Hoosier Men’s Hoops Progress Reports: Grading the Guards

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2023/10/20: Indiana University basketball player Trey Galloway (32) is introduced during the Indiana high school basketball tournament (Hoosier Hysteria) at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2023/10/20: Indiana University basketball player Trey Galloway (32) is introduced during the Indiana high school basketball tournament (Hoosier Hysteria) at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Reminiscing back on the rich history of the IU men’s basketball program yields plentiful memories of graceful play from the guard spots. Names like Isiah Thomas, Jordan Hulls, Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. are just a few of the more prominent players to claim starting backcourt duties during their Hoosier tenures. A few months back, we bore witness to the team’s 2022-2023 starting point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino hearing his name called just outside of the lottery in the NBA draft. Bloomington may attract copious amounts of students year in and year out, but the college town has simultaneously developed into a magnet of sorts for high-end ballers in the backcourt.

However, six games have come and gone in the current campaign and none of the smaller guys have stolen any sort of spotlight. That judgment may be premature, but with such an adolescent group it is essential to constantly monitor the progress of each fish in the school. With that in mind, today we are delving into the early season progress reports for the five Hoosier guards who have been in the rotation.

Gabe Cupps IU
Gabe Cupps, Indiana University Men’s Basketball (Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images). /

Xavier Johnson | GRADE: B- | 6 GP/6 GS | 24.8 MPG | 10.5 PPG | 2.2 RPG | 2.2 APG | 48.6/50/80%

Voted a preseason Big-Ten second teamer, there were high hopes for Johnson’s return to the helm. Unfortunately, the output has not exactly been satisfactory through the first six games. To begin, it has been an extremely up and down start for him. He had a few solid outings against Army and Louisville, but his performances in the games sandwiched between those showings were hardly spectacular. Plus, he is now dealing with a potential injury setback with no confirmed status for his return announced yet.

He has kept his turnover numbers in relative check, provided steady point of attack defense, and overall brings a sense of calm when he is on the floor. If he can keep those things up, boost his consistency and avoid the injury bug, he could still be in store for a solid senior send off.

Trey Galloway | GRADE: C | 6 GP/6 GS | 33.2 MPG | 8.7 PPG | 2.0 RPG | 3.0 APG | 44.2/16.7/64.7%

Galloway has always been known more for his energizing efforts than his ability to put the ball in the hole. And while no one may have been expecting him to be the guy with the rock in his paws at the end of the clock and the team down 1, surely most (if not everyone) expected more of a leap in his scoring numbers from a season ago. That has simply not been the case through six competitions.

He is still supplying his usual undying energy on both ends of the floor, but Mike Woodson and his coaching staff are going to need more from him if this team is going on any type of run come March. The bigs currently feasting down low are going to find much less space to maneuver within if the guys on the perimeter are not knocking down shots, and that starts with Galloway.

With his senior running mate Johnson possibly hitting the shelf for who knows how long, now is the time for Trey Galloway to make his leap.

Anthony Leal | GRADE: F |1 GP/0 GS | 6 MPG | 0 PPG | 1 RPG | 1 APG | 0/0/0% 

With inbound freshman Jakai Newton sidelined indefinitely due to a pre-existing knee ailment, the team was going to need someone to step up. Heading into his senior season, former 2020 Mr. Basketball in the Hoosier state certainly fit the description of someone who could help. Primarily renowned for his ability to shoot the ball, Leal’s high school success just has not translated to the collegiate level.

While he has suited up just once so far in 2023-2024, he must remain ready with Johnson’s present dilemma. It is no secret that the team is hurting for shooting, but it is Anthony Leal’s responsibility to maximize any opportunity to play that he receives. If his name is called and he is not hitting shots, he will more than likely find himself right back on the bench.

CJ Gunn | GRADE: D | 6 GP/0 GS | 11.8 MPG | 3.2 PPG | 0.7 RPG | 0.3 APG | 36.4/0/75%

Gunn is by no means a shooter, and at this point he is not even confusing anyone for a scorer. His offensive game is incredibly raw and unrefined, but it is his defensive activity that will continue to earn him playing time.

While he has played in each of the team’s six games to date, the box scores from those contests are hardly evidence of his being on the court. Aside from an eye-catching four steals in the loss to UCONN recently, he needs to do more to make his presence felt.

Gabe Cupps | GRADE: B | 6 GP/0 GS | 18 MPG | 2 PPG | 1.8 RPG | 1.7 APG | 27.3/28.6/100%

When you peep the statline above, you might grow a tad confused when deciphering how this true freshman has earned the best grade of the bunch. Coach Woodson said it best in stating that Gabe Cupps “does not play like a freshman”. The early season shooting struggles are to be expected of a player adapting to a new pace of play, and with a stroke as sweet as his it should only be a matter of time before the shots begin to fall.

For the time being, the entire program is counting on Cupps to continue doing the little things while he figures the bigger things out. Whether it be orchestrating the offense, diving for loose balls, or harassing opposing ball-handlers full court, he really just needs to keep things simple for now.

If Johnson is forced to miss any action, it would be assumed that Cupps would slot into his starting spot until his return. That hands-on, “thrown into the fire” scenario would undoubtedly be challenging for the young point guard. However, he has shown a willingness to do what his team needs of him, and that type of educational experience could lead to his seemingly inevitable blossoming.