clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Does Mike Woodson have a system at Indiana? It’s complicated

Yes but also no.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve seen The Discourse nationally you’ve probably heard by now that there’s some belief that Mike Woodson is “stuck in the past” when it comes to his coaching style at Indiana.

It’s an... observation we’ve covered a bit before. Woodson has started a frontcourt without any shooting for two straight years now. That’s a hallmark of days gone by for basketball. In the NBA, just about everyone on the court is expected to have some ability to space the floor and be versatile.

But starting that frontcourt doesn’t mean that’s Woodson’s style. It means that’s the roster he had.

Indiana has been running something to this effect since Archie Miller was in charge of the program, starting Joey Brunk alongside Trayce Jackson-Davis in 2019-20 and then Race Thompson afterward.

When Woodson arrived in 2021, there was no better alternative to the duo of Jackson-Davis and Thompson. Ditto, for the most part, this past season. As said before, Woodson had never run his offense through the post before college.

He had an All-American caliber player on the roster, he wasn’t going to run him off to run a system he prefers. It was, and remains, the smarter move to get the most out of the roster on hand, as Woodson has for the most part, than to sacrifice that for the sake of familiarity.

Win with what you have.

When Woodson addressed the media earlier this offseason at Huber’s Winery, he expressed appreciation for Jackson-Davis’ presence during his first two seasons coaching the Hoosiers.

Additionally, without a post player to run the offense through, Woodson said he could somewhat return to his “comfort zone” with what he ran as head coach of the New York Knicks: Spreading the floor.

Now, he was quick to add that if there’s a mismatch in the frontcourt that Indiana can capitalize on, he’ll look to the Hoosiers’ bigs for buckets in the post, particularly early in games to get the team comfortable.

Does Indiana have the ideal roster for that type of style in 2023-24? Barring some increased shooting volume from Trey Galloway and a breakout from CJ Gunn, probably not.

The issue at hand comes in the Hoosiers’ frontcourt, which will be almost entirely new next season. Without Jackson-Davis, Thompson and Geronimo, Malik Reneau was left all on his lonesome until the staff got to work.

Enter former Top-10 recruit C Kel’el Ware from the transfer portal and Top-10 freshman F Mackenzie Mgbako, the biggest recruiting win in Bloomington since Romeo Langford. Add in two more transfers, Anthony Walker out of Miami (FL) and Payton Sparks out of Ball State and you have a complete room.

The issue? It’s crowded at the top.

Ware and Mgbako both have extremely high potential. Each can shoot from the perimeter or attack the rim with athleticism. Ware can do all of that and more as a 7-footer with the ideal set of tools for the modern NBA.

But there’s also Reneau, who could be primed for a breakout after an up-and-down freshman season. He hasn’t taken as many shots as either of the above, but I’d expect him to add perimeter shooting as part of his game. Walker doesn’t make them at a high rate, but he takes those shots.

Sparks will be a different story. He’s here because he has an incredibly high motor and is more than willing to battle with the Big Ten’s bigs down low for buckets and rebounds.

There’s a few different ways that frontcourt rotation can come together, but it’s worth trusting Woodson and the staff to figure it out to get the best five on the floor as they did this season. The pieces, on paper, may not fit as well as you’d like, but you’re not saying no to talents like Ware and Mgbako wanting to come to your program.

That’s what it means for this season. As for the future? I’d expect shooting to be an emphasis from every player on the floor so Woodson can return to his comfort zone as a coach.

That said, there are still some reasons for optimism that this year’s offense could have better spacing, starting with the type of frontcourt player that Woodson added this season. It would probably be inaccurate to call any of them pure perimeter specialists, but it’s safe to say they should be able to play a more modern style, despite their size.

Take Ware for example. He averaged just 15.8 minutes per game in his freshman season at Oregon, yet his 55 3-point attempts on the season would have been fifth on Indiana’s roster last year, behind only Miller Kopp and Indiana’s top three guards.

Mgbako, who will bear the brunt of replacing Kopp’s shooting, averaged 6.8 3-pt attempts on the 2022 Nike EYBL circuit. Kopp, even as Indiana’s best shooter, never averaged more than 4.1 attempts per game at Indiana.

While Mgbako is unlikely to match Kopp’s 3-point percentage, he brings an athleticism and shot creating ability that should lead to more touches than we ever saw Miller get. One thing about Woodson’s offense does seem certain - guys who need to have the ball find them for open shots will be passed over for guys who can create shots on their own.

Then there’s Malik Reneau, the most typical post player out of the guys Woodson has up front. His eight three point attempts are five more than Trayce took in his entire career, and compare favorably to early-career Race Thompson.

Considering that Thompson shot more under Woodson than, well, ever under Miller, it’s safe to assume that taking those shots will become an emphasis in Reneau’s development.

Reneau, Mgbako, Walker and Ware will, of course, have to make their shots to really be a deep threat. But even before the first tip, there’s reason to think this front court could look a lot more modern than what we’ve seen in Woodson’s first two years.