Indiana Basketball: Does Trayce Jackson-Davis make team a title threat?

Does the return of forward Trayce Jackson-Davis vault Indiana Basketball into the group of national title contenders for 2023?

Last week, Trayce Jackson-Davis altered the college basketball landscape when he decided to return to Indiana Basketball for another season. While Jackson-Davis didn’t have the best projections for the NBA Draft, his return to college could have a seismic impact.

The Indiana native has dominated since stepping foot in Bloomington. Last season, the forward averaged 18.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game en route to Second Team All-Big Ten status. The year before, he made the First Team All-Big Ten.

Jackson-Davis will be a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year, drawing from a wealth of experience and skill to be one of the best players in the conference. Frankly, he’ll be in the mix for the Wooden Award too. He’s not quite at the same level, but this is reminiscent of Luka Garza’s swan song with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

When Garza withdrew from the draft and returned to Iowa for his senior season, he was as dominant as expected. He was a consensus First Team All-American and won Big Ten Player of the Year for the second straight season.

The team side of things disappointed, though. Iowa stated the season as the No. 5 team in the country, harboring national title dreams. They spent the entire season ranked as one of the top 15 teams in the country, but still left the NCAA Tournament in the first weekend, upset by the Oregon Ducks in the Second Round.

Can Indiana right Iowa’s wrongs from two years ago?

Does the return of Trayce Jackson-Davis vault the Indiana Hoosiers into the group of national title contenders for 2023?

Last season, Mike Woodson guided the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament – barely – during his first season at the helm. Indiana went on to win its First Four game against the Wyoming Cowboys before falling to the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the First Round.

That finish probably makes Indiana a top 35 team at the end of the season. They are boosted by the return of all but one starter from last year, as well as a few prized recruits in Malik Reneau and Jalen Hood-Schifino, enough to make Indiana a top 25 team.

Continuity should help the Hoosiers. Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson have proven to be a dynamic duo, particularly on the pick-and-roll.

Part of Indiana’s ceiling inevitably is linked to the ceiling of other teams. In the Big Ten, opportunity is there. While Indiana returns most of its core, other top teams like Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan have lost at least a couple of their best players.

National contenders, though? It’s too soon to go that far. Jackson-Davis is a star and Thompson is a good sidekick, but the Hoosiers don’t have the top-level talent across the board to compete with the best in the country, unless some of the freshmen are ready to contribute quickly in a major way. Indiana feels more like a Sweet Sixteen team.

That doesn’t mean Jackson-Davis can’t take another major step forward and lead this team further, or guide the role players to make a bigger impact. The most likely scenario, however, is that Jackson-Davis brings the Hoosiers back to prominence at the national level, which will they elevate the program’s future prospects, particularly on the recruiting trail.

Regardless, Indiana’s ceiling is higher than it’s been in a long while thanks to the return of Trayce Jackson-Davis. His presence makes the Hoosiers a must-watch in the 2022-23 season.