It’s a down season.
That’s just the fact of the matter. Indiana is without a quality win over halfway through January (albeit with a chance at one tonight but I digress) and looks to finish somewhere within the Big Ten slog.
With the talent on this team that’s a bit of a bummer. But the fact of the matter is that Indiana is a predominantly young roster with a staff that bet on experience and consistency from two senior guards. Just one has (mostly) delivered on that promise.
The team’s core issues cannot be fixed right now. Those lie in roster construction and must be remedied this offseason. But there are a few things Indiana can do to make its present and future better off.
Give the young guards minutes
Alright this may come off as an odd suggestion given Gabe Cupps is a starter but bear with me here.
Indiana bet on Xavier Johnson to be the kind of senior guard that can lead a team. He looked every bit of that part against Ohio State and appeared to be turning the corner following a return from injury. Since then? Four points, three assists nine turnovers and more than one flagrant.
The depth isn’t there to take Johnson out of the rotation entirely. But right now, Cupps gives Indiana a steady presence on both ends and the Hoosiers are more likely to get the ball where it needs to go when he’s on the floor.
What Cupps needs to work on is confidence on offense and shot selection. He’s passed up multiple open looks from deep and dribbled into a tough midrange that hasn’t gone down enough to justify taking it.
If he can continue getting Indiana into sets and defending well, he deserves to start. Anything else would be a bonus.
Next, C.J. Gunn. He gets the minutes he deserves when he’s on the floor and playing well with Ohio State being the best example of that. He’s long and has good size for the spots he plays at which allows him to be a factor on defense.
He’ll bring his best on defense, that’s always been certain. If he can be more consistent on offense he’d give this team a scoring option it really needs at the two.
You’d like to see him more with the ball in his hands as a handler and distributor and we saw some of that against Purdue. He logged three assists after just four combined on the season going into the game.
But Indiana should get him shots. He’s shot better from deep in Big Ten play and that’s how he got all those points in high school. If Indiana gets a turnover and Gunn is on the floor he needs to get the ball because he’s probably gonna score.
Holding a scoring record at an Indianapolis area high school is no small feat. He’s had to slow down a bit more and let the game come to him rather than be the dominant No. 1 option like he was in high school, but that comes with minutes.
He’s been better with time this season and deserves/needs the minutes both now and for Indiana’s future.
Shoot more threes
Indiana is taking more 3s now than it was at the start of the season and is seeing more go down. That’s good! But it could be better.
They’re not a good 3-point shooting team though. They might not even be average. I think the rise in production has come from better looks and water finding its level for guys like Mackenzie Mgbako, who’s become better from deep in conference play.
Indiana has made 37.9% of its attempts from deep over its past ten games, contrasting from its 33.7% on the season. It has gotten better. But they can take more than the 18.2 attempts they’ve averaged over that stretch.
For some guys that just comes down to shooting the ball. Mentioned above, but Cupps has dribbled out of an open look more than once.
Under Mike Woodson, Indiana has taken more midrange jumpers that have gotten less and less common across the sport as offenses modernize. It’s not the result of former Archie Miller players, his teams either took below or roughly at the average of attempts from midrange.
But that’s come with recruiting the type of guys that take that shot. Xavier Johnson took some, C.J. Gunn (retained, originally committed under Miller) has that as part of his game and Jalen Hood-Schifino excelled at it.
That’s not the case this year. Indiana is taking more midrange jumpers but making below the D-I average. Turn those shots into 3s, which Indiana hits at a higher rate, and you have more points and more going in.
It’s not necessarily a wholesale change in offensive philosophy and I wouldn’t hold out hope that this comes to pass, but it’d be something.
Prioritize an outside-in defensive approach
Indiana’s defensive philosophy is... something.
The Hoosiers frequently lose track of open shooters on the arc, leaving players flying around and having to cover way too much ground on close-outs. Enough ball movement and you’ll find an open shooter just one pass away.
Which is why their opponents take over 5% more shots from above the break than anyone else is all of college basketball.
It’s puzzling given the guy Indiana has at the five. With his length, Kel’el Ware has the potential to be one of the best rim protectors in the college game as Trayce Jackson-Davis was before him.
The blueprint has been out for how you beat Indiana and teams have followed it to do so. And Indiana doesn’t take enough 3s to keep up with how many it allows.
Like the above, I don’t think this is going to happen. But Indiana needs to shift into a perimeter oriented defense while letting Ware protect the paint.