For the second straight game, Mike Woodson has played 10 players for more than five minutes. In each of Indiana’s first three games, he’s gone extended stretches without any starters on the court.
The results have been mixed, at best. Indiana trailed for significant portions of the first two games and never quite pulled away against a Wright State team that was missing its leading scorer.
Indiana remains undefeated, so the only real casualties at this point are the spreadsheets and the gambling spreads. It hasn’t been pretty, but there’s no reason to fully panic, yet.
From everything we’ve heard in the postgame press conferences, it’s clear that Mike Woodson is going to manage this team his way. He’s learned who he can count on, but he also knows he needs to know what he will get outside of Xavier Johnson and Kel’el Ware.
After saying he needed more effort from Mackenzie Mgbako on both ends of the court, he left the freshman in for a career-high 23 minutes and was rewarded with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists.
On the other end, Mgbako still struggled with leaving then losing his man and was a big part of Indiana’s bad perimeter defense. But he also showed a willingness to make up for it with his own 3-point attempts, leading Indiana with seven.
He will get better on defense and he will see more shots go down. It’ll take some regular playing time though, and that means some continued mistakes on both ends. Mike Woodson knows with that and is willing to let him play through it.
Woodson was on Mgbako multiple times throughout the night. Coaching, doing his job to help him out and learn.
The same goes with Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn, who each added four points and played with consistently good effort on defense tonight. Woodson is going to need to go to these guys when starters get hurt or, god forbid, go down with an injury.
Game experience now will help these guys help Indiana down the line. Shortening the bench against tougher competition will also help, which is something Woodson has done historically as the season goes on.
Last year, in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinal, Woodson only played seven players total. It’s safe to say that there are two or three players getting regular minutes right now who will not play when it counts the most, and having them in the lineup now disrupts the flow of this very new team.
That’s not to say there aren’t concerning trends in the first three games. The Hoosiers simply cannot continue allowing so many wide open threes. And they will need to take more themselves on a consistent basis.
But we saw tonight that the scheme can work, even with the three big lineup that so many have been skeptical of. For the first eight or so minutes, Indiana played lock-down defense, maximizing its length and athleticism.
We also saw some glimpses of the transition offense and an ability to generate looks for good shooters like Galloway and Mgbako that will start to fall eventually. We saw Indiana protect the ball better, limiting itself to just eight turnovers.
The team remains a work in progress, but after some of the things we saw tonight and in Mike Woodson’s first two seasons at Indiana, there’s no reason not to trust the staff to have these guys playing their best ball when the games matter most.
Last year, Woodson lost his starting point guard in December then rescued the team from a death spiral behind a true freshman who turned into a first round pick. He’s shown an ability to make adjustments and avoid crisis as he elevates the expectations each season.
Hopefully he won’t be forced to navigate a catastrophe like that again. Barring injury, this team has a high ceiling that could make them dangerous.
We’re still only three games in though. Things have been worse, and they turned out alright under Mike Woodson’s watch.