Speed Read: Romeo Langford
Assembly Hall has hosted some fantastic freshmen. In his first year, Isiah Thomas scored 14.6 points per game. (“From the minute he walked onto the court,” one of his teammates later recalled, “he became our heart, our soul, our leader.”) Steve Alford averaged 15.5, Calbert Cheaney hit 17.1, and Eric Gordon went for 20.9. And Zeller? He scored 15.6 points per game.
The scouts will tell you Romeo measures up. He’s a long-armed 6-foot-6, with smooth moves around the basket and a sweet jumper. He might not have Victor Oladipo’s athleticism, but Romeo will be able to score from day one—just like he did at New Albany High School, where he nearly broke the state’s record for career points.
The nerds concur. Each year, Bart Torvik uses a complex formula to predict the stats for 3,500 Division I college basketball players. (Check it out at barttorvik.com.) For returning players, he bases his projections on their previous stats and their historical equivalents. But for freshmen, Torvik uses a blend of old recruiting rankings and an analysis on how those recruits actually played. One trend pops out: Top-10 recruits play much better than anyone else. “It’s a very top-heavy curve,” Torvik says. This bodes well for Romeo, whom ESPN has as the fifth-best freshman in the country. Torvik’s system projects Romeo will score 14.5 points per game—easily the best of any freshman in the Big Ten.
It gets better. Romeo could easily outperform expectations. Recall that, other than Zeller, IU’s best freshman seasons have come from perimeter scorers like Romeo. “The projection for him is actually a little conservative,” Torvik says. “He’s at that level where he could be a superstar, elevating his teammates and potentially taking them on a run in the tournament.”
The numbers favor IU, too. Torvik uses an even trickier formula to rate teams. Last year, IU finished 67th in the country thanks to its mediocrity on both offense and defense. This year, however, Torvik projects IU to have the 24th-best team in the country—and the 13th-best offense, powered by Romeo and improvements from teammates Juwan Morgan and Justin Smith. And there’s reason for even more optimism. While Torvik estimates the Hoosiers will finish the season with the 58th-ranked defense, that number still has some Tom Crean–coached squads baked into it. If Miller’s defense lives up to his reputation, watch out.
But also: Just watch. Because there’s reason to think that college basketball’s current system may be coming to an end. Both the NBA’s commissioner and its players’ union have hinted they’d like to junk the so-called “one-and-done” rule that pushes the best high school players to college campuses before going pro, if only for one year. As of press time, there’s no definite switch, but plenty of chatter suggests the one-and-done era will end in 2021.
When that happens, expect those Top-10 recruits to start heading straight to the pros. Good for them—and fine for college basketball, a sport that will still feature plenty of Juwan Morgans. But things will be different. And that means Romeo isn’t just the first great recruit of the Miller era. He might be the last great freshman in IU history.