There's Always Next Year...

Malik Reneau and Xavier Johnson, Indiana Men's Basketball
Malik Reneau and Xavier Johnson, Indiana Men's Basketball / David Berding/GettyImages

It is safe to say that things did not go even remotely according to plan for the Indiana University men's basketball team in 2023-2024. From Xavier Johnson's sporadic injury issues to Mike Woodson's lethargic spirit to the entire team's inability to throw a rock in the ocean from deep throughout the year, this season dropped no shortage of obstacles in this squad's path. While the Hoosiers came together for one last late season surge, those obstacles proved to difficult to overcome in the end.

After the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal defeat to Nebraska and the ensuing announcement that the team would not accept an invitation to the NIT, all signs indicate that we have seen the last of the 2023-2024 Indiana men's basketball team. Unfortunately, that means we have seen the last of Xavier Johnson and Anthony Walker. It also probably means we have seen the last of assumed 1st round NBA draft pick Kel'el Ware, and potentially Mackenzie Mgbako as well.

Looking ahead to next season is easier said than done when the wounds of these losses are still so fresh. Furthermore, polarizing prospect Liam McNeeley's decommitment two weeks ago sucked the life out of this entire program. Suddenly, lofty daydreams of a sneaky championship contender for the 2024-2025 season were abruptly awoken. With so much negative energy, it has become difficult to produce a positive outlook for what is to come next year.

But if you delve as deep as you can into your glass half full inner self, it becomes a bit easier to envision positive vibes ahead. It was tough to witness our guy Malik Reneau's tears (15.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 2.7 APG on shooting splits of 55.8% FG/33.3% 3/68.3% FT), but you best believe that those emotions will trigger the ignition of a fire inside of his soul. Anticipate a monster, we repeat MONSTER, campaign from Reneau next season.

Trey Galloway and Anthony Leal announcing their returns for a 5th season did a lot to bandage some of the lingering trauma from the McNeeley news. CJ Gunn closed the season on a high note (career-high 17 in the loss to Nebraska), and the hope is that he can make a leap next season similar to Reneau's this season. Gabe Cupps also played well in the finale, and his steady hand all season long breeds nothing but confidence for him taking a step forward next year as well.

Do not sleep on Jakai Newton, either. The electric combo guard was a top 100 recruit this season, and will join the aforementioned returnees to form a quietly deep backcourt rotation. Kaleb Banks and Payton Sparks should be back to offer support in the frontcourt, and if Mike Woodson can persuade Mackenzie Mgbako (12.2 PPG and 4.1 RPG on shooting splits of 39.5% FG/32.7% 3/82.1% FT) then the frontcourt depth chart could have some solid pieces returning next to Reneau.

This is not to mention the fact that Mike Woodson and his staff will now turn their full sights on recruiting. Not to count our chickens before they hatch, but it would not be insane to imagine them reeling in 3-4 quality pieces via the 2024 freshman class and/or transfer portal.

It was not all peaches and cream for the Indiana Hoosiers this year, but hey at least there is always next year...