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‘One of the best players in our league’: Fran McCaffery gives high praise to Indiana basketball forward Malik Reneau



Indiana basketball Malik Reneau
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery had high praise for Indiana basketball forward Malik Reneau ahead of Tuesday's matchup. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana basketball forward Malik Reneau has quickly turned into one of the best players in the Big Ten — not just at his position. The sophomore forward waited his time and has watched his game blossom this season.

Reneau averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in 14.9 minutes as a freshman. He started three games.

There was never an issue with his production, rather his inability to stay on the floor due to foul trouble. After getting his body into shape this summer, Reneau is averaging 30.1 minutes a game and is one of the most versatile front court players in the league.

“Being able to do everything on the court and this year I think I’ll be able to do that and show a lot more of my game,” Reneau said this offseason about his game. “Being able to step out and shoot the three ball, grab it off the rebound and push it. Just doing all the stuff that I am used to doing and just making it where I’m not making a lot of mistakes when I am doing it. Pushing the ball in transition, posting up, shooting threes, you know all that stuff. I just want to be able to show my all-around game.”

On Monday, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery discussed Reneau and the ‘sophomore jump’ he’s seen from him through 20 games this year.

“Yeah, he’s definitely one of the best players in our league,” McCaffery said. “I think you could see that coming last year. He was sorta behind two veteran guys in Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and Race (Thompson), but played a lot and was effective. You can tell that he really worked over the summer. His body’s in a great place. He’s playing with incredible confidence and Mike (Woodson) goes to him. He’s a handful and it creates a situation where you have to pay a lot of attention to him on the defensive end every possession.”

Reneau has watched his season averages skyrocket this year. He’s currently averaging 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He’s shooting 57.8 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three.

In the Big Ten he ranks second in field goal percentage, sixth in total points, eighth in usage rate and 13th in player efficiency rating.

“I really got the motivation from Trayce and Race, seeing how they played in the whole Big Ten and seeing how they dominated. I just needed time to understand the game and go out there,” Reneau said after his career-high performance this year. “Now I’m playing nice and with my pace and being able to score on either block and finish with both hands, step out and create my shot from the 3 ball, shoot the 3 ball, too.

Much like he watched Jackson-Davis dominate the Big Ten a season ago, Reneau has elevated his game over the last month.

In the last nine games he’s averaging 20.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game while shooting 58.7 percent from the field and 47.6 percent (10-of-21) from three.

This season he’s scored 10+ points in 18 of the 20 games and scored 20+ points on five different occasions. All five 20-point games have come in his last nine — including his career-high 34 points against Kennesaw State.

He’s also shot above 60 percent in five of the last nine games.

“I just feel like the year I had just watching Trayce’s stuff, I seen a lot,” Reneau said this season. “And now my game is slowing down and I’m able to create plays for myself and for others.”

Reneau will run into a front court in Iowa that has the leading-candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Owen Freeman. Freeman is a seven-time conference Freshman of the Week performer and is averaging 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Indiana basketball (12-8, 4-5) is on the outside looking in as it pertains to the NCAA Tournament. It has lost three in a row and is 2-5 in the last seven games.

A win against Iowa on Tuesday would go a long way in potentially jumpstarting the back half of this season.

SEE ALSO: ‘Sometimes you gotta fail to be successful’: Mackenzie Mgbako continues to evolve all-around game for Indiana basketball

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.