College basketball teams that find success in March typically have a core of experienced players to lead the way. Indiana has those players, which is why it was favored to win the Big Ten in the preseason.
Another substantial factor in deep tournament success is the emergence of young players. Freshmen and sophomores who progressively improve throughout the season end up playing key roles for teams that make runs in conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana's 86-70 victory over Ohio State saw three freshmen — Jalen Hood-Schifino, Malik Reneau and Kaleb Banks — combine for 44 of the Hoosiers’ points. IU’s promising youth players were instrumental in the team’s home win against the Buckeyes.
Hood-Schifino, the team’s starting point guard, torched the nets early. The freshman from Pittsburgh tallied 20 points and sank six 3s in the first half. After only scoring eight points combined against Minnesota and Michigan State, Hood-Schifino led the charge with a stellar performance against Ohio State.
While Hood-Schifino ran the show for Indiana, the play of Reneau and Banks became just as important.
Reneau was held to single-digit scoring in 14 consecutive games before having 10 points in Indiana’s win over Minnesota on Wednesday. He followed that performance with 15 points and eight rebounds on Saturday. After spending two months below the 10-point threshold, Reneau’s freshman campaign appears to be taking a turn for the better.
“Just calming down on the court, being calm when I'm out there, and just letting the game come to me,” Reneau responded when asked why he’s playing better.
Reneau contributed to IU’s continued paint dominance. The Hoosiers outscored Ohio State 38-34 inside, marking the sixth straight contest that Indiana overpowered its opponent in the lane. Reneau snagged four offensive rebounds and was responsible for six of Indiana’s 23 second-chance points.
Indiana dominated the interior despite more turmoil in its frontcourt rotation. It was announced an hour before tipoff that junior forward Jordan Geronimo re-aggravated a leg injury and wouldn’t play. Sophomore forward Logan Duncomb has missed two straight games with a non-COVID illness.
The injuries to Geronimo and Duncomb opened a window for Banks to earn legitimate playing time. Banks logged 12 minutes, the second-most he’s had this season and nine more than his previous high in conference play.
“It definitely was a challenge,” Banks said of having to wait to play extensive minutes. “It got hard. It was hard, but I stayed ready, just stayed the course, and eventually like tonight I got a chance.”
Banks had five points and seven rebounds in his time on the floor while scoring three of IU’s putback points. The 6-foot-7 freshman played more than 10 minutes against a Power 6 opponent for the first time in his career, and the results were positive. As Banks entered the Assembly Hall media room, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson applauded his effort, saying, “Way to play, son.”
“He's been patient with me,” Woodson said of Banks. “He's been very in tune to what we're doing in practice, in shootaround, walk-throughs. I thought it was time to give him an opportunity, and I thought he came out and played well for us.”
There’s no guarantee we'll see much more of Banks this season, but this performance gave him a case to be in IU’s typical rotation. The list of players at Woodson’s disposal for plug-and-play minutes grows by the game. Banks is a newfound piece of Indiana’s lineup puzzle, and he could continue to get legitimate big-game action should Geronimo’s injury be severe.
Hood-Schifino was already a leader who Indiana depends on to light the scoreboard up each game. What’s new is the support from Reneau and Banks. If the way they played Saturday becomes a trend, the rest of the Big Ten should be frightened.
The Hoosiers will likely return to the AP Top 25 come Monday. IU has now won five straight after a three-game losing skid to begin January. Indiana could become one of the hottest squads in the nation, in part because its freshmen keep ascending.