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Indiana Basketball 2019-20 Preview: Forwards

The forwards of the 2019-2020 Indiana Hoosiers offer a mixture of talent, experience and untapped potential.

There are seven scholarship forwards on the roster, which includes the big men of the team.

  • Justin Smith, No. 3, Jr.
  • Trayce Jackson-Davis, No. 4, Fr.
  • De’Ron Davis, No. 20, Sr.
  • Jerome Hunter, No. 21, R-Fr.
  • Damezi Anderson, No. 23, So.
  • Race Thompson, No. 25, R-So.
  • Joey Brunk, No. 50, R-Jr.

With the majority of the roster being frontcourt players, it will give head coach Archie Miller some real flexibility with his lineups. At the same time, it might be a little difficult to divide the minutes among seven guys who all look to be a contributor of some kind.

Of the seven, Smith was the only player who was a regular starter last season as he started 32 of Indiana’s 35 games. Smith will receive serious consideration as a starter again this year and it is to be seen if two other forwards will potentially join him or if only one other will as it is possible that Miller uses a three-guard set in the starting lineup.

Let’s dive into what each player will bring to the table this year for Indiana’s frontcourt.

Justin Smith

As a usual suspect to the starting lineup a year ago, Smith will likely have a similar role this season. At the same time though, this is a crucial season for Smith, and his production is expected to improve dramatically as a junior.

Justin Smith takes a shot during Indiana’s NIT win over St. Francis last year. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Going into last year, Smith was considered to be a potential breakout candidate and emerge as the third option behind Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan. Smith had times where he looked like that player and other times where he really struggled.

Consistency was always the issue for Smith. Some games, like the wins over Michigan State, he would show the kind of threat he can be. In the first matchup, Smith recorded a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, in the second contest, he had a career-high 24 points. He also had some very tough stretches of poor play. In February, in a three-game stretch against Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa, he only scored two points in each game.

Regardless of consistency, potential and upside are sky high for Smith. The 6-foot-7 forward has tremendous raw talent and oozes athleticism. Prior to his sophomore year, Smith recorded a 48-inch vertical leap which broke the program record previously set by Victor Oladipo at 43 inches.

That athleticism showed most consistently a season ago in Smith’s rebounding ability as the third-leading rebounder on the team, averaging 4.5 boards per game. He also was the fifth-leading scorer for the Hoosiers, putting up 8.2 points per contest.

Smith has set a foundation of improvement from his freshman to sophomore year and with no Langford and Morgan ahead of him, if he puts it all together, Smith has a real opportunity to have a big year for Indiana.

Trayce Jackson-Davis

Jackson-Davis is Indiana’s newcomer with the most hype around him. He was the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball of Center Grove High School in Greenwood while also being named a McDonald’s All-American and consensus five-star recruit.

The freshman has a chance to make a legitimate impact on the Hoosiers in his first year. Beyond any particular skill, Jackson-Davis has, it is his height that allows him to stand out already. Being 6-foot-9, gives Miller some much-needed size that the team lacked a year ago.

Slotting Jackson-Davis in a lineup will also offer Miller flexibility to play him as a power forward or center. In his high school career, he was typically playing center, but in college he resembles more of a power forward.

Jackson-Davis is best known for his ability to be a great rim protector on defense and an efficient interior scorer. His mid-range and 3-point jumpers are not usual traits of his game, but he does run the floor well and can score in transition too.

In the secret scrimmage loss against Marquette, Jackson-Davis had 11 points and one rebound in about 17 minutes of play in his first collegiate game.

De’Ron Davis

After what has been a rollercoaster of a career for Davis, the senior could be primed for a big season to cap off his time as a Hoosier.

Davis had a solid freshman year followed by what could’ve been a standout sophomore season before a surgery for a torn Achilles kept him sidelined after 15 games. As a junior, he contributed some while still trying to fully recover from injury. Now, as a veteran and health concerns seemingly behind him, Davis can finally have his time to own the court.

In his junior season, he was one of the first guys off the bench, playing center in relief of Juwan Morgan. He provided quality minutes when he got in thanks to his soft touch around the rim and as an imposing force in the paint on defense with his 6-foot-10, 255-pound frame. Davis averaged 5.4 points per game with a 55% field goal percentage and chipped in 2.5 rebounds per game too. Those numbers should certainly increase with the bigger role Davis is expected to take on.

It will likely either be Davis or Brunk as the starting center of the team as they are the only two players on the roster who are 6-foot-10 or above. Even if he doesn’t end up starting, Davis should receive a big chunk of minutes and will be leaned on a lot. The need of size for this team that Davis fills cannot be understated.

This will be Davis’ last chance of his college career to have the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament, so that could certainly be a motivating factor for the senior as well. 

Jerome Hunter

Hunter is the biggest question mark of the entire Indiana roster, but for the first time, it seems as if the answers are starting to surface.

Hunter was a highly heralded recruit in high school as a Top-50 player and four-star small forward who was thought to have the ability to outplay his recruiting ranking. He was forced to take a medical redshirt last year because of leg surgery which caused him to miss the entire season.

Now, Hunter is fully participating in practice and has the green light to go in games too. In the Marquette scrimmage, Hunter had seven points, two steals and two rebounds in 14 minutes of action.

His role is very uncertain now, but Hunter will have opportunity to boost the minutes he gets throughout the course of the season if he plays up to his potential. It will likely take some time for him to emerge, but Hunter could end up being a very quality bench piece and under-the-radar weapon for Indiana.

Hunter should be able to provide Indiana with plenty of scoring, as he averaged 20.2 points per game as a senior in high school at Pickerington North in Ohio. Hunter could also assert himself and gain more minutes if he can stroke the 3-point shot well, one of his strengths to his game and a major weakness of Indiana as a team.

Damezi Anderson

Freshman year could be considered a learning experience for Anderson. The now-sophomore forward had his fair share of struggles in his first year, but he also showed glimpses of what can be with more development.

The 6-foot-7 small forward’s number of minutes was somewhat scattered throughout the season, averaging 9.6 minutes per game. Early on, when the team was really battling the injury bug, Anderson played 15 or more minutes in the first five games of the season. He only matched that amount of time on the court twice for the remainder of the season.

When he did play, Anderson scored 1.5 points per game on about 28% shooting from the field and 1.1 rebounds per game too. Anderson excelled when he had his 3-point shot rolling, as he did in against Jacksonville when he hit three 3-point jumpers for a season-high nine points. He also had four 3-pointers made and a team-high 14 points in the exhibition win over Southern Indiana to start the year.

Anderson’s opportunity to see the floor more will come if he can prove he can hit the triple consistently in game and if he can improve his defensive presence on the court.

With a crowded frontcourt, it may be difficult for Anderson to carve out a role, but he should not be doubted. With a year of experience under his belt and improvement from the offseason, he very well could surprise people.

Race Thompson

Thompson, like Hunter, suffered a freshman season marred by injuries. A groin injury along with a concussion sidelined Thompson for the majority of the season, but he did appear in nine games.

Thompson only played seven minutes per game in those nine appearances leading to pretty bare statistics, but Thompson had a standout performance against Wisconsin that proved his worth.

In a highly contested battle that ended up being a 75-73 double overtime win for the Hoosiers, Thompson played a career-high 21 minutes in his best game of the year. Tasked with guarding one of the nation’s top big men, Ethan Happ, Thompson kept the senior in check with great defense and grabbed seven rebounds too. Without Thompson’s contributions, Indiana doesn’t win that game.

Just as it is for the other guys on the roster, it is tough to project Thompson’s role due to there being so much depth in the frontcourt. If Thompson can show he can do what he did against Wisconsin on a regular basis, he will see the court more often.

Where Thompson can stand out is his defense and rebounding ability. His great size for a college power forward is what separates him as well. He is the fourth-tallest player on the team at 6-foot-8 and is 235 pounds.

Joey Brunk

Even if he is a Butler transfer, Brunk is very familiar with Indiana and should have an immediate role for the Hoosiers. Brunk is from Indianapolis and attended Southport High School where he was a 2016 Indiana All-Star.

Joey Brunk puts it in at the rim during this year’s Hoosier Hysteria on October 5th at Assembly Hall. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

At Butler, Brunk gradually improved in each of his two seasons after redshirting as a freshman. He really came into his own as a redshirt sophomore. In only 18.6 minutes per game he averaged 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest. Additionally, Brunk shot an impressive 61.7% from the field.

He now has two seasons of eligibility as a Hoosier and looks to make an instant impact. Brunk’s addition to the roster was huge, giving Indiana two legitimate centers on the roster, something they didn’t have a season ago.

He and Davis should complement each other well, even though it’s unlikely that they will ever share the court. When one of them needs a rest, Miller can sub in another 6-foot-10 guy in to play the five-spot. That luxury could end up paying dividends and result in improved rebounding totals from a season ago when the starting lineup’s two biggest players were both 6-foot-7.

It is tough to tell who will start between Brunk and Davis, but regardless, both will play big roles. Brunk should see a big spike in his statistics this season. He could be a difference maker for the potential of this Indiana team.

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