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A cure for what has ailed IU basketball? “Miller can make ’em”

Mike Woodson doesn’t hesitate when you ask him why the program pursued Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp.

“We recruited him to come here to make shots,” Woodson has said repeatedly, most recently at Indiana’s media day.

Woodson’s desire to find shooters makes sense on multiple levels.

Indiana hasn’t shot better than 32.6 percent as a team from 3-point range in any of its last four seasons.  It hasn’t been ranked higher than No. 206 in 3-point percentage during that span, and twice the Hoosiers were outside of the top-300.

IU also hasn’t taken many threes over the last four years, a wise choice given their futility from behind the arc.  As a percentage of their total shots IU never took more than 33.6 percent of its attempts from three, and never ranked higher than No. 291 in that regard.  But that is something Woodson wants to change as he opts for an up-tempo, well-spaced offense that emphasizes the “long ball” as he likes to refer to 3-pointers.

Kopp is just one piece of what projects to be an improved if not great arsenal of shooters.

Over three seasons at Northwestern, the 6-foot-7 Kopp averaged 26.4 minutes, 9.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per contest while shooting 36 percent from 3-point range on 339 attempts. Kopp started 74 times in 87 games for the Wildcats.

As a sophomore in 2019-20, Kopp started all 31 games and led the team in minutes and points with 999 and 405 (13.1 ppg). He shot 39.6 percent from deep and connected on a team-high 65 3-point shots. As a junior in 2020-21, Kopp’s numbers fell off. He averaged 11.3 points and shot just 33 percent from behind the arc.

Like his coach, Kopp’s new teammates see his ability as a perimeter shooter as a clear strength.

“I think Miller can do a lot of things, he can shoot the ball very well, he can spread the floor,” Khristian Lander said. “Teams will have to respect us that we can shoot this year.”

But Kopp is not immune to shooting struggles.  He shot just 15-for-70 on 3-pointers over the final 16 games of last season.  So while he has the reputation as a shooter and he clearly showed it in The Bahamas, technically Kopp is starting the season in a slump.  He started for IU in the Bahamas and played well, but on nights when the shots are not falling at a high rate, Kopp will need to excel in other areas to maintain his minutes.

“I want more. He’s got to defend some, too,” Woodson said.  “He hadn’t been used to switching or getting called in mismatches where he has to defend. He’s going to be held accountable because I’ve always told players throughout the course of a ballgame, You’re going to guard someone differently than the guy you started with. That’s just the nature of playing basketball.”

While he isn’t an elite athlete and doesn’t arrive with the reputation as a great defender, Kopp says he isn’t backing away from Woodson’s expectations.  In fact, he saw Indiana as a place where he could come and develop a more well-rounded game.

“One of the reasons I came here is to be pushed to be more than just a shooter and you know challenge defensively and be a better rebounder especially at my size,” Kopp said.  “So just every day in practice Coach Woody and all the assistants have been on me about guarding and defending and rebounding and you know shots are going to go in some are going to go in some won’t but at the end of the day you know they want me to shoot the ball when I’m open but improve on guarding every possession and rebound the ball.”

For his career Kopp is averaging just 4.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, so there is clear room for growth there.  And as a defender Kopp is a bit of a ‘tweener.  He is going to get pulled into mismatches both against big men and wings.  It will be interesting to watch him in both areas as the season progresses and the competition ramps up.

But make no mistake, what will ultimately define Kopp’s success or failure at IU will be whether or not he can space the floor for others and change the game by knocking down the long ball.

His coach thinks he can.

“Miller can make ’em,” Woodson said.

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