Hoosiers Could be in the Championship Hunt Next Season
First and foremost, there is no telling whether Mgbako, Ware, and/or even Reneau will take off for the NBA draft after this season. While Reneau seems like the longest shot of the trio to level up, Ware has been discussed in 1st-round territory all season long and Mgbako was a projected mid-late 1st rounder before the start of the season (a territory which he is inching closer and closer back towards with each and every game). Each of those 3 could rationally declare for the draft, however our gut tells us that they would each benefit greatly in terms of draft position (in the 2025 NBA draft) if they were to return for another round with Indiana.
Assuming they have those guys back, they would already have the foundation for contention. Plus, Liam McNeeley's dynamic scoring ability and flame-throwing potential from downtown could make him the perfect complement to Woodson's starting frontcourt. With all of the attention fixated on Ware and Reneau's "buddy ball" down low, McNeeley and Mgbako could feasibly feast on a surplus of outside looks. We have already seen how far Mgbako has progressed since the start of this season, and the sky could seriously be the limit for him in 2024-2025 if he does in fact elect to return. If all of the stars aligned and things clicked just right, there is no reason why he could not hear his name called in the lottery portion of the 2025 NBA draft.
While a majority of the scoring responsibility would be in the hands of those four gentleman, it would be the responsibility of the floor general Gabe Cupps to keep the choir in concession. The freshman has done little to yield any type of astonishment and/or aw this season, but the amount of reps that he has been getting in his true freshman season should pay massive dividends during his future. Expectations will surely rise for the point guard in 2024-2025, but he will not be looked upon to chip in a ton within the scoring department. The core 4 guys would do a lot of the heavy lifting in that area with a little help from guys like Newton and Gunn off the pine. As a result of the knee injury which will almost certainly keep him sidelined throughout this entire campaign, many fans have lost sight of just how talented Jakai Newton truly is. If you squint hard enough, his minuscule frame for a combo guard (6'3", 190 pounds) and extensive offensive bag resemble a young spawn of Cam Thomas (Brooklyn Nets). If he can provide the type of offensive bench boost next season that the Hoosiers have so desperately lacked this season AND Gunn can show improvements on both ends of the floor (especially defensively), next year's Hoosiers could be head-and-shoulders above this year's Hoosiers in terms of depth. Loop in a hint of size with Banks and Sparks along with contributions from whoever else Woody scoops up on the recruiting train (fingers crossed for Derik Queen), and you can vaguely start to picture the pieces of a championship puzzle.
There is a lot of time in between now and next season's tipoff, but with how things are spiraling for IU in the current campaign it is difficult not to get a bit ahead of ourselves. We might have to hunker down and brave a rough last two months of the 2023-2024 NCAA season, but stay patient Hoosier fans because this team could actually be a potential juggernaut in 2024-2025.