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Indiana men’s basketball: How much should you worry about spacing?

Much has been made of the Hoosiers’ spacing next year, here’s what we think.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

If you’ve read or heard anything about Indiana men’s basketball’s game, really in the past few years but a bit amplified this offseason, floor spacing has probably been front of mind.

The Hoosiers haven’t exactly boasted a ton of reliable 3-point shooters in recent years and have relied on Trayce Jackson-Davis in the post since he arrived in 2019. Add in Race Thompson, a guy who really only made a living in a paint with a few attempts from the arc under Mike Woodson, and you have an interesting issue.

Teams had to keep an eye on Miller Kopp for the past two years, he’d leverage Jackson-Davis’ presence or Xavier Johnson’s driving ability to find an open look on the arc. Indiana doesn’t have that anymore.

There’s some shooting ability from returning guys like Johnson and Trey Galloway while Indiana is likely working on progress from Kaleb Banks and C.J. Gunn, but there’s no go-to returner without Kopp.

Newcomers like Gabe Cupps and Mackenzie Mgbako can shoot as well, but relying on freshmen can get... interesting (ask Matt Painter how that worked out in March). Indiana could, in theory, add another capable shooter from the transfer portal, but that’s uncertain.

On top of that, Indiana added a true center in former Top-10 recruit Kel’el Ware, who spent his freshman year at Oregon.

Ware will likely start alongside fellow rising sophomore Malik Reneau in the frontcourt, seemingly giving Indiana a similar setup of two bigs at the four and five that was used in the closing days of the Archie Miller era and the first two years of Mike Woodson’s tenure.

But... does it?

Reneau doesn’t have the same level of athleticism as a Jackson-Davis type of player, but his ceiling is likely higher than that of Thompson given his footwork and rebounding ability. The defense will need to improve, but Reneau should be an upgrade.

Ware, on the other hand, is that kind of athlete. He’ll be the one catching lobs from Johnson like Jackson-Davis before him.

But Ware brings something Jackson-Davis didn’t: shooting. Indiana’s former centerpiece made his living in the paint or on drives while passing out to open teammates for some playmaking when he was doubled.

He never ventured out into 3-point land. He could do it, as evidenced by multiple videos of his clean shot in NBA workouts, but who was gonna grab that rebound if it didn’t go down? Probably not Thompson.

If Ware’s taking those shots, he has Reneau down there to maybe clean things up. Where concerts start to surface is Indiana’s depth.

Ware is the only big on Indiana’s roster that has a history of making, and hitting, shots from the arc. That’s just not a part of Payton Sparks’ game. Anthony Walker takes those shots, but they go down at an extremely low rate. It’s good that Walker takes those shots because part of his game is using his athleticism to drive past close-outs.

But Indiana’s reserves, Sparks and Walker, are proven rebounders who can fulfill the Reneau role for Ware’s attempts when the latter is on the bench. When Ware goes to the bench? That’s an entirely different story.

You’d probably prefer Walker take his place in that instance because he’ll at least attempt those shots and has enough prowess on defense to whether the storm that the lack of Ware’s scoring threat could create.

It’s also worth noting that Walker has some ability to create for himself, something Indiana’s frontcourt hasn’t really had from a shotmaking level in quite a while.

I wouldn’t expect to see Reneau and Sparks on the floor together often at all, maybe in dire situations, but that would have an adverse affect on Indiana’s spacing unless one of them, more likely Reneau than Sparks, develops more of a 3-point shot.

In that instance, if Ware isn’t on the floor and Indiana needs some spacing for Reneau or Sparks, Mgbako can take some minutes at the 4 if Indiana’s willing to have three guards on the floor at once, some of whom will have minimal experience. This is really where a shooting guard filling that final roster spot could come in handy.

On that point, who knows? Nobody probably expected Race Thompson to take any shots ever from the arc but there he was these past two years!

Indiana could (and as it stands right now, probably will) have some spacing issues, yes, but acting like it’ll look exactly like the past few years or worse isn’t the case, I’d say.