Indiana Finally Looks Like a Big Ten Powerhouse Again

Morehead State v Indiana
Morehead State v Indiana / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

Indiana looks like Indiana again.

On Thursday night, the Hoosiers blasted Bethune-Cookman 101-49 to improve to 2-0 on the season. While neither victory has come over a powerhouse, it's clear Mike Woodson has a roster capable of competing for a Big Ten title this season. A squad loaded with experienced seniors and several uber-talented freshman has the Hoosiers dreaming of a deep NCAA tournament run.

Indiana is once again led by senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. A consensus preseason All-American, Jackson-Davis could become the first Indiana player to top 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. His surprising return to Bloomington -- along with that of fellow senior forward Race Thompson -- started the hype train running for the Hoosiers.

Point guard Xavier Johnson had a great run towards the end of the 2021-22 season and he returns as a potential All-Big Ten pick. Wing shooter Miller Kopp, smooth guard Tamar Bates and bench energy guys Trey Galloway and Jordan Geronimo round out the returning rotation players. While that's a lot of effective talent, they are not the reason fans are giddy about Indiana's chances this season.

Indiana's freshman class is among the finest in the country. Led by guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and forward Malik Reneau, the four-man group has loads of talent, upside and basketball IQ. Hood-Schifino is a 6-foot-5 playmaker NBA scouts are already drooling over. He's a steady ball-handler, an excellent passer and possesses a smooth pull-up game. His size and quickness help him on defense and he can already finish through contact at the rim. He won't be playing college basketball long, so enjoy him while you can.

Reneau has been the revelation of the early season. A 6-foot-9 forward who was teammates with Hood-Schifino at powerhouse Montverde Academy, Reneau has stepped on campus ready to play. In Indiana's opener against Morehead State, the lefty big man scored 15 points while adding five rebounds, an assist, a steal and two blocks in 17 minutes. He already has a Big Ten body and extreme confidence in his game. He'll be a sparkplug off the bench for Indiana this season and should be the team's best player next season.

If those two weren't enough, four-star forward Kaleb Banks and three-star shooting guard C.J. Gunn have both looked like they belong during limited action early. The thing is, Indiana is so deep this year that Banks and Gunn may not see the floor outside of mop-up duty.

Woodson's squad is built on defense first, as the Hoosiers led the Big Ten in defensive efficiency last season. If anything, they should be much better this time around. The offense should improve as well, simply due to experience and the addition of the talented freshman. Only one real question remains about this team's makeup and that is whether this Hoosiers team can knock down 3-pointers. It has been years since IU had players who could consistently stroke it from deep. Through two games, the Hoosiers are hitting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Caveats for a small sample size, but things look much better than they did a year ago.

Indiana has two Big Ten titles in the last 20 years. The 2013 and 2016 teams were excellent and won the conference outright each year. Neither squad was close to as deep, talented or experienced as the one Mike Woodson boasts this season.

That loaded roster will face a number of tests this season that should prepare it for March. The Hoosiers travel to Xavier next Friday, then on November 30 they welcome No. 1 North Carolina to Assembly Hall, in a game that should be an early-season classic. As if that wasn't enough, Indiana will meet Arizona in Las Vegas on December 10, and follows that up by facing Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse on December 17. And after all of that, the Hoosier get to run through the meatgrinder that is a full Big Ten slate.

While that schedule is certainly daunting, for the first time in decades, Indiana has the kind of roster to handle it. The team is built to withstand that sort of gauntlet.

In his first year at Indiana, Woodson made clear he believed in his players and they rewarded him by believing in themselves. The Hoosiers reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons in 2022. In Year 2, Woodson's squad is poised to take a massive leap forward.

Mike Woodson was hired to restore Indiana to the kind of powerhouse status it had when he played for the Hoosiers under Bob Knight. This season, he has the players to do just that.