There's a certain irony in the inconsistency of Archie Miller's first season, given that his predecessor was terminated because of his inconsistent teams. Indiana beat Notre Dame on a neutral court, defeated the likes of Penn State and Maryland at home, but also somehow find ways to lose to Indiana State and Fort Wayne at Assembly Hall. All considered, this was not a "good" season by Hoosier standards, but that was the expectation coming in. The team was coming off an 18-16 campaign that also saw the departure of its three most talented players to the professional ranks. Out of the blue, this was not.
But this season should be a return to normalcy for the Hoosiers. The headline, of course, is the arrival of top prospect Romeo Langford. Langford is the #5 overall prospect in the 2018 class, and deservedly so. The long-limbed 6-5 shooting guard can score at all three levels, and to me he looks like a right-handed James Harden with his ability to get shots off quickly and score around the hoop. Give this guy an inch on the perimeter, and he's lethal.
Of course, body him up too much, and he'll score at the rim.
It's tempting to make Langford the story of Indiana's 2019 season. It very well might be the case. Brady Manek was a heck of a player for Oklahoma last year, but no competent season writeup of the Sooners could be anything less than 75 percent Trae Young content. Langford might be that good.
But, I do not think that's appropriate in this case, and not because I have doubts about Romeo Langford. It's rather than Juwan Morgan might be seriously underrated as a potential player of the year. And no, not just in the Big Ten.
Up until last season, Morgan had been a prototypical "garbage man" at IU. That's not pejorative, that's just the term I've come up with for a 4/5 type that shoots a high percentage on 2s because those looks tend to be dumpoffs or a byproduct of excellent offensive rebounding. A good garbage man is a defensive stalwart, plus rebounder, and if he's not a total dud at the free throw line he can really boost the team's overall efficiency. That said, they rarely end up on first teams.
Then last year, Morgan decided he was no longer about that life. His usage nearly doubled, and most importantly, his efficiency did not suffer for it. This despite the departure of those three aforementioned talents. Defenses keyed on Morgan, and he still shot over 60 percent on 2s. As a bonus, he hit nearly 40 percent of his 3s in conference play. His turnover rate plummeted. He drew more fouls. And he became one of the conferences best defenders, among the leaders in defensive rebounding, block, and steal percentages.
Short of a massive slide from other contributors, if Morgan just holds serve, and Langford ends up better than that, then it's hard to see how Indiana does not win the Big Ten. Beyond Langford, Indiana added a handful of 3 & 4-star types, mostly in the frontcourt. That's appropriate as Justin Smith is the only returning frontcourt player alongside Morgan that you want to see out there for 20+ minutes (no offense to Zach McRoberts, but ideally your starters can average more than one made field goal per game). And while the team is a little short in the sense no one is taller than 6-8, frankly, that's no longer the necessity it once was. Additionally, there's plenty of athleticism on the roster to make up for that.
What I will be keeping a close eye on this season for Indiana, now that talent is no longer an issue, is whether the defensive breakdowns that led to giving up 90+ points to both Indiana State and Fort Wayne will show up again. The Hoosiers were much better on that end in conference play, but quite a bit of that was driven by turnovers, which can be quite variable. In short, now that the Jimmies and Joes have arrived, it's time to evaluate the Xs and Os.