It’s been more than four months since the college basketball season ended, and we’re still three months from the start of the 2023-24 campaign.
So it’s officially hot take season for outlets that focus primarily on the sport. Or plug the gap with creative content season, if you prefer.
Enter the Field of 68, a relatively new and popular outlet launched by well known national college basketball media personalities Jeff Goodman and Rob Dauster.
The Field of 68 is currently grading the offseason roster makeovers of major programs around the country. That seems like a worthwhile endeavor here in 2023, the era of the transfer portal. And Indiana certainly had their share of change to evaluate, with just one returning starter from last year’s season opener, and six total players back from 2022-23.
Goodman and his co-host Greg Waddell gave a pretty reasonable assessment of the outlook for IU in 2023-24 after the staff added six new players, including three freshmen and three more from the portal.
Goodman likes the caliber of players IU added during the season. The Hoosiers probably picked up both the top transfer in the Big Ten in Kel’el Ware, and the top freshman in Mackenzie Mgbako. But his overarching concern was whether the 12 players Mike Woodson has assembled form a synergistic, modern team that will be equipped to make a run in February and March.
“I really like the accumulation of talent … but I don’t know,” Goodman said. “I’m all about roster construction, but I don’t know if I love the roster construction (at Indiana), because I’m also all about shooting, and if you don’t have enough perimeter shooting, you’re going to be in trouble when it matters most which is the NCAA Tournament.
“If this team finishes in the top four or five in the Big Ten, and gets two wins in March, that’s a really good season.”
That commentary echoes what we’ve written here on multiple occasions. Based on talent, IU may have one of the better frontcourts in the country, but it isn’t clear how well Ware, Mgbako and Malik Reneau will compliment one another. And on the whole, it isn’t clear that IU has anyone who will be an efficient, high volume perimeter shooter.
“Mgbako, Ware, Reneau, I don’t know if they fit together on the front line,” Goodman said. “I don’t think Mgbako is a three. I think he’s a four.
“They’re not plodding bigs. They’re versatile in a way, but can any of them step out and be a threat to space the court as face up fours or fives?”
Those are all reasonable questions to ask, and it’s reasonable to expect a wide range of opinions on where Indiana could finish in the Big Ten next year because of that uncertainty. When we survey the conference, we don’t see a lot of separation between teams 3 through 13.
We’ve seen a recent vintage IU team, 2019-20 to be exact, build an NCAA Tournament resume with a much less modern frontcourt of Joey Brunk, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Justin Smith. And the backcourt of that team — Rob Phinisee and Al Durham — was a notch below Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway. So it’s not out of the question that sub-optimal roster construction can still function at a level good enough to make it to March Madness.
But Goodman also said something very peculiar in his analysis of IU’s offseason.
“Sometimes I think Mike Woodson is still coaching like he’s back in the ’80s or ’90s instead of moving forward with the way basketball has adapted here,” Goodman said. “He’s not adapting with the game.”
Last we checked, there was no college basketball draft after the 2022-23 season. Woodson and his staff pursued several shooting guards in the portal, including Nick Timberlake, Dalton Knecht, Caleb Love, Jordan Dingle, Cormac Ryan, and others.
They simply struck out.
Now, it could be argued that Woodson’s point guard/big man heavy offense of the last two years featuring Trayce Jackson-Davis and Johnson/Jalen Hood-Schifino may not produce the most attractive film to lure in perimeter shooters from the portal.
But Jackson-Davis as the centerpiece of the team was the hand Woodson was dealt when he took over in 2021, and he would have been foolish to play a different style given the pieces he’s had over the last two years.
Woodson has said on multiple occasions during this offseason — he’s never played through a big man before TJD — and if he can build the right roster through recruiting and/or the portal, he’d prefer to not play that style going forward.
Woodson is thought of as one of the early coaches who embraced what we now refer to as the modern game that emphasizes 3-pointers. His 2013 New York Knicks set a then-NBA record with 891 made three-pointers. He wants to put four shooters around a big man and run if he’s got the right personnel.
So while the questions about whether this 2023-24 IU roster will work as constructed are reasonable, the suggestion that this is somehow Woodson’s preferred construction misses the mark by a wide margin.
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