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Indiana Basketball: Five Takeaways from IU’s opening win against FGCU

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Indiana Basketball
Nov 7, 2023; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers guard Gabe Cupps (2) dribbles against Florida Gulf Coast Eagles guard Chase Johnston (55) in the second half at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. © Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana basketball narrowly defeated Florida Gulf Coast in the team’s season opener 69-63 at Assembly Hall on Tuesday night.

The Hoosiers struggled for a while but used a late run to propel them to victory over the Eagles .

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s season opener.

Free Throw Shooting is still an issue

The free throw shooting of Indiana basketball is a real concern until they prove otherwise. The Hoosiers shot 19/30 (63.3%) from the free throw line against Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday and in three games have been inconsistent from the line at best.

In the team’s first exhibition against UIndy, they shot 11/20 (55%) from the line. After the game, Mike Woodson did not seem worried as he felt they had been shooting the ball well from the line during practice.

In the team’s second exhibition against Marian, a lot of those concerns were squashed when the Hoosiers shot 21/25 (84%) from the line.

That wasn’t the case as Tuesday’s poor showing was a big reason why Indiana struggled to pull away against FGCU.

“We just got to step up to the line and make them,” Woodson said after the game.

Indiana basketball did a great job getting to the line, especially early in the ball game. They shot 18 first half free throws but missed 8 in the half.

The Hoosiers improved in the second half, shooting 9/12 (75%) from the line, but some misses late kept the Eagles in the game.

Indiana will have to be better from the charity stripe moving forward, especially if they are going to get to the line as frequently as they did Tuesday.

Gabe Cups is a ‘winner’

Indiana basketball went to a three-guard lineup down the stretch with Gabe Cupps playing alongside Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway. The lineup got the lead back via a 14-0 run by the Hoosiers after trailing by six.

Gabe Cupps only scored 5 points for Indiana and made his impact as a playmaker and defender. Cupps ran the point for most of the final stretch and while he only had one assist, he provided a huge spark with his energy and effort.

While there have been concerns about Cupps’s size on the defensive end, his IQ made up for any potential issues on that end of the floor. He finished tied for the team lead in steals with two and made some huge hustle plays on that end of the floor.

With Indiana struggling to defend, Cupps came in and set the tone, which is why he finished the game for Indiana. He seemed to always be in the right spot and was pressuring ball handlers, which led to some FGCU turnovers.

Woodson had a lot of praise for his freshman guard.

“He’s a winner. That’s the first time I’ve had an opportunity to play he and X some extended minutes,” Woodson said about Cupps. “Especially in crunch time you don’t expect that, but I felt comfortable enough with Gabe in the game. I’ve seen him enough plays.”

Woodson was not the only one to praise Cupps after the game.

“I thought he did a great job coming in, stepping up in a big-time moment. I think he was really good at talking and kind of just staying poised,” Trey Galloway said postgame about the play of Cupps. “So good to see that, and know we can rely on him and trust him in crunch time. I think just him staying ready and being ready off the bench was good.”

Cupps will have plenty of opportunities as the back up point guard for Indiana and the success of the three guard lineup could lead to even more minutes for the freshman guard moving forward.

Defensive Rotations are a problem

Mike Woodson has stressed concerns regarding the team’s defensive rotations and Tuesday proved why.

Indiana basketball struggled to locate and get out on Florida Gulf Coast’s shooters. The Eagles missed a lot of good looks early but made Indiana pay for their defensive lapses in the second half.

FGCU shot 8/18 (44.4%) from three in the second half, which helped spark their rally that saw them take the lead with less than 10 minutes to go.

Both Trey Galloway and Kel’el Ware said miscommunications were the reason for the defensive mistakes.

“I think just missed communication and knowing our spots, knowing where we need to be. They made a lot of shots, but a lot of the those we could have affected more,” Galloway said postgame. “I think just going back and watching film and knowing what they need to do next time to prevent that from happening.”

In the exhibitions, Indiana had similar struggles but neither UIndy or Marian could make them pay for their mistakes. FGCU made them pay on the defensive end for the IU’s mistakes.

With 10 new faces on the roster, communication issues are to be expected, but with Indiana playing in the Empire Classic a week from Sunday, they will need to improve quickly on that end of the floor.

Front court play leads the way

Kel’el Ware and Malik Reneau helped lead the way for Indiana.

Ware had a double-double in his first game with Indiana and made a ton of big plays for the Hoosiers. He finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks.

Ware showcased his ability to pass out of the post and led the team in assists. He was huge on the boards for an IU team that needed all the help they could get from him, including 3 offensive rebounds.

Ware’s highlights will come from the three emphatic blocks he had, but his overall ability to deter shots at the rim was huge for Indiana. FGCU never really got much to go at the rim and was forced to play from the perimeter because of Ware’s size and length at the basket.

Ware didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2/5) but was able to get the free throw line 12 times. He played a well rounded game and showcased why he was one of the top transfers in the country this offseason.

His front court mate, Malik Reneau, also played a huge role offensively for Indiana. Reneau scored 15 points on 6/10 shooting, showcasing a plethora of post moves to create shots.

Reneau’s ability to score in the post will be big for a team that lost Trayce Jackson-Davis who was one of the best post scorers in the country a season ago. Reneau scored 11 of his 15 in the second half when Indiana desperately needed someone to step up and score the ball.

While there is still room for improvement for the duo, they played well and showed that they could form a dominant front court tandem for the Hoosiers moving forward.

Hoosiers struggled to rebound

Another trending theme from the preseason was Indiana’s rebounding struggles, and those continued against Florida Gulf Coast.

The Hoosiers finished tied in total rebounds with the Eagles with 33 a piece, but the defensive rebounding struggles were a cause for concern. IU allowed FGCU to grab 13 offensive rebounds despite their size disadvantage.

For a team that is as big and athletic as Indiana, rebounding should not be an issue. Yet in all three games, it has been a problem for Indiana.

Florida Gulf Coast had 15 second chance points to Indiana’s 8. That disparity was a huge reason why they were able to hang around late against the Hoosiers.

On paper, Indiana should be a good rebounding team, but that has not been the case so far. If Indiana is struggling to rebound against a mid major, then there is no reason to believe they will improve as their schedule gets harder.

Indiana did improve on the glass in the second half but still allowed 5 offensive rebounds to their 4 in the final 20 minutes. With the schedule only going to get harder, Mike Woodson’s ball club will have to find a way to be better at finishing possessions on the glass.

SEE ALSO: Coach Q&A: Mike Woodson reacts to Indiana basketball’s opening win against FGCU

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustratedpart of the Full Ride Network, on Twitter @Indiana_FRN, Facebook and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. You can also listen to the Talking’ Bout the Hoosiers podcast on Spotify.

Drew Rosenberg is staff writer for HoosierIllustrated.com and hosts 'The Talkin' Bout the Hoosiers Podcast' covering Indiana University athletics. Drew is a senior, studying Sports Media and will graduate from the Indiana University Media School in the spring of 2024.

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