In one of the most surprising results to date in the college basketball season, Indiana went to Iowa City on Jan. 21 and upset No. 4 Iowa, 81-69. The Hoosiers held the Hawkeyes to a season-low point total and won by 12 after kenpom.com had projected a 10-point Iowa win. Iowa's All-American candidate Luka Garza finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but his foil, Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis — an All-American candidate in his own right — had 23 points and seven rebounds.
It took a team effort by the Hoosiers to pull off such an emphatic win, but Jackson-Davis is the centerpiece of the team and the engine that makes such a win possible.
In a Big Ten that's loaded with premier individual talent — namely, Garza, Illinois's Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, Purdue's Trevion Williams and Michigan's Hunter Dickinson, among others — Jackson-Davis is one of the conference's brightest stars, which could earn him All-America honors in the spring. Here's what makes Jackson-Davis so effective on the court.
He's a focal point on set pieces
If you watch Indiana with any regularity, you'll notice that the Hoosiers' plays and sets at the start of halves, coming out of a timeout, or on a baseline out-of-bounds play are often geared toward Jackson-Davis. Heck, it might only take watching one Indiana game to notice this.
On this baseline out-of-bounds play (or "BLOB") against Iowa, Jackson-Davis simply cut through Iowa's defense, received an easy lob pass over Luka Garza and put it back up for a quick two.
The next game against Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights deployed a 2-3 zone on the Hoosiers' last possession of the first half, when Indiana lined up both of its starting frontcourt players — Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson — near the left block as Indiana worked the clock. Indiana guard Al Durham ran through the center of Rutgers' defense with hands raised, followed by Thompson moving into the center of the lane, which pushed the Scarlet Knights' back line forward, allowing a clear lane for Jackson-Davis to receive and finish an alley-oop, cutting the deficit from five to three in the closing seconds of the half.
Good luck guarding him without fouling
Through Jan. 24, Jackson-Davis is drawing an average of 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes, which ranks 10th in the country. The sophomore averages 33.6 minutes per game, which means he's drawing nearly 6.5 fouls per game. That many fouls drawn, especially for a low-post player, means free-throw attempts and lots of them.
Jackson-Davis is attempting 8.9 free throws per game and his free-throw rate, which measures free-throw attempts compared to overall field-goal attempts, is 67.3 — one of the 35 best rates in the country. While Indiana's big man is a slightly below average free-throw shooter at 67.6 percent (the national average is roughly 70.5 percent), he still gets to the line so often that he's averaging six made free throws per game.
Through Jan. 24, Jackson-Davis leads the country in free-throw attempts (142) and he's second in makes (96).
Defenses are faced with the following dilemma: Do you let the 6-9 Jackson-Davis shoot around the rim, where he's making 64.3 percent of his attempts, per hoop-math.com, or do you foul him?
He has a high usage rate, but is efficient
Through Jan. 24, Jackson-Davis's usage rate is 31 percent, which means that on nearly one out of every three possessions when he's on the floor, Indiana's possession will end with a made shot from a sophomore, a missed shot from Jackson-Davis that is rebounded by the defense, or a turnover from him. His usage rate ranks 33rd nationally, so a very select group of players in the country are relied upon more heavily than the Hoosiers' sophomore big man.
Despite shouldering such a heavy load, Jackson-Davis still operates efficiently. With an offensive rating of 107.8, he's still above the national average of 101.8, and in his most efficient games, he has had an offensive rating north of 115 — against Stanford (140), Tennessee Tech (125), Penn State (122), Florida State (117) and Northwestern (117). He's averaging a team-high 20.8 points per game on 53.6-percent shooting from the field.
Jackson-Davis is not a 3-point shooter, and he's not attempting to be one. He has yet to attempt a three in 48 games at the college level, so while not attempting any 3-pointers could potentially put a ceiling on his efficiency numbers, it also keeps him where he's most effective, and that's around the paint.
His effective screens
For as large of a percentage of Indiana's possessions that culminate with Jackson-Davis getting the ball, he can also be an effective screen-setter. He often draws his defender further from the basket than he otherwise would've been, getting a Hoosier guard in an advantageous mismatch.
On the possession below against Iowa, Jackson-Davis screened Iowa's Jordan Bohannon, allowing Indiana's Rob Phinisee to drive into the lane, where two Hawkeyes collapsed on him, leaving Indiana's Jordan Geronimo open on the baseline for a bounce pass and a wide-open dunk.
After setting a screen for teammate Rob Phinisee on the possession below against Rutgers, Jackson-Davis received a pass at the top of the key, as the Hoosiers' action continued. After surveying the court and sensing an open lane to the basket, Jackson-Davis capitalized on Rutgers center Myles Johnson taking a swipe and the ball and missing, then falling off balance, so Jackson-Davis drove to the rim and finished off the glass, while drawing a foul against Johnson.
He's got a track record of impressive rebounding numbers
Through the first half of the season, Jackson-Davis has recorded double-doubles of 25 points and 17 rebounds against Florida State, 22 points and 15 rebounds against Maryland, 23 and 12 at Wisconsin, 26 and 11 versus Tennessee Tech, and a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double against Nebraska.
He's leading the team with 8.7 rebounds per game.
He's averaging just shy of nine rebounds per game, but he has proven capable of rebounding nearly twice as many rebounds as that in a single game this season. On a percentage basis, he's the team's best offensive and defensive rebounder, as he grabs 20.8 percent of available defensive rebounds and 9.4 percent of Indiana's missed shots on offense.
Jackson-Davis has the frame — 6-9 and 245 pounds — and the athleticism to display a combination of physicality and finesse, depending on his matchup and opponent.
He's the team's best rim protector
Jackson-Davis has a block rate of 6.3 percent this season, which means that he has blocked roughly one out of every 15 shots inside the arc that Indiana's opponents attempt. That rate ranks just outside of the top 100 nationally, so in addition to carrying one of the largest offensive loads in the nation, Jackson-Davis also anchors the Hoosiers defense at the rim.
He averages just shy of two blocks per game and he has had as many as five blocks in a game this season, which he had against Butler in the Crossroads Classic.