No. 13 Indiana must manage expectations as Big Ten favorite

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Trayce Jackson-Davis spent three seasons putting a personal mark on Indiana’s revered program.

He came back to hang some banners.

With Jackson-Davis leading the way, No. 13 Indiana enters this season as the Big Ten favorite and amid the kind of soaring expectations coach Mike Woodson promised to bring back to his alma mater when he took the job last year.

“I think I have kind of set the stone of my individual legacy, being an All-American and doing all of those things, but those don’t really matter if you don’t win something here,” Jackson-Davis said. “Winning is a big thing here, so winning a national championship and also winning a Big Ten title, those are my two main goals this year.”

Jackson-Davis certainly has done his part.

If the fourth-year forward stays healthy and productive, he should become the school’s sixth 2,000-point scorer — a club occupied by Woodson and AJ Guyton, the most recent inductee in 2000. He’s on pace to become the fourth player to top 1,000 rebounds and the first in school history with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Plus, he could finish as Indiana’s all-time leader in blocks.

Heck, he even begins this season as the preseason choice to win Big Ten player of the year honors.

But Jackson-Davis and his teammates insisted personal awards aren’t their motivation. Not now.

After making their first NCAA Tournament appearance and winning their first tourney game in six years, the Hoosiers have higher aspirations — like ending a 19-year Final Four drought or winning their first national title since Keith Smart’s famous title-clinching shot in 1987.

Woodson doesn’t discourage such talk, instead, he wants it to become an annual discussion — just like it was when he played for coach Bob Knight. That’s because Woodson, like Jackson-Davis, recognizes Indiana basketball measures legacies in championships.

“My senior year we were ranked No. 1, didn’t work out that well for me. I mean, we didn’t win the national title,” Woodson joked. “It’s my job to get this team to play at a level every night and put them in a position to win every time they step out on the floor. That’s what it’s all about.”

Point guard Xavier Johnson made a smooth transition last season after leaving Pittsburgh. He became Indiana’s starting point guard, kept it all season and played his best basketball in February and March.

Getting him back for another year was unexpected. Wood believes Johnson is poised for a better year, following an offseason arrest for resisting law enforcement with a vehicle and reckless driving, The result: Johnson became a more committed player.

“He’s definitely taken a big-time step as leader,” third-year guard Trey Galloway said. “I think he’s done a great job of being more vocal. I think he’s done a great job talking with the younger guys, bringing them along.”

One question heading into each of the past two seasons was whether Jackson-Davis could expand his game with more jumpers and even some 3-pointers.

The problem: Indiana desperately needed Jackson-Davis’ presence inside. This year, with a larger cast of interior players, should help Jackson-Davis move away from the basket.

At 6-foot-8, forward Race Thompson returns for his sixth season and 6-10 center Logan Duncomb will likely make his college debut after sitting out last season. The Hoosiers also could find help with two freshmen — 6-9 forward Malik Reneau and 6-7 forward Kaleb Banks.

Miller Kopp is one of four returning starters as Indiana opens this season with seven of its top nine scorers back.

Still, expect the Hoosiers to have some impact freshmen. In addition to the two forwards, two 6-6 shooting guards could be in the mix — CJ Gunn and Jalen Hood-Schifino. Gunn averaged 23.5 points last season for Lawrence North in Indianapolis and some recruiting services consider Hood-Schifino the Big Ten’s No. 1 recruit.

Woodson made it clear from the start of his tenure, he wanted to beef up Indiana’s schedule. He has. In addition to the brutal conference gauntlet, the Hoosiers visit Xavier on Nov. 18 and Kansas on Dec. 17. They’ll also host preseason No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 30 and face Arizona in Las Vegas on Dec. 10. They open the season Nov. 7 by hosting Morehead State.

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