Indiana basketball postseason coach-up: Juwan Morgan

Indiana's Juwan Morgan dunks against Notre Dame's Martinas Geben (23) during the first half of a game this past season in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)

There was no more positive aspect to the Indiana University 2017-18 men’s basketball season than the improved play of junior forward Juwan Morgan.

He elevated himself from part-time starter to one of the most significant players in the Big Ten.

Regardless of his declaration for the 2018 NBA Draft recently, he will most certainly be returning for what should be a magnificent senior season.

“I think Juwan improved as much as any player in the country this past season,” Hoosier coach Archie Miller said in a release this week. “The rules are in place to allow an individual to get valuable feedback and we support Juwan in wanting to find out where he stands and learn what he needs to continue to work on in the eyes of key decision makers professionally.”

OK, whatever. Morgan will return to Bloomington before May 30 (the day he has to declare his intentions for next season) and he should be part of a Hoosier program that could take a massive step forward in national relevancy.

News-Sentinel.com reporter Tom Davis is going to take a look back at the highs and lows of each returning Indiana player from this past season and also address what they need to do to take the next step in their development.

Today’s Hoosier: Juwan Morgan

Next man up: Zach McRoberts

BY THE NUMBERS

Year: Senior (in 2018-19)

Height: 6-8

Weight: 230 pounds

PT (in 2017-18): 29.4 minutes per game, 31 games, 30 starts

Shooting: 57.9 percent overall, 30.2 percent from 3-point range, 63.1 percent from the line (43 of 61)

Rebounding: 7.4 per game

Assists: 47

Turnovers: 51

Blocks: 44

Steals: 37

Scoring: 16.5 points per game

EVOLVING STAR

As a sophomore, Morgan averaged less than eight points per game and didn’t start in 12 of Indiana’s 32 games.

Not having Morgan on the floor last season was unconscionable because he was not only the best player on his team but often the most productive player on the floor.

“I think he’s continued to grow,” Indiana senior guard Robert Johnson said of Morgan late in the season. “Every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he really found what he was good at and stuck to it and just tried to add things to that. But he always plays within himself.

“He’s a great player with a lot of different weapons and things that he can do, so when you do that and stay within yourself, you’re going to get good results.”

Morgan did that a lot this season.

He got off to a slow start over the initial three games, but kick-started his strong season with a 15-point, 10-rebound game against South Florida in mid-November and was an active force the remainder of the season.

He scored at least 20 points in 10 games this year and grabbed at least nine boards in 13 games.

Morgan closed the season with 15 points and nine boards in a Big Ten Tournament loss to Rutgers.

He earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors, which was more than likely due to his team’s finish in the league than his ability because Morgan was often dominant in league play.

“He’s had a great year,” Miller said late in the season. “I hope he’s rewarded for that in the next couple of weeks because he’s earned obviously an All-Big Ten player. If there’s a guy that’s more valuable to their team than he is to ours, that’s going to be debatable there.”

STEPPNG UP

The true definition of being a “team player” is sacrificing oneself for the good of the team and Morgan did that in early January when starting center De’Ron Davis suffered a season-ending injury.

Morgan was forced to play out of position (center), but did so admirably, particularly at the defensive end of the floor.

In the Hoosiers’ very first game without Davis, Morgan scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots to lead his team to a bounce-back road win at Minnesota, which followed one of the season’s worst performances by Indiana in a loss at Wisconsin.

Morgan scored in double figures in Indiana’s final 12 games, as he used his strength and athleticism on the block offensively, and worked tirelessly at the defensive end of the floor.

“I think Juwan is doing a really nice job right now,” Miller said early on in Big Ten play.

In conference play, Morgan increased his averages to nearly 18 points and eight rebounds per game and blocked 23 shots in 18 league games.

He was simply a beast to deal with during a lot of those January and February games, as both Miller and Johnson noted.

THE NEXT STEP

Morgan can declare for the NBA because he has that right, but he doesn’t possess the necessary skills to play at that level right now.

He was a dominant player for the Hoosiers, but he is a mediocre perimeter shooter (30.8 percent from 3-point range) and a poor ball-handler (more turnovers than assists), which are the two most required skills for a small forward to have.

“I think the one thing and moving forward an added element is consistency, maybe more from the perimeter, shooting the ball,” Miller said of Morgan’s game during the season. “I think right now he’s a better shooter right now than he was earlier in the season. He’s more confident in taking the shot in the games.

“But at the same time, being a guy that can really put the ball on the floor and get fouled, being a guy that can stretch the floor from behind the line I think is something that as he continues to work he’ll have kind of a full arsenal.”

With the return of Davis, coupled with the emergence of sophomore center Clifton Moore and redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson, Morgan will be utilized more on the perimeter next season and be able to show his off-season development in those areas.

Can he make himself into an NBA Draft selection in 2019? Possibly.

After watching the degree to which he improved last season, it is not unfathomable that he could take another step in that positive direction next year.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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