Another game, another final score that doesn’t really reflect exactly what happened in the game. It wasn’t pretty, but there were some signs of progress today.
Against the best 3-point shooting team Indiana has seen, it allowed the lowest 3-point percentage on the season. The Hoosiers will need to continue to improve in that area, but improving against better competition can’t be overlooked.
It also fought back from being punched in the mouth a few times over the course of the game. The wheels fell off at the end, but the Hoosiers put together a couple of runs of 6 points or more to hang around with the defending national champion for about three quarters of today’s game.
Nothing I say will deter the reactive portion of the fanbase, and there were certainly some familiar problems today. Going 3-13 from deep won’t cut it against any level of competition.
At the end of the day though, this is a team that’s still figuring things out. The only way they’ll start to see shots fall is if they keep taking them and Woodson appears to be encouraging that.
It wasn’t pretty, but it’s far from the end of the world. We got to see Indiana play one of the best teams in the country and see how it stacks up while Mike Woodson figures out how to maximize the pieces he has this year.
Here’s three things we learned.
Reneau had a career-high 18 points tonight, including a 15 point first half, while also blocking three shots and grabbing three rebounds. Against one of the best teams in the country, his jump hook looked as unstoppable as it did against the lesser teams Indiana had seen to this point.
This is going to be massive for Indiana this year, particularly in replacing a player as reliable as Trayce Jackson-Davis on the offense. As Trayce did last year, Reneau hit a lot of shots that ended scoring droughts for Indiana and stopped UConn’s runs from getting out of hand.
When he fouled out with 7 minutes to play, Indiana was only trailing by 10 with Xavier Johnson rejoining the game with four fouls. Without Reneau though, Indiana had no shot at keeping it close over the final stretch of the game.
Reneau’s game today, in my mind, justifies starting him next to Mgbako and Kel’el Ware. For all his height, Ware was getting physically dominated (read: fouled) in the paint today, making Reneau the only one getting points inside and drawing fouls.
He’s obviously made tremendous growth as a scorer, but will really help Indiana a lot more this year if he can limit the fouls and turnovers. Until then, Indiana will have to live with those issues from their most reliable paint scorer.
As we’ve written countless times now, Mike Woodson was going to need some kind of offensive contribution from one of CJ Gunn, Kaleb Banks, or Anthony Walker. So far, that hasn’t happened, and it isn’t for a lack of opportunity.
Banks played the fewest minutes of the three, but has shown the most promise in my eyes as a decision-maker and solid defender. He will need to be more assertive on offense, but so far has made the fewest costly mistakes out of the trio of wings on the bench.
Gunn brought the aggression today and his energy was particularly valuable on the defensive end. For a while, he looked like the best on-ball defender for Indiana. Unfortunately, he continues to be unable to buy a bucket.
I remain hopeful that once he sees a few more go down, something could click, but he’s going to have to make shots at some point. For however much his confidence has wavered, he’s still playing aggressively and hunting shots, so we’ll see how things play out there.
Regarding Indiana’s other bench players, I would be okay seeing a lot fewer minutes from Payton Sparks and Anthony Walker. They bring energy, but that’s about it so far and the minutes would be better spent developing some of the above guys or Mackenzie Mgbako.
Part of why I feel even partially good about how Indiana played this game was the sense I got that the officials did want Indiana to even come close to winning. Indiana was without its starting point guard for extended chunks of the first half and still went into the break trailing by single digits.
Indiana obviously has to take some accountability and play more disciplined in the future. The referees in the Big Ten are not known for being predictable or reliable, so this won’t be the first time we see a game called like this.
Indiana was deflated after Reneau was fouled out and ineffective on offense without their starting point guard in the first half.
All in all, it wasn’t the best game Indiana could have played but it was far from the worst. It won’t hurt on Selection Sunday so long as Indiana continues to improve at the things it knows it needs to fix.