Keeping in mind that this was an exhibition game, today was our first glimpse of an Indiana men’s basketball team that will look very different from what we’ve been accustomed to over the years.
While it’s been great to see Trayce Jackson-Davis and his role in the NBA preseason, it was weird to see Indiana take the court without him and Race Thompson, two staples of Indiana basketball for the past four seasons.
Hoosier fans know there’s a lot to be excited about though, with Mike Woodson bringing in two McDonald’s All-Americans in Mackenzie Mgbako and Kel’el Ware. There’s a sense the future could be very bright, and today we got too see how it might look this season.
It was far from perfect, but there was a lot to like about what Indiana showed today against UIndy.
Here are three things we learned:
The First Unit
As expected, the starting lineup today consisted of Ware, Mgbako, Malik Reneau, Xavier Johnson, and Trey Galloway. They got off to a rough start, but by the end of the game, Ware and Mgabko each had a game-high 14 points, plus another 12 from Reneau and 9 from Johnson.
Johnson appeared fully healthy in his first game back since the foot injury that ended his season last year, but more importantly, seems to be embracing the leadership role.
After Mgbako missed a couple of early free throws, Johnson approached Mgbako and appeared to offer some words of encouragement. Mgbako made the rest of his free throws from then on.
Also impressive from this group was Mgbako’s motor and athleticism. He was constantly moving on the court, cutting, driving, and grabbing rebounds from the wing, which is very encouraging to see against any opponent. Not many elite high school players play that hard all the time.
It was an exhibition, but there was a lot to like from this group. Ware was making hustle plays and looked great as a rim protector, Reneau avoided foul trouble and showed some creativity inside, and the two appear comfortable rotating between the paint and perimeter as their matchups demand.
The Second Unit
C.J. Gunn was the first guy off the bench today and looked more composed and confident than he ever did last season. It wasn’t his best shooting day, but he demonstrated he can score at all three levels and provide a big boost on the offensive end.
Gabe Cupps also looked good today, not showing any of the usual jitters you may expect from a freshman in his first game. It’s not terribly surprising given his basketball pedigree, but he impacted the game on both sides of the ball and brought the crowd to its feet in the second half with some full-court pressure defense.
Anthony Walker is the energy guy Indiana needs him to be and a great defensive weapon given his size and athleticism. I can see him playing some big minutes this season if Indiana needs to lock down a dangerous wing down the line.
With Kaleb Banks out, Anthony Leal got some good minutes today and appeared to mesh well with the second group. His experience and composure were valuable in keeping that group organized, so I could also see him playing more of a role this year than he has in years past.
This was an exhibition game that Mike Woodson was not coaching to win. We will likely never see some of these lineups again and the offense will flow better as the season goes on.
Considering Woodson’s emphasis on defense, I would not be surprised if this group has not spent a ton of time on its offensive sets to this point. This team has a lot of new players who will need to learn their role in Woody’s defensive scheme before the season officially starts.
With that being said, I do think we saw some first-game jitters from a few guys today. Some were playing against college competition for the first time, while others were playing their first game in Assembly Hall. It can be a lot to take in.
There’s no reason to get carried away about this game, one way or the other. The competition was not representative of what Indiana will see this season, so there’s no reason to do a statistical deep dive or analysis of individual performances.
It was fun to see the Hoosiers playing again and I did like what I saw, for the most part. But there’s no need to make any prognostications about this group based on an October exhibition game against a D2 team.