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New-look IU basketball front court offers versatile and ‘fast-paced’ offensive style



The IU basketball front court will offer a new a versatile look this season which will allow for a more up-tempo style of play. (Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports)

The theme coming into the offseason for the IU basketball program was how it would replace the production from All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis. It was truly a new era — one that would not revolve around the talented forward in all aspects of the offense.

IU head coach Mike Woodson was honest heading into this offseason. He wasn’t sure what the offense would look like in terms of style of play. He just knew that the roster needed to get better.

“I don’t know where we’re going to be next season in terms of how our style of play will be,” Woodson said following IU’s loss in the Round of 32. “But we’ve got to get better. I do know that.”

It was an honest assessment of where Indiana was at the time. It was losing four starters — including a front court that accounted for 68.1 percent of the team’s scoring, 63.3 percent of rebounding and 65.1 percent of the assists.

The lone returning forward was sophomore Malik Reneau. The 6-foot-8 forward played a reserve role last season, especially once Big Ten play arrived. His offensive skillset blossomed at times but it was his defensive inconsistencies that kept him from having a larger role.

So, Woodson went out and re-loaded his front court with a much different type of skillset than what he had a season ago.

Indiana landed commitments from former five-star center and Oregon transfer Kel’el Ware — a 7-footer with raw talent that failed to meet the expectations he had going into his freshman season. Then, a commitment from a highly sought-after, mid-major transfer in Payton Sparks, a powerful 6-foot-9 and 240-pounder. But, IU wasn’t done just yet. A later commitment from versatile and veteran 6-foot-9 forward Anthony Walker seemed to sure up the depleted frontline.

More: IU basketball ushering in a new, versatile style of play starting next season

But, the Hoosiers were still looking to add a hybrid forward to the mix — someone who could play both on the perimeter with the ball in his hands while still having the versatility to be effective in the paint. They got that in five-star freshman Mackenzie Mgbako.

All five forwards — including Reneau — have much different skillsets, and all five look to have a major impact for IU this season.

“I think we loaded up pretty well,” Reneau told reporters on Thursday. “You got Kel’el (Ware) and got Payton (Sparks). And both are pretty great, skilled players. Can finish with both hands, can step out a little bit and shoot the ball too. So you see a good flow of where we’re trying to go with our frontcourt, you know, and understanding that we don’t have Trayce anymore, so we got to look somewhere else to find it.”

The theme of ‘untapped potential’ lingers with this group, however. The potential is clearly there with this group of forwards but the production and consistency hasn’t shown itself.

Mike Woodson’s style of play is clearly rearing its head though. He wants versatile front court players who are interchangeable, can step out on the perimeter and can even grab a rebound and push the ball in transition. All of which will be on display this season.

The old style of a slow-tempo and post-up offense will slowly go away, albeit not altogether. But, it’s clear with the moves Indiana made this offseason the path it wants to go down.

“We’re still emphasizing posting up. That’s just a part of how we play. I mean, we probably won’t post up as much as last year like we did with Trayce, but we’re still posting up,” Reneau said. “And it’s gonna be a lot of ball screens and running up and down the court and getting out in transition and getting easy buckets and stuff like that. So we’re trying to be a fast-paced team and get up and down the court and defend.”

The college game is going away from ‘traditional’ big men and is now revolving around 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 scoring wings, versatile and athletic forwards and veteran guards. That’s not what Indiana has been built on. Now, it will be.

“So there are a lot of things that I started implementing because again, it was new for me with the guy (Jackson-Davis) 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,” Woodson said earlier this summer. “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.”

While shooting remains a question mark, IU’s new style of play should offer the ability to mask some of those inconsistencies. But, there will surely be growing pains in the process with so many new faces.

It’s a critical offseason for IU basketball but one with so much potential and upside. Now, it’s up to Mike Woodson to be able to showcase his true system and style of play he’s used to and comfortable with.

“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,” Woodson said. “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.”

SEE ALSO: Malik Reneau on personal expectations for IU basketball next season: ‘I just want to be able to show my all-around game’

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 


‘The word is out; they knocked you’: Mike Woodson, Kel’el Ware to use ‘lazy’ reputation as fuel



Kel'el Ware, Indiana basketball
Kel'el Ware came to Indiana with the reputation as being 'lazy'. Now, he and Mike Woodson are using that as fuel this season. (Bobby Goddin/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK)

One thing that has come out of the Mike Woodson era at Indiana basketball? He isn’t going to sugarcoat anything. Whether it’s his performance, from his players or any of the media, he’s going to make sure everyone knows what he’s thinking.

He made it clear after Indiana lost to Miami in the Round of 32 last season that the personnel needed to get better. Once the transfer portal opened up — officially — he hit a potential home run with former five-star center Kel’el Ware. Ware, a transfer from Oregon, came into his freshman season as a projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. That didn’t pan out for numerous reasons, but, one in particular.

His motor.

Whether it was from the Oregon staff or not, the reputation that Ware entered the portal with was one of ‘laziness’. By the time he committed to Indiana, everyone knew it. Including Mike Woodson.

“Well, when I recruited that young man I told him, you cannot go back and get what happened the year before. You can’t,” Woodson said at Indiana basketball media day on Wednesday. “The word is out; they knocked you and said, hey, you’re lazy, you don’t work hard, and if you make a commitment to me, that’s got to change.”

But, what Woodson has shown in his short time at Indiana, he’ll emphasize your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. That was exactly how he portrayed it to Ware.

“I’m not always the easiest coach to play for, but I’m in your corner and I’m fair and I want what’s best for you and my ballclub,” Woodson said. “He made the commitment to me, and I’m going to push him to play at a higher level to help us win basketball games.”

Kel’el Ware averaged just 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game a year ago. But, that’s not to say Ware didn’t have very good performances. In fact, he did. Ware had 18 points on 6-of-8 from the floor and nine rebounds against eventual National Champion UConn in November. He also had 17 points and nine rebounds against Michigan State the following game.

In a five-game stretch against UConn, Michigan State, Villanova, Washington State and UCLA, Ware averaged 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while shooting 61.8 percent on 2s and 50 percent from the field overall.

“He’s a very versatile big,” Indiana basketball point guard Xavier Johnson said. “He can shoot threes and he can pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, so that’s big time in the pick-and-roll game with me. Trayce couldn’t pop as much, but Trayce was leading throughout the rim. I don’t think nobody could stop him. But Coach Woodson is going to get him on the same track as far as pick-and-roll game.”

So, as Ware settles into his role throughout his first season with the Indiana basketball program, one thing is for certain. He’s out to not only prove the doubters wrong … he’s out to prove himself right.

“Just to prove everyone was wrong. Show everyone I have a motor and keep it going on the court,” Ware said on Wednesday. “People say I’m lazy, just wanna show them I’m not lazy.

“Their (Indiana basketball) win now mentality is coming on to me now. I’m getting used to everything and enjoying it … I can give more.”

SEE ALSO: While motor is in question, skill is not. How Mike Woodson can unlock potential of Kel’el Ware for Indiana basketball

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated 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.

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Big Ten announces Indiana women’s basketball 2023-24 schedule



Teri Moren, Indiana women's basketball

The Big Ten officially announced the 2023-24 schedule for the Indiana women’s basketball program on Thursday afternoon.

Below is the full release from the program and the official schedule for the upcoming season.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana women’s basketball has announced the 2023-24 regular season schedule, including Big Ten matchups, on Thursday afternoon.

The season begins on Nov. 9 against Eastern Illinois at home inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU’s non-conference schedule features a pair of potential Top 25 matchups when it faces Stanford in Palo Alto (Nov. 12) and against Tennessee in the Fort Myers tipoff on Thanksgiving night in a nationally televised game on FOX at 6 p.m. ET.

Murray State (Nov. 17) and Lipscomb (Nov. 19) also visit the Hall in non-conference action as the Hoosiers will also travel to a neutral site game in Portland, Maine against Maine at Cross Insurance Arena.

IU will kick off Big Ten play on Dec. 9th when it travels to Rutgers. It will wrap up non-conference play against Evansville and Bowling Green State University before jumping back into league play on New Year’s Eve at home against Illinois. They wrap up a four-game homestand on January 4th by hosting Michigan.

The next six matchups alternate between home and away as it visits Nebraska (Jan. 7), returns home for Penn State (Jan. 10) and heads to Iowa (Jan. 13). Minnesota comes to Bloomington (Jan. 17) while the Barn Burner Trophy is up for grabs at Purdue (Jan. 21) in the first of two meetings between in-state rivals.

They then play their first of two meetings against Northwestern (Jan. 28) and at Maryland (Jan. 31). February begins at Ohio State (Feb. 4) before a two-game homestand against Michigan State (Feb. 8) and Purdue (Feb. 11) are on the slate. The Hoosiers are back on the road for Valentine’s Day at Wisconsin and at Illinois (Feb. 19).

Wrapping up the regular season, Iowa and Indiana meet for the second time on Feb. 22 in Bloomington before a final regular season road game at Northwestern (Feb. 27). The regular season finale will be at home for Senior Day when the program hosts Maryland (Mar. 3).

The Big Ten Tournament will be held March 6-10, 2024 at Target Center in Minneapolis. Game times and TV designations will be determined later.

2023-24 Indiana Women’s Basketball Schedule

Date Opponent Location
Nov. 1 Northwood (exh.) Bloomington, Ind.
Nov. 9 EIU Bloomington, Ind.
Nov. 12 at Stanford Palo Alto, Calif.
Nov. 17 Murray State Bloomington, Ind.
Nov. 19 Lipscomb Bloomington, Ind.
Nov. 23 Tennessee^ Fort Myers, Fla.
Nov. 25 Princeton^ Fort Myers, Fla.
Nov. 30 Maine# Portland, Me.
Dec. 9 at Rutgers* Piscataway, N.J.
Dec. 18 Evansville Bloomington, Ind.
Dec. 22 BGSU Bloomington, Ind.
Dec. 31 Illinois* Bloomington, Ind.
Jan. 4 Michigan* Bloomington, Ind.
Jan. 7 at Nebraska* Lincoln, Neb.
Jan. 10 Penn State* Bloomington, Ind.
Jan. 13 at Iowa* Iowa City, Iowa
Jan. 17 Minnesota* Bloomington, Ind.
Jan. 21 at Purdue* West Lafayette, Ind.
Jan. 28 Northwestern* Bloomington, Ind.
Jan. 31 at Maryland* College Park, Md.
Feb. 4 at Ohio State* Columbus, Ohio
Feb. 8 Michigan State* Bloomington, Ind.
Feb. 11 Purdue* Bloomington, Ind.
Feb. 14 at Wisconsin* Madison, Wis.
Feb. 19 at Illinois* Champaign, Ill.
Feb. 22 Iowa* Bloomington, Ind.
Feb. 27 at Northwestern* Evanston, Ill.
Mar. 3 Maryland* Bloomington, Ind.

*^ – Fort Myers Tipoff
# – neutral site game at Cross Insurance Arena
* – Big Ten matchup

SEE ALSO: Indiana Basketball Notebook: Key quotes, notes and more from media day

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated 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.

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Indiana Basketball: Xavier Johnson named preseason All-Big Ten Second Team by The Almanac



Xavier Johnson, Indiana basketball
Indiana basketball point guard Xavier Johnson was named preseason All-Big Ten Second Team by The Almanac on Wednesday. (Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the top college basketball publications have released its preseason awards and honors for the Big Ten and Indiana basketball point guard Xavier Johnson was one of the recipients.

Johnson, a sixth-year point guard, was named to The Almanac preseason All-Big Ten Second Team.  Johnson played and started 11 games for Indiana last season before suffering a broken foot on Dec. 17 that kept him out the remainder of the season. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.9 assists per game last season.

Xavier Johnson has played in 45 games (45 starts) for Indiana. He’s averaged 11.6 points per game and 5.0 assists across two seasons. He’s shot 38 percent from three in 2.7 attempts per game for his IU career.

In 2021-22, Johnson averaged 12.1 points and 5.1 assists per game.

Johnson returned to Indiana last season after a terrific end to his 2021-22 season. Following a four game losing streak and the end of February, Johnson hit his stride in the last month of the year. In the last nine games, he averaged 16.7 points per game and 6.9 assists to just 2.8 turnovers a game. That helped lift IU to a NCAA berth.

“Well, I thought two years ago, make no mistake about it, we got in the tournament because of Xavier Johnson and his play coming down the home stretch,” Mike Woodson said at Indiana basketball media day on Wednesday” Last year was a setback year for him. We didn’t come into last season thinking that we would lose our starting point guard, and that was a blow for us in the stretch where we struggled to win games.”

Heading into this season, Johnson was named captain of the Indiana basketball program — a high honor, but one that comes with his effort and leadership throughout his IU tenure.

“I think he’s hungry. I’m sure it was the first time he’s ever been hurt where he’s missed practically the whole season, so he’s got to be hungry,” Woodson said. “This is his last go-around. He can’t come — hell, how many years is this, six years for him? Hell, he’s an old man. Hell, he can’t come back for seven, so he’s got to give us all he can give us this year to make it right. But I do think he’s hungry, absolutely I do.”

In five seasons between Pitt and Indiana, Johnson has played in 129 games (126 starts).

“This year, X has played more basketball games in college than anybody on our ballclub, so I expect him to lead, be a point guard and be a leader on and off the floor and put us in position to win basketball games,” Woodson added. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The 2023-24 season for the Indiana basketball program gets underway on Nov. 7 against Florida Gulf Coast.

SEE ALSO: ‘I want to win now’: Mike Woodson is done accepting mediocracy. He’s ready to take Indiana basketball to new heights.

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated 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.

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