When he was hired as Indiana’s head coach in 2021, Mike Woodson was asked a question about style of play. Coming from the NBA, he cited that as an example for where the college game was heading.
“The three-ball has changed the game, there’s no doubt about that,” he said “We have got to recruit players that can shoot the ball and pass and dribble be able to make plays for one another. And in doing that, I think I can create an offense that everybody touches the basketball and if you can shoot the basketball, then your expected to shoot it and make shots. If you can’t shoot it, then you have to do other things to help us win basketball games. It’s my job to go out and put the best team positive I will on the floor that can do those things.”
He went on to note that you can’t “always just live on shooting threes” and detailed how his Knicks group had enough 3-point shooting that he could leverage that and use it. The 2016 Knicks set the NBA record for 3s attempted in a season.
There was just one thing: his first roster.
Indiana’s roster did not have a ton of 3-point shooting readily available as a holdover from the Archie Miller era. Woodson went out and added Miller Kopp to start at the wing. Kopp had this to say after committing, per Inside The Hall:
“Obviously I feel like I can shoot the ball and coach knows that. Really just using that to help everybody else in terms of spacing the floor, but also things that I haven’t done as much like handling the ball and playing out of pick-and-roll and making the right reads in that kind of environment.”
Aside from Kopp there was Parker Stewart, who led the team with 135 attempts from deep in 2021-22. Both appeared in “limited roles” on KenPom with usage rates hovering around 13%.
Then you have Trayce Jackson-Davis, an All-American worth building a system around. Which is exactly what Woodson did. Though he said he’d never run an offense through the post like that, saying this past offseason that his comfort zone was what he ran with the Knicks.
Through three seasons Woodson’s teams have ranked 321st, 354th and 347th in 3PA/FGA. There was thought that this could change this season but the Hoosiers only rank slightly higher than they did last year.
This year’s offense just looks like last year’s, which leveraged a two-man game between Jalen Hood-Schifino and Jackson-Davis, albeit with inferior players in the former role and Malik Reneau stepping in for the latter.
There’s not a ton of shooting on the roster, with Mackenzie Mgbako largely taking on Kopp’s role at the wing albeit with a bit more scoring on other actions than catch-and-shoot 3s.
On top of that, Woodson has now started two bigs for three straight years. This was expected with Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson as carryovers from the Miller era, but he’s now done so with Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau.
It’s resulted in some less than ideal spacing that gets worse when you add in the lack of 3-point shooting. It’s not particularly fun to watch and keeps guards from driving to the rim with all the cluster in the lane.
That’s not ideal when the team faces a lack of production from the backcourt and needs to recruit guards/scoring wings.
When presented with the opportunity to start a shooter like Mgbako next to Reneau during Ware’s recent absences due to injury and illness, Woodson has instead opted for Payton Sparks, another big, as Indiana’s center.
Wisconsin in particular presented the perfect opportunity to try something out. It didn’t end up happening. We’ve scarely seen smaller lineups with more movement/ball handling, the kind Woodson mentioned above, this year.
How did this come about? Who knows. Perhaps Woodson tried to adapt to the Big Ten, where rosters are more often like this. Guard-oriented play isn’t much of a thing in the Big Ten, but that’s what wins everywhere else including modern basketball as a whole.
You are not going to like this example, but Indiana should give some real thought to going the route Kentucky has this season.
The Wildcats have jumped from 330th to 138th in 3PA/FGA and are making 40.2% of their attempts from deep. The spacing is noticeably better, as are the overall projections and vibes.
It’s winning basketball and fun to watch. You can have both and it can happen in Bloomington.
One way or another, Woodson needs to give some serious thought to changing up a few things as the season goes on and approaching the offseason with those concepts on film and out there.
So when he’s sitting down with prospects this summer, high school or in the portal, he’ll have concepts to show off rather than a vision.