It was never going to be easy to replace Yogi Ferrell. For Indiana in 2016-17, the best option for the role was junior Josh Newkirk. After transferring from Pitt following the 2014-15 season, Newkirk sat out 2015-16 per transfer rules. It wasn't a bad deal for him as he was recovering from microfracture surgery on his knee and would likely have taken a medical redshirt if he had been eligible.
The downside is that injury limited his practice and his time as an understudy to Ferrell. Newkirk has never been considered a true point guard and his two years at Pitt he came off the bench, filling a combo or third guard type role for the Panthers. He was, however, Indiana's closest thing to a point guard. For that reason he was essentially thrown to the wolves this past season.
Was he awful? No. Newkirk led the team in assists to turnovers and found his confidence offensively the last dozen games or so after a bit of a mid-season slump. Was he good enough for what Indiana needed at the position? That's probably a no as well but there's plenty of blame to go around in a 16 loss season.
Here's a look at Newkirk's full season stats for this year and his two years at Pittsburgh. Note that he sat out 2015-16.
While his assists to turnovers were best on the team, that ratio was down from his sophomore season at Pitt and below what a good point traditionally will produce. His shooting from the floor was up some over his sophomore year, but 43.8 percent is something that can definitely be improved upon.
Best game(s): We'll go with two here. Newkirk had a career high 27 points on 9-for-14 field goals (4-for-8 3FG) and game saving buzzer beater in a February 1st triple overtime win over Penn State. You also have to like his 18 point, five assist game at Ohio State, one of just two road wins that Indiana earned this season. He played all but one minute that afternoon, making 6-for-10 shots including 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.
Best attributes: Newkirk has the best handle on the team and may be the team's quickest player. That's the main reason he was given the point guard role. He's also arguably the team's best driver to the basket and with a respectable jumper, defenders can't sag back to play his drive.
Biggest areas of needed improvement: His decision making has to improve. Too many drives that just weren't there or aggressive offensively plays at the wrong time of a game. Outside of his Penn State heroics, there were a fair amount of poor decisions with the ball late in games.
He can also get better defensively. For someone with his quickness he should earn more than 19 steals in 34 games. .
Leadership is another area that Newkirk can improve upon in his senior season. This past year was his first in an Indiana uniform but next year as a fifth-year player, he should have no excuses in this department.
Numbers worth knowing: In a nine-game stretch beginning the loss to Louisville at Bankers Life, Newkirk never scored more than single digits and made just 1-for-13 on 3-pointers over the stretch. Over his last 12 games he clearly found his confidence, averaging 12.6 points and shooting 21-for-47 (44.7 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
Notable quote: On fixing his jumper mid-season: "I want to thank coach (Tim) Buckley. We were working, getting in and getting up extra shots....it felt good. I want to thank my teammates for finding me in the right spots and I had the opportunity to knock down the shots and shot it with more confidence."
Comments:In an ideal world Newkirk might be a great fit as the first guard off the bench where he could move to point or take over a shooting role as the off guard. He has that kind of skill set. At the same time you see a lot of players through the years that become a much more mature player in their final year of college. With another fifth year guy back in the fold in Collin Hartman and the likelihood that Robert Johnson returns, Newkirk won't have to take on a lot of the team leadership, but how much he adds in that respect will go a long way to shaping his time and how well the season goes for Indiana.
One of the more interesting position battles in the fall to watch could be the one between Newkirk and sophomore-to-be Devonte Green. As a freshman there's no doubt that Green turned it over too often but he began to show the needed passing instincts and the moxy to make clutch second half plays --- so should be fun to see if these two can push each other to the level Indiana needs from a point guard to be successful.
After 3 OT win over Penn State:
After Big Ten tourney win over Iowa: