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Indiana men’s basketball: Projecting the rotation heading into Big Ten play

Who starts? Who’s first off the bench? Will we see anything new?

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Entering the season, most fans probably would have been happy to hear that the Hoosiers are 10-3 and ranked 16th at the end of the non-conference slate, especially considering the fact that multiple starters have missed games due to injury.

Unfortunately, all three of Indiana’s losses came by double digits, and the Hoosiers didn’t look particularly competitive in losing to Rutgers or Kansas on the road. Struggling to score, particularly on the road, was one of Archie Miller’s biggest flaws, so it’s made some uneasy to see these issues pop up in what was projected to be a great season for the Hoosiers.

Indiana will also be without Xavier Johnson for what looks like a while, which does not bode well for a team that’s been offensively challenged and has struggled with looking flat out of the gate.

The long layoff between Indiana’s last game against Kennesaw State and their next game in Iowa City on Jan. 5 will hopefully be all the time the rest of the Hoosiers need to get fully healthy and ready for what will be another grueling season of Big Ten Ball.

Assuming (and praying) that’s the case, what do we think the lineups will look like?

What Woodson’s done so far

Despite missing Xavier Johnson, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and Trayce Jackson-Davis for multiple games each, there have been some definite trends in the way Mike Woodson has managed his team this season.

Most notable is his continued reliance on two traditional post players and generating points inside through some combination of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, or Malik Reneau. Eight of the 10 most frequently used lineups over the last five games involve some combination of two of those three being on the court together at the same time.

This strategy has worked wonderfully when Trayce has been able to dominate, like when he put up 21 points over Armando Bacot in Indiana’s win over North Carolina, or when he recorded Indiana’s third triple double in program history against Nebraska. The Arizona game, on the other hand, was a case study in what will happen when Indiana runs into a couple of the handful of bigs in the country who may be more talented than Trayce.

Miller Kopp has emerged as more of a scoring threat from the wing as of late, but until the loss at Rutgers, it wasn’t clear that he was going to play a huge role in the offense this year. His ability to both stretch the floor and create shots for himself off the pump fake will be critical for Indiana going forward, since he is featured in each of Woodson’s ten most frequently used lineups over the last five games.

Injuries to both Xavier Johnson and Jalen Hood-Schifino over the last five games make it harder to see any patterns in the backcourt other than the emergence of Tamar Bates. His elevated level of play has been rewarded with increased minutes, with him featured as the shooting guard in six of the nine most used lineups, excluding when Johnson and Hood-Schifino played together.

What to expect going forward

Four of the five spots in the starting lineup seem pretty set in stone with Race, Trayce, Kopp, and Hood-Schifino expected continue seeing the most minutes. While I have argued for starting Tamar Bates for his offensive skills, it’s not clear whether Woodson will give him the nod or continue riding with Trey Galloway’s defensive skills.

Galloway, Bates, and Hood-Schifino are the only healthy players on the roster averaging over 10 minutes per game at this point, a trend that’s likely to continue unless C.J. Gunn develops as a scorer. His shot looks good form wise and he clearly does not lack for confidence, so it may just be a matter of shots starting to fall, but at this point he doesn’t project to be a huge factor in conference play.

Woodson has played his three main guards together in a small ball type lineup with Miller Kopp at the four spot and Race Thompson inside for 6.3% of possessions over the last five games, which is an intriguing solution to the way teams have been able to key in on the paint and shut down Indiana’s offense.

Obviously with Trayce healthy, I would prefer to see him as The Man inside in that lineup, but the focus in that lineup would be on perimeter scoring, with Jalen Hood-Schifino’s 37.9% from deep being the lowest of the four outside players in that group. The problem then becomes finding rest for each of the three guards.

Regardless of who is in the backcourt, Indiana could stand to use more 3-point attempts from the group as a whole. As mentioned above, Indiana now has four players in the >35% 3-point range, yet still attempts just 19.4 attempts per game, which is good for 276th nationwide.

Most of the teams in Kenpom’s top 10 right now average between 21-24 attempts per game, so even a modest increase in this area would be a huge boost for Indiana. And at 36.6% 3-point shooting as a team, the Hoosiers are finally competent from beyond the arc.

Besides more shooting, Indiana will need more production from bigs not named Trayce Jackson-Davis. Out of the nine players that Woodson uses most frequently, Race Thompson, Malik Reneau, and Jordan Geronimo all fall near the bottom of the list in points per game.

Reneau has looked like the most advanced scorer of the three, averaging just one fewer point per game than Thompson, who plays eight more minutes per game than the freshman. Unfortunately, Reneau is also averaging two turnovers per game, more than double the rate that Thompson turns it over and four times as often as Geronimo.

The Hoosiers don’t need them all to play well every single night to win, but for a team that’s down to three backcourt players, Indiana is going to need to find ways to score and rebound inside.

These aren’t the problems we thought Indiana would have entering Big Ten play and could be an easier fix than the shooting that’s plagued prior Hoosier teams. With the shooting and wing play we’ve seen of late, I think the ceiling remains relatively high for an Indiana team that’s off to a solid start overall.