Indiana has announced senior-to-be Justin Smith has graduated and will transfer. Smith was the team's third-leading scorer last season, averaging 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Despite his outstanding athleticism and defensive prowess, Smith was maddeningly inconsistent at times for the Hoosiers. While his departure will hurt, it could also open up a ton of possibilities for head coach Archie Miller.
During his three years in Bloomington, Smith showed flashes of brilliance. But all-too-often he disappeared during key segments of games. He also never developed as an outside shooter despite a desire to play on the wing. As a junior he only hit 26.3 percent from 3-point range. Smith was an excellent defender but also drifted in games at times on the defensive end. He also drifted from the wing spot to power forward, with neither spot being a great fit.
Losing Smith is a bit of a blow, but at the same time it creates some exciting opportunities. Redshirt junior Race Thompson has struggled with injuries during his first two seasons, but when the calendar switched to 2020, the Minnesota native seemed to find his legs in the Big Ten. While his raw numbers weren't impressive at first glance, Thompson provided a ton of energy on both ends for the Hoosiers. He was also an excellent rebounder, with a knack for finding the ball on defense. With more development and playing time, Thompson should be a better fit at the power forward spot than Smith was.
The other player sure to benefit from Smith's departure is redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter. After missing his entire freshman season due to a serious leg injury, Hunter eased his way back into action last season. A former top 60 recruit, Hunter took on more responsibility as the season went along. He hadn't been able to work out for an entire year when injured, so he was re-learning how to play basketball last season. With an offseason to work out and expand his game, Hunter could wind up being a better wing than Smith due of his shooting ability. With Hunter in the lineup, Indiana might finally be able to spread the floor, something the team hasn't been capable of doing since Miller's arrival in 2017.
Incoming freshman Jordan Geronimo is likely to benefit from Smith's exit as well. Geronimo is a 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing with excellent athleticism. He's a solid shooter and driver and was named Gatorade New Hampshire Player for the 2019-20 season. He'll come in and have a chance to compete for time with Smith gone.
It's never ideal for a senior to leave, especially one who has racked up as many minutes as Smith has. But Indiana had success going smaller during the 2019-20 season and some of their best lineups featured Thompson and Hunter with Smith off the floor. Those lineups were more versatile and showed a ton of toughness. This could be a chance for both players to step up and give Miller and his staff more flexibility.