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Indiana basketball preseason roundtable

The 2018 Indiana basketball team. (Josh Eastern/HN)

The 2018-19 Indiana basketball season is finally upon us and it is juicy with plenty of intriguing storylines.

In year two of the Archie Miller era in Bloomington, the expectations are being raised from a season ago. With the duo of Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, the Hoosiers are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two seasons.

Without further adieu, let’s get into the roundtable. Contributing today is Josh Eastern, Teddy Bailey, Eddie Cotton and Michael Ramirez.

What is the ceiling for IU this year?

Eddie Cotton: Indiana may have the highest ceiling and the lowest floor in the Big Ten. That’s what happens when your success is so reliant upon newcomers. If Indiana’s freshmen class gels quickly and adjusts to the college game, then this team could genuinely contend for a Big Ten Title. If Indiana’s freshmen (besides Romeo) sit on the opposite side of the spectrum, then this team could be only a few wins better than last year.

Josh Eastern: This is a tricky question. Because IU hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, people want to see this team playing competitive basketball again in March. But this team has taken a fairly large jump from last season talent wise. For that reason, they shouldn’t have an issue making the Tournament, in my mind. But that shouldn’t be this team’s ceiling. With maybe one of the best duos in the country of Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan along with plenty of worthy role players, this team is capable of making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. More than that might be stretching a bit, but I think fans would be satisfied with a Sweet 16 run.

Michael Ramirez: In short, the national championship. This team has a lot of pieces both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench. Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan will be the anchors to this season’s team, and the Hoosiers also have graduate transfer Evan Fitzner — who has an absolute clip — entering the fold. Justin Smith will be a huge asset for IU to use at its disposal, and there’s a lot of optimism surrounding both Devonte Green, Rob Phinisee and De’Ron Davis. If things pan out in the Hoosiers’ favor down the stretch, late in the season, there’s no reason why this team can’t make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

Evan Fitzner competes during the shooting contest at Hoosier Hysteria. (Mark Timko/HN)

Teddy Bailey: A Big Ten championship. I try to stay away from including the NCAA Tournament in November ceiling predictions because it’s so centered on matchups. Look, the Big Ten is likely headed for another top-heavy year. Indiana has the talent to win the conference over the likes of Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska. It just depends how quickly the Hoosiers can put their pieces together. The November expectation for this team should be an NCAA Tournament appearance. Its ceiling is a Big Ten title.

Who will make the biggest improvement from last season?

Cotton: This question is too easy.

Justin Smith can legitimately jump out of the gym. Last year, he showed signs of being a top-level athlete in the Big Ten. He also showed a bit of inconsistency and fatigue towards the end of the season. He just needs the year of experience under his belt that he now has.  Archie Miller says it best:

“I think the biggest thing for Justin in my mind is to obviously use that great talent and athleticism and get points on the board. So many times I think a year ago you saw the explosive jump but you didn’t see the two points get on the board, or you didn’t get the and-one, you had to go to the foul line and maybe make one, which to me was a very young — a guy who was very young and talented, but at the same time adding the value of style over production, and I think that’s something we’ve really hammered home with him in terms of his concentration level because he could probably put four to five more points on the board for us this season with the amount of repetitions he’s going to get, the amount of minutes that he’ll get, where Justin has a chance to really be one of the best finishers in our league.”

Indiana freshman forward Justin Smith attempts a shot against Minnesota on February 9, 2018 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Smith had 9 points against the Golden Gophers, sparking his current four game hot streak (Mark Timko/HN)

Eastern: There are a number of guys who I think could have big seasons. But the one guy who will stand out above the rest is Al Durham. Last season we saw flashes of his potential as just a freshman. Now with a year under his belt with a chance to adjust to Archie and college in general, I’m looking for Durham to thrive. He scored 11 points in the secret scrimmage against Loyola Chicago and I would not be surprised if that was something we saw with more regularity in 2018-19.

Ramirez: Justin Smith was a monster by the end of last season, and he will be a reliable piece for IU in 2018-19 as well. His size and athleticism works really well in Archie Miller’s system, and I expect him to take a leap and average around 12 points per game. IU is going to demand more from him throughout the year, and that’s justifiable. There’s a ton of potential left for him to show this season. It’s also going to be really exciting to see him fly above the rim in Assembly Hall.

Bailey: Hardest question on here. I’ll say Devonte Green. We’ve seen what he’s capable of, but can he do it consistently, on both ends? He’s now a junior on a rather young Indiana team. First, Green must prove himself as Indiana’s starting point guard. I think he will do so quickly. He has the experience over freshman Rob Phinisee and the versatility and explosiveness over Al Durham. But for Indiana to reach its ceiling, Green must take the next step. That includes limiting turnovers and improving shooting. But he has no shortage of talent. Expect more from him in 2018-19.

Aside from Romeo Langford, which newcomer will make the biggest impact?

Cotton: Evan Fitzner is built like the prototypical stretch-four in college basketball. Fitzner brings size and much needed three-point shooting. The reason he is going to have the biggest impact is because of the style of play that Indiana will be able to play with him on the floor. He doesn’t need to fill the box score to make a difference. Just the threat of having a fourth shooter on the court will stretch the floor and make everyone else better.

Eastern: It’s already been harped on a little bit, but the energy that Jake Forrester is going to bring to the Hoosiers this year will be significant. I expect the Hoosiers to thrive off of that. When IU needs some momentum to go its way, expect Forrester to be someone who can come into the game and make an impact in the frontcourt. With IU wanting to play at a high tempo, Forrester has a chance to establish himself very quickly as a frontcourt player who gets a significant amount of playing time. He may not be the enforcing presence that De’Ron Davis is down low, but he is a key part to IU’s frontcourt depth.

Jerome Hunter drives to the basket during IU’s scrimmage at Hoosier Hysteria. (Josh Eastern/HN)

Ramirez: During Hoosier Hysteria’s three-point contest, I was mesmerized by the way Evan Fitzner constantly hit his shots, and that’s not something IU had last season. Now, they do. Fitzner will also be a guy who can come in and hit key shots when the Hoosiers need a big bucket. His consistency from behind the arc is something IU will need in big games against Duke, Marquette, Michigan and Michigan State. Miller brought him in to add leadership, a steady shot and great vision, and he’s going to bring it — it’s only a matter of when.

Bailey: Jerome Hunter. Aside from Langford, I think Hunter will make the quickest and most notable impact. By all accounts, he can do it all. At 6-foot-7, Hunter’s versatility is his greatest asset. He’s explosive and an impressive shooter for his height. He’ll also benefit from avoiding the same expectations of Langford. Yes, I think Evan Fitzner helps change Indiana’s offensive complexion this season. And Jake Forrester will bring much-needed energy — but are there minutes for him? To me, Hunter is the first freshman on the floor after Langford. We’ll see.

Storyline you’re most looking forward to?

Cotton: Rotations

Indiana has 12-13 players with a chance to fight for minutes. Miller has talked about it all off-season. He’s excited to have competition in practice and players fighting for playing time. What he also has is lineup versatility. I want to see Indiana play different guys based on the matchup. I want to see these rotations change all year. I want to know what Miller can do with all of these options at his disposal.

Eastern: Lineup rotations. I’m fascinated to see what lineups are used at certain times. Will the Hoosiers play small a lot? Can they play big? Do they have more outside shooting than last year? Is Juwan Morgan going to play the five often? These are all questions that can be answered by having versatile players on the floor. IU’s depth is something that they should be able to utilize more this season than last, and it will be interesting to see how Archie Miller mixes and matches his team.

Ramirez: I want to see how IU plays in big games, big moments etc. Who will rise to the occasion when the Hoosiers need them the most? They have the guys to do it, but I want to see who steps up in those big moments. Robert Johnson and co. couldn’t hit big shots when the team needed it the most last season, but this season should be different. The Hoosiers are going to need big-time plays especially against the likes of Duke and other tough road games. I think those big shots will be key especially in the race to win the Big Ten. Who is going to separate IU from the rest of the pack?

Bailey: Forgive the obvious, but how does Romeo Langford play in critical moments? How does he start the Big Ten season? His consistency is the most mesmerizing storyline for me. We all know what he can do, but does he struggle when it’s Michigan State and not Montana State? There are high expectations for him, it’s no secret. And freshmen generally do struggle at certain points in college basketball. The question for Langford is how he learns, develops, and responds when those moments occur.

Josh Eastern

I am a senior from Seattle, Washington majoring in Media. I am formerly of the Indiana Daily Student where I covered Indiana men’s soccer team and women’s basketball. You still can find me broadcasting for WIUX Student Radio and on BTN Student U outside of The Hoosier Network. Former intern at 710 ESPN Seattle and broadcaster for the Falmouth Commodores. Email: jeastern@thehoosiernetwork.com. Follow me on Twitter: @JoshEastern.

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