After a quiet start to the week, Indiana men’s basketball has had a busy afternoon today, with Mike Woodson releasing a statement that Dane Fife will not be returning to the program next season and sophomore guard Khristian Lander announcing that he will enter the transfer portal.
Because this is Indiana men’s basketball, fans are melting down across the internet about the news. As I type this, there is a Twitter Space devoted entirely to the dismissal of an assistant coach who served one year with the program, featuring many prominent voices from across the Indiana Twitter landscape.
If you can’t bring yourself to touch grass by your own volition, here are some things to consider about each piece of news today:
Dane Fife’s firing
Mike Woodson’s statement on Fife, linked in Luke’s article above, leaves no doubt as to who was the catalyst in this break up. Dane got Dumped.
Fife was Woodson’s first assistant hire after Woodson decided to retain Kenya Hunter from Archie Miller’s coaching staff, and the hiring made quite a splash at the time. Woodson, not even two weeks into his first college coaching job, had poached one of Tom Izzo’s assistants for an in-conference job.
For the nostalgic portion of the fanbase, Indiana was getting the band back together in the best way. Having former Knight players from different generations at head and assistant coach was as good as hanging a sixth banner for this faction of Hoosier fans.
Fife’s firing today brings this narrative to a tragic end, but does not necessarily mean bad things for the Indiana program long term. According to 247, Fife had not landed a single recruit for Indiana in his tenure as an assistant coach.
He had earned the reputation as a solid Midwest recruiter while at Michigan State, which is arguably not a huge area of need for a team with five Indiana kids on the current roster (not counting Lander) and four more guys from other Midwest states. Woodson being from Indiana himself should help him maintain an in-state pipeline, and he also has Thad Matta on the staff with all of his connections.
With Matta’s Big Ten expertise on the staff, it may make more sense for Woodson to fill his third assistant spot with somebody who has more of a national recruiting reputation, who can help Indiana land guys like Malik Reneau when the opportunity presents itself. Especially in an offseason with so many head coaching vacancies, each threatening to steal one of Woodson’s existing recruiters, Yasir Rosemond or Kenya Hunter.
Ultimately Indiana may miss him the most in its on-court defense, since he had developed a reputation for being a good defensive coach at Michigan State. Indiana did improve 20 spots in its defensive efficiency rating this year, per KenPom, but it’s hard to say how much credit Fife deserves for this improvement. The improvement could just as easily be attributed to the fact that Woodson does not run the pack line defense that Archie was famous for.
We’re not likely to learn a whole lot more about anything behind the scenes between Woodson and Fife, so it’s best not to read into the situation beyond what we know right now. In all, there’s no reason to think this is necessarily a bad thing for Indiana; some things just don’t work out how we want them to.
Khristian Lander’s Transfer
This one is much more straightforward. Lander got the fewest minutes of any of Indiana’s six guards on scholarship, all of whom have the potential to return next year. The backcourt is set to get more crowded too, with five-star guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and three-star CJ Gunn on the way in the class of 2022.
Lander never really got it going at Indiana, as he failed to earn significant minutes under both Archie Miller and Mike Woodson. He also reclassified, arriving in Bloomington a year before he ordinarily would have. It’s hard to fault a guy for taking advantage of the new transfer rule when there’s no clear path to playing time, as is the case for Lander here.
Given Lander’s relatively slight build and aversion to contact, it may make sense for him to play somewhere like the Big East or the ACC, where the refs are committed to ensuring that the basketball games do not turn into wrestling matches.
Lander thanked Indiana fans for the support over his tenure here, clarifying that he’ll always have love for the fanbase, and I sincerely hope the fanbase shows him nothing but love and support going forward. There’s no reason not to root for the kid, so don’t be a jerk.