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Indiana basketball ushering in a new, versatile style of play starting next season



Dec 23, 2022; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Malik Reneau (5) talks to Indiana Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson during the second half at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana basketball is going to look a whole lot different than what fans have seen in the past few years next season and honestly, this looks to be what Mike Woodson has been wanting since day one.

Since the time that former Indiana basketball head coach Archie Miller took over, the Hoosiers have been a ‘post heavy’ team mostly relaying on their bigs to do the dirty work when it comes to scoring. That was especially the case when Trayce Jackson-Davis entered the program.

There is no question about it, Tracye Jackson-Davis is an all-time Indiana basketball great and that is not up for debate. However it is not a secret, Jackson-Davis’ inability to stretch the floor beyond the paint really limited what the Hoosiers could do on the floor, especially with how the game of basketball is being played with more versatile bigs that can play many spots on the floor.

Obviously when you have a game-changer like Jackson-Davis on your roster, as a coach, it would be a bold move not to play through them, something that Mike Woodson has never actually done in his time as a head coach.

Life will be much different for Indiana basketball without Jackson-Davis, but Mike Woodson seems to be ready to get back to what he is used to.

“Well, I’ll tell you guys, the fact that Trayce (Jackson-Davis) was already established and he made the commitment to come back, it made it a little easier for me because he had already posted two seasons of 18, 19, 20 points a game,” Mike Woodson said when speaking last Wednesday. “I’ve never coached a low-post player. I coached Melo (Anthony) and Amar’e (Stoudemire), but you know, they could step out and make shots and do a lot of other different things from a talent standpoint. In coaching Trayce, it was a venture for us as a staff in terms of trying to put him in the best position possible to help to not only be successful but to help us win. We started letting him handle the basketball a little bit more and doing some things outside the box that probably he wasn’t used to doing and he became great at it.

“So there are a lot of things that I started implementing because again, it was new for me with the guy with his back against the bucket and giving him the ball and trying to design things to get him to basketball. I don’t have that anymore coming into this season and I can pretty much go back to my comfort zone and how we somewhat played in New York. Which we kind of spread at the floor and that’s not to say our bigs, if I got mismatches and our bigs are early running, I expect them to try to post and get early strikes that way. We try to get easy buckets right off our initial thrust. It’s gonna be a little bit different.”

In today’s game of college basketball, the more successful teams have a roster full of legit athletes that can provide many options on the floor. If a team has longer, athletic players in spots 3-5, they have a better chance at winning games than what teams that play a more traditional style in today’s game in all reality.

Not only would a new, versatile style of play help Mike Woodson and Indiana basketball on offense, but it would also help on the defensive end as well.

“Well, it would definitely help us defensively,” Woodson said. “In Atlanta I caught a lot of hell early on when we built that team. It was basically 6-7, 6-8, 6-9 players and I can go down the list of players and everybody was like, ‘well why?’ I think you gotta always build a defensive system first and then figure it out offensively, and that’s what we did in Atlanta. We switched a lot and became a pretty good defensive team.

“I caught a lot of hell for our team switching and hell, now everybody switches. I’m not saying I set the stage for it, but I look at high school, I look at AAU ball, I look at college, I look at the pros, everybody switches and then basically forces you into making a decision based on the switch. So yeah, we were kind of onto something and I thought it helped us. The fact that we’ve added a seven-footer, a 6-10 guy, a 6-8 guy, I mean that helps us defensively when we do switch and it helps us at the rim. It helps us rebound it. I mean a lot of things that come along with adding longer, athletic, and rangy guys on your team.”

Adding these type of versatile players also helps the returning players as well next season. Someone like senior guard Xavier Johnson, who is already a ‘do it all’ type of guard, can really benefit from guys surrounding and give him options when it comes to make a play.

Johnson, himself, sees great fits from the players Indiana has next season.

“Like Kel’el (Ware) can run the floor, athletic, just set screens, get off the ball and (Makenzie) Mgbako can shoot,” said Xavier Johnson when speaking to the media on Wednesday night. “Trey’s (Galloway) developed his three-point shot as well, I mean, he’ll be another combo guard to me. We got all the freshmen coming in as well. I just think we have a really good team.

“I mean, I haven’t seen all of them yet in person, but I would say from my watch, I think we have a pretty unique team. We’ll be more athletic than last year’s team. It’s hard compete with Trayce’s (Jackson-Davis) athletic ability, but I think Kel’el (Ware) is up there because he’s seven foot and he can actually jump out of the gym as well and he can spread the floor out and shoot as well. (Mackenzie) Mgbako, he can shoot, he can score at all three levels. I mean, I can go down a list, but I ain’t gonna name all of them, but I think we have some pretty solid pieces coming in.”

With the upgrade of a more versatile style of play paired with the youth of this Indiana squad next year, this is still a team that is relying on untapped potential.

However, Mike Woodson understands that he plays a major role in merging all these new pieces together and bringing in that new style.

This summer will be all about the incorporation of this new look Indiana program.

“Oh, I play a major part,” said Woodson. “I think once we get them all assembled in Bloomington, then I’ll set the groundwork in terms of what I expect. Don’t know the style of play in terms of exactly where we going to go as a team, but got a pretty good idea. But I gotta see it on the floor, I gotta put them in different combinations, and just see who can do what. So this summer will be a major trial for our ball club and our program in terms of trying to put the guys in the best position possible to help us win when we start next season.”

SEE ALSO: Indiana basketball: Jalen Hood-Schifino one of the biggest risers in post-NBA Combine mock draft

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Kyler Staley is a Basketball Recruiting Analyst for Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Kyler has been in the basketball recruiting industry since 2019 and is a credentialed media member. He has covered Indiana since 2021 while continuing to also work for Prep Hoops Indiana. He has previously worked for Rivals.