Indiana basketball: Could the Hoosiers bring home banner number 6?

BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 18: General view of the championship banners hanging at Assembly Hall before the game between the Indiana Hoosiers and Northwestern Wildcats on January 18, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 18: General view of the championship banners hanging at Assembly Hall before the game between the Indiana Hoosiers and Northwestern Wildcats on January 18, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

After beating Wyoming in the First Four play-in matchup of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, Indiana basketball fell to 5-seeded St. Mary’s in the first round. Could this potentially equate to an Indiana championship run in the 2023 NCAA Tournament? We take a realistic approach as to what it takes to win a national championship in college basketball nowadays and how Indiana basketball could compete for a title in April.

The previous four National Champions all lost in the first or second round in the NCAA Tournament the season prior to their championship run. In 2021, three-seeded Kansas (2022 Champs) lost to six-seeded USC in the second round; 9-seeded Baylor (2021 Champs) lost to 1-seed Gonzaga in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament; No. 1 overall Virginia (2019 Champs) lost to 16-seeded UMBC in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament; and in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, No. 1 overall seed Villanova (2018 Champs) lost to 8-seeded Wisconsin in the second round.

What qualifies as a championship-caliber team in college basketball?

After researching the recent title winners and asking around to other Hoosier fans, a college basketball program that has the best chance to win a title has basically five key factors: great leadership (coaches and players), top talented guards, consistent shooting (mid-range and three-point), usually a Naismith Player of the Year (NPOY) Candidate OR bench player that can score 15+ points whenever needed, and a strong defensive unit. Let’s take a look back at the last four National Champions:

2021-22 Kansas Jayhawks

  1. Great Leadership: Head coach Bill Self has 29 years of college coaching experience and currently holds a 55-21 (.724) NCAA Tournament record. Ochai Agbaji was the senior leader last season and led the team in scoring, three-pointers made (3PM), and minutes played.
  2. Top Talented Guards: Ochai Agbaji averaged 18.8 points and 2.6 3PM & Remy Martin averaged 14.0 points and 1.6 3PM during the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
  3. Consistent Shooting: The Jayhawks shot 47.6% from the field & 36.1% from three-point range, being one of five teams in all of college basketball last season with a FG% of 47% or higher and 3P% of 36% or higher.
  4. NPOY Candidate/Bench Scorer:  Ochai Agbaji was a top 4 finalist for the NPOY Award & 2022 Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Along with Agbaji, the Jayhawks had Remy Martin off the bench who scored 15+ points in seven games in 2021-22 (three games during the tournament).
  5. Strong Defensive Unit: The Jayhawks allowed opponents to shoot just 34.3% from the field in its six NCAA Tournament games, which is the lowest opponent FG% allowed (min. 6 games) in the NCAA Tournament since UConn allowed its opponents to shoot just 34.2% from the field in 2011.

2020-21 Baylor Bears

  1. Great Leadership: Head coach Scott Drew has 20 years of college coaching experience and holds an NCAA Tournament record of18-9 (.667). Jared Butler & Davion Mitchell combined to average 30.7 points, 10.3 assists, 4.7 3PM, and 3.9 steals during 2020-21 season.
  2. Top Talented Guards: Jared Butler won Big 12 Player of the Year and averaged 15.2 points and 2.3 3PM in 2021 NCAA Tournament, while Davion Mitchell averaged 11.0 points & 1.7 steals in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
  3. Consistent Shooting: The Bears ranked first in all of Division I college basketball in three-point shooting percentage (41.7%) and fifth overall in total three-pointers made (299).
  4. NPOY Candidate/Bench Scorer: Jared Butler finished as a top 5 finalist for the NPOY Award & won the 2021 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. Furthermore, the Bears had two players off the bench (Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer) who scored 15+ points off the bench a combined 11 games in 2020-21.
  5. Strong Defensive Unit: Prior to the championship game against Baylor, Gonzaga averaged 89.2 points in its five games to reach the final, then were held to a season-low 70 points in the championship game by Baylor’s stout defensive group.

2018-19 Virginia Cavaliers

  1. Great Leadership: Head coach Tony Bennett has 16 years of college coaching experience and, despite missing postseason play for the first time last season since 2013, holds a winning record of 16-9 (.640) in the NCAA Tournament. Junior leader Kyle Guy led the team in points per game, 3PM, and minutes played.
  2. Top Talented Guards: Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy combined to average 29.0 points, 7.6 assists, 5.3 3PM. When Jerome scored 10+ points and dished out 5+ assists in games during the season the Cavaliers were undefeated at 17-0.
  3. Consistent Shooting: The Cavaliers were 12-1 (.923) when knocking down 10+ three-pointers in a game in 2018-19, despite only making 10+ threes once (championship game against Texas Tech) during their championship run. Guy, Jerome, and Hunter combined to shoot 44.4% (16-for-36) from deep in the Final Four and Championship games.
  4. NPOY Candidate/Top Player: De’Andre Hunter averaged 15.8 points and 37.0 minutes in the tournament and finished in the top five for the 2018-19 Julius Erving Award. Kyle Guy won the 2018-19 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, averaging 21.3 points and 3.7 3PM in his last 3 tournament games.
  5. Strong Defensive Unit: Virginia ranked best in college basketball in opponents points per game (56.1) and was the only team during the 2018-19 season to rank top five in opponent FG%, opponent 3P%, and opponent PPG.

2017-18 Villanova Wildcats

  1. Great Leadership:  Head coach Jay Wright retired from college coaching this past season after 28 years of coaching (21 years with Villanova) and had a tournament record of 34-16 (.680). The starters consisted of juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, along with senior forwards Eric Paschall and Phil Booth (5-year senior). Brunson, who won a championship with the Wildcats as the second leading scorer in 2016-17, led the team in scoring, assists and averaged just 1.8 turnovers.
  2. Top Talented Guards:  Jalen Brunson averaged 18.9 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.1 3PM during the 2017-18 season, while Donte DiVincenzo averaged 15.0 PPG and 2.8 3PM during the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
  3. Consistent Shooting:  Mikal Bridges made 4+ three-pointers in 13 games during the 2017-18 season and is one of four players in college basketball since 1996-97 to shoot 50.0% or better and make 100+ 3PM in a single season. Adding to that, Donte DiVincenzo made 2+ threes in 25 games in 2017-18 and the Wildcats were 23-2 (.920) in those games.
  4. NPOY Candidate/Bench Scorer: Jalen Brunson won the 2017-18 NPOY Award, 2018 Bob Cousy Award, and Big East Player of the Year in 2017-18. Although Brunson led the charge, Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench and scored 31 points in the title game and scored 15+ points off the bench in 10 games (three tournament games) in 2017-18.
  5. Strong Defensive Unit: The Wildcats held opponents to under 80 points in 11 straight games (all wins) to finish the 2017-18 season. In Villanova’s 36 wins that season, they allowed just 68.4 PPG on 42.2% shooting from the field and 30.1% from three-point range.

How does Indiana basketball stack up as a potential championship contender in 2023?

2022-23 Indiana Hoosiers

  1. Great Leadership: Head coach Mike Woodson was 21-14 in his first season and reached the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals as the leading scorer for Bob Knight’s Indiana basketball team in 1978 and 1980. Trayce Jackson-Davis & Race Thompson are the returning seniors that combined to average 29.4 points, 15.6 rebounds, and both ranked top two on the Hoosiers in minutes played.
  2.  Top Talented Guards:  This is a BIG question mark for IU. If Jalen Hood-Schifino could turn into the missing piece needed as a playmaker and strong ball-handler in pressure situations, that gives the Hoosiers big upside. Xavier Johnson (averaged 12.1 PPG, 5.1 APG and 2.7 TOV) played like an All-Big Ten player last season AT TIMES, but also played like a freshman with his mistakes and out-of-control decision making.
  3. Consistent Shooting:  Another question mark for the Hoosiers as Miller Kopp transferred from Northwestern last season (averaged 2.1 3PM and 1.4 3PM in his sophomore and junior seasons) then came to Indiana and averaged 1.1 3PM and shot 36.1% from behind the arc. CJ Gunn seems to be the freshman that is coming in to provide a shooting burst that could be a huge difference maker, but this is the unknown for Indiana basketball who has not had a player make 60+ three-pointers in a single season since 2017-18 (Robert Johnson, 66 3PM).
  4. NPOY Candidate/Bench Scorer: Trayce Jackson-Davis is a potential top 4 candidate for the NPOY Award in 2022-23 and last season was awarded All-Big Ten Second Team. The bench unit will most likely have Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo (10+ points off the bench in four games), Tamar Bates (10+ points off the bench in four games), and even true freshman Malik Reneau could make a big impact backing up Race Thompson.
  5. Strong Defensive Unit: Indiana basketball ranked second in the Big Ten in total blocked shots (169) last season and Jackson-Davis averaged 2.31 blocks per game (BPG), which is the second most BPG average by a Hoosier since George Leach averaged 2.47 BPG in 2002-03. The Hoosiers were 16-3 (.842) when holding opponents to 65 or less points in a game last season.

Taking all of this into consideration, a lot of things must go right (along with a bit of luck) for Indiana basketball to bring home their sixth banner in IU history. With Mike Woodson at the helm, these are the biggest what-ifs for the upcoming season for Indiana:

  1. Trayce Jackson-Davis making 2 to 3 mid-range jump shots per game and improving his finishing around the rim.
  2. Race Thompson extending his range and becoming a consistent three-point threat.
  3. Xavier Johnson cutting down on turnovers and staying under control.
  4. Jalen Hood-Schifino making a larger impact than Rob Phinisee (transferred to Cincinnati) and Parker Stewart (transferred to UT Martin).
  5. Jordan Geronimo and Tamar Bates taking big leaps to contribute in winning ways more consistently.

The Indiana Hoosiers could make a run for the 2023 National Championship with these what-ifs being addressed, along with considering future match-ups against preseason favorites like North Carolina, Houston, Gonzaga, among others. The best-case scenario from a rational Hoosier fan would, and should, be a trip to the Elite Eight in 2023.

All statistics and analytics were gathered from ESPN, College Basketball Sports Reference and Stats Perform.