is college basketball recruiting and with the wide-open transfer portal, this illustrates how a solid freshman group brought in this year — Hood-Schifino, Malik Reneau, Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn — can be meaningless. Will any or all of them stick around for four years? No way to predict.

True-believer fans don’t want to hear what might determine that is how much money a player can make through Name and Image Likeness. Their decision might not be made based on how cozy Bloomington feels or how much faith he has in Woodson.

Trey Galloway will likely be around. Tamar Bates could be, but he has a baby girl who is cared for most of the time by family in the Kansas City area. Will that influence his geographic future? Bates is due for a breakout season at IU after an up-and-down year. Likewise, Jordan Geronimo, afflicted with a series of injuries.

Woodson has espoused the next-man-up theme of the NFL. He is correct in that no one offers sympathy if a team is short-handed for a game. Fans sometimes forget that a few months ago, Jackson-Davis sat out three games with back woes. Thompson missed weeks with a knee injury. Galloway was hurt way back, too. Only Bates, Kopp and Reneau appeared in all 35 games.

Maybe if everyone had been perfectly healthy all season, the Hoosiers would have won more games. Maybe.

The transfer portal had more than 600 players listed recently, though it has been in the 1,000 range in previous years.

Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino just took the St. John’s job and informed many potential holdovers they would not be welcome next season. Translated, that means he doesn’t think he can win with them. He said he will bring in six to eight players. Where to shop for instant help? Costco? Walmart? The recruiting trail? No, the transfer portal. A coach can build in a hurry if the shelves are well-stocked.

People come and go so quickly on college basketball rosters, it’s difficult to keep track. It’s also tough to project how things will work out. Remember Rob Phinisee, the four-year IU player who transferred to Cincinnati this year? Broke his foot in December, played in 12 games, averaged 1.7 points.

It used to be that when a coach gave a scholarship to a freshman, it was expected the player would mature over time, repaying a long-term investment. Now, a coach may have to start over every season, blending material over months instead of over seasons.

This is the world Mike Woodson lives in.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]