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Indiana men’s basketball: Mackenzie Mgbako improving with time

Don’t write him off.

Kansas v Indiana Photo by Gunnar Word/Getty Images

Indiana five-star freshman Mackenzie Mgbako had a less than stellar start to the season. He scored over 4 points just once across his first five career games in the cream and crimson.

The criticism came early. He’s a five-star, why isn’t he playing like one? When asked, Woodson has always been quick to stick up for him.

“He’s a freshman,” Woodson stated clearly after Mgbako put up a career-high 18 points in a breakout against Harvard. “He has been working. Hopefully there will be a nice carryover to the next game.”

Like many of his peers, Woodson doesn’t see nor care about star ratings. It’s the job of he and his staff to teach guys regardless of their high school pedigree. You can already see it working for Mgbako.

His scoring average has jumped to 9.1 points per game after five consecutive outings of putting 10 or more points on the board. Woodson showed his trust in the freshman against Michigan, putting Mgbako in the game for key free throws (which he drilled) down the stretch.

He’s shot 24.2% from 3-point range on the season but is 6-15, or 40%, ever since that Harvard game. He could probably stand to take a few more shots from deep given the difficulty of the two he hit against Kansas, in transition and over Hunter Dickinson.

I mean, look at this:

Here he catches his man off balance and drives through the heart of the Jayhawk defense for a bucket:

He took what the defense gave him and made Kansas pay. It was his fourth foul and subsequent benching that ultimately shifted momentum late in the game. Indiana would’ve needed him if it came down to a tough shot late in the game, Woodson couldn’t risk that.

It’s not like Mgbako is out there hunting for his shot alone either. He’s swung the rock when the opportunity presents itself and finished with three assists against Maryland.

I think it’d be interesting to see him operate at the four with one of Malik Reneau or Kel’el Ware on the bench as his handle still needs some improvement, but he’s shown enough that he deserves that starting spot at the wing.

He’s going to be in the NBA eventually. Guys his size who can shoot like that end up there. His defense has improved with time under Woodson as well, which could help out his stock and eventual early reviews once he’s with an NBA staff.

That’s been the case with Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has been praised by what feels like everyone in the Warriors organization for how ready he was to play at the NBA level. Ask him and he credits Woodson.

Assembly Hall was full of NBA scouts on Saturday and Mgbako was one of the reasons why.

It’s only December and Mgbako is leaps ahead of where he was those first few games. There’s still a ton of room to grow and I’d bet he does and then some.