Hoosier Men's Hoops: Late 2023 Midseason Outlook

Malik Reneau, Gabe Cupps, Mackenzie Mgbako and Kel'el Ware, Indiana University Men's Basketball
Malik Reneau, Gabe Cupps, Mackenzie Mgbako and Kel'el Ware, Indiana University Men's Basketball / Gunnar Word/GettyImages

With the twilight of 2023 drawing near, we are starting to get a more vivid picture of how seriously we can take each college basketball team. We are now 12 games into the 2023-2024 campaign, and the Indiana Hoosiers have yet to turn any type of corner. Their 9-3 record is not too shabby on the surface, but it looks a bit less shiny when considering that the 3 losses were against their 3 toughest opponents to date (UCONN, Auburn, Kansas). Plus, the team has only outscored all of it's opponents by a mere 25 points, highlighting a shortage in true dominance against all 12 opponents.

The Hoosiers' collective shooting struggles, which have been the most glaring area of weakness all season, has been the team's most ongoing obstacle to success. If they can reverse that trend and garner the respect of opposing defenses from outside, it will only stand to improve their odds of winning games. They may have already initiated that reversal, as Indiana has shot an improved 36.6% (30/82) from downtown over the course of their last 5 games (including 12/24 in their last game against North Alabama). That may not be the most staggering of hit rates, but it is nonetheless a colossal improvement compared to the start of the season and has raised the team's cumulative percentage to 30.6 from 3. If they can continue on their current trajectory in the shooting department, it will open up a lot more room for the bigs to boogie down low in the bunkers. Kel'el Ware and Malik Reneau have been Mike Woodson's clear-cut best players, and have dominated the interior in spite of the team's rough shooting from the exterior. Mackenzie Mgbako, who was expected to be the team's best player and top shooting threat going into the season, has progressively grown since the start of the season. The team will need Mgbako and senior captain Trey Galloway (2/4 from 3 in each of the last 3 games) to supply more efficient splash rates from 3 in 2024. Galloway will also be relied upon as a source of playmaking within a thin backcourt (career high 9 dimes in the win over North Alabama).

That reliance on Galloway's playmaking should somewhat subside upon the return of fellow senior Xavier Johnson. The point guard has missed each of the team's last 6 games while dealing with a foot injury, and his return to action is still a question mark. It was recently confirmed that he had not even returned to the practice floor in the buildup to December 19th's victory over Morehead State. His status is currently unknown for the team's matchup with Kennesaw State this Friday (December 29th), though it is assumed he will probably miss his 7th consecutive game. Regardless of when he does return, his performance will be a major factor in how far this team can go. He is the engine of this automobile, and it goes without saying that he is anxious to get back on the court in his final collegiate campaign.

Assuming freshman Jakai Newton is unable to return to action this season, we should have a clear sense of what the rest of the season should entail a few games after Johnson's return. If he can return right at the start of 2024, that will give the team some time to re-establish chemistry prior to it's mid-January clash with Purdue. With the freshman Mgbako and Gabe Cupps gaining vital experience early on, they should begin to feel very accustomed to the collegiate level by that point. The two have logged massive minutes in year 1, and those reps should prove lucrative in the long run. Aside from them, other notable role players on the roster include Anthony Walker, CJ Gunn, Kaleb Banks, and Payton Sparks. Walker has been the best of the bench bunch thus far, thriving in his reserve role with the Hoosiers. Gunn has had some nice moments on both ends, and the sophomore will continue to be counted on for stout perimeter defense and spot-up shooting. Banks and Sparks will also need to remain ready as viable backup options in the frontcourt.

Indiana has one final non-conference game to tune things up for Big Ten conference play, with that one non-conference game also being the team's final contest of 2023. Step number one will be to close out the calendar year with not only a win, but a statement win against Kennesaw State (9-4 overall, 2-4 away). Step number two will be to build on the momentum from that game and make some noise right off the bat in 2024.