Indiana escaped from New York with a 1-1 record and avoided sending the fan base into a Thanksgiving panic.
Now that we’ve gotten to know this 2023-24 edition of IU basketball, it should come as no surprise that there were plenty of good moments, and plenty of bad.
Let’s take a deeper look at how the Hoosiers performed inside Madison Square Garden during their two games at the Empire Classic.
Indiana (4-1) will next play Harvard at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
While it isn’t particularly surprising, by far the most concerning thing about this Indiana team on the offensive end is their inability to make 3-pointers. IU currently stands at No. 342 in the country (out of 362), making just 23.4 percent. Starting wings Trey Galloway and Mackenzie Mgbako need to be the volume shooters in the starting lineup, and they’ve opened the season a combined 4-of-27 from long range, including 1-of-11 in New York. As a team, IU made just 4-of-24 threes (16.7 percent) over the two games at MSG.
Here’s one sneaky stat that has probably saved Indiana from a start worse than 4-1 — they are the No. 2 team in the country when it comes to getting to the free throw line. Xavier Johnson is the No. 35 player in the country in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), and Malik Reneau, Kel’el Ware and Galloway are all top-300. IU shot 62 free throws in New York and made 72.6 percent. They are No. 35 nationally in 2-point field goal percentage — so if the threes start falling even a little bit this could be a pretty good offensive team.
IU averaged just 11.5 turnovers over the two games. That’s a number you can work with against high major competition. But there was a stark difference in assists in the UConn (6) and Louisville (18) contests. Was that Indiana finding offensive answers, or just the difference in the opponent? Indiana is going to have to continue to drill transition offense, ball movement, and people movement to ramp up their efficiency.
Who knew that Indiana turning to a zone defense would be an early story line to the 2023-24 season? Not Louisville coach Kenny Payne, who admitted he wasn’t expecting that look from Indiana at all.
““I knew Woody (Mike Woodson) wouldn’t play zone,” Payne said. “Or I thought, he tricked me.”
We may never see the zone again, or the next time we do see it, it may not work. But Woodson showed a willingness to make a major change midgame when his team was struggling. That’s great coaching, and he and his staff deserve major credit. And the players did a respectable job executing the 2-2-1 press into a 2-3 zone considering they hadn’t really practiced it to any meaningful extent.
If 3-point defense was a major bugaboo coming into the New York trip, then you have to give credit where it’s due. UConn and Louisville shot a combined 12-of-41 (29.3 percent). Sure, both teams missed open looks, but the number of wide open shots seemed lower, and the close-outs seemed more impactful.
The other major deficiency coming in was defensive rebounding. IU gave away any chance they had to beat UConn by allowing 15 offensive boards. But there was a clear concerted effort to not allow that happen again vs. the Cardinals, who had just three offensive rebounds in the second half. Again, a different caliber of opponent, but perhaps Indiana learned something about the level of physicality and effort they’ll need to bring this season.
Overall the reviews are mixed. While IU was able to save their butts with a zone, their high ball screen defense was a disaster in the second half vs. Louisville. Meanwhile, Indiana played respectable if not great defense against UConn, save for a 3:45 stretch late in the second half when they gave up 14 points and the Huskies put the game away.
MORE EMPIRE CLASSIC COVERAGE
- “He’ll be fine” — Mike Woodson growing tired of the “bull$h!t” Mgbako questions
- Indiana men’s basketball’s bench displays progress and potential in win over Louisville
- Video: “It’s bigger than y’all” — Victor Oladipo addresses IU team after win over Louisville
- Watch: Mike Woodson, Kaleb Banks and Xavier Johnson discuss win over Louisville
- IU basketball: Indiana 74 Louisville 66 — Three keys, highlights, final stats
- With Xavier Johnson in foul trouble against UConn, Indiana’s backcourt was a problem
- Here’s UConn coach Dan Hurley’s read on IU basketball
- Watch: IU basketball’s Woodson, Reneau and Galloway discuss loss to UConn
- IU basketball: UConn 77 Indiana 57 — Three keys, highlights, final stats
*Trey Galloway (C-) Galloway had a good game in some respects vs. UConn, although you can see his toughness and athleticism get marginalized a bit against elite competition, and he needed to be much more impactful on the glass. And he struggled mightily against Louisville. No one expected him to shoot threes at last year’s rate as his volume increased, but he obviously needs to start knocking downs some shots.
*Malik Reneau (A-) The sophomore forward was IU’s most consistent player in New York — when he was on the court. Reneau had 30 points over the two games on 10-of-14 shooting and a stellar 10-of-10 effort at the stripe. But he also had nine fouls and played just 47 minutes because of that. Reneau is the X factor on this team. He’s a mismatch on both ends of the floor, in IU’s favor on offense and to their disadvantage on defense. And that’s leading to his scoring opportunities, and his fouls.
*Kel’el Ware (B-) We wondered if Ware’s 79 percent 2-point shooting would hold up against high majors, and we got our answer. He made just 5-of-17 from two in the two contests. He’ll need to expand his repertoire when shooting over people is not an efficient option. He seemed to not handle UConn’s physical and aggressive style well, but also seemed to respond in those aspects vs. Louisville when challenged by Woodson. Ware continues to be a major cog, and his ability to make threes will help an offense that desperately needs spacing.
*Xavier Johnson (C+) If you want to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt because he was dealing with an injury, that seems fair. That could certainly explain his foul difficulty vs. UConn, if his body wasn’t allowing him to perform at the level that was required against elite talent. Here’s the bottom line with Johnson — he’s too important to be this inconsistent. IU needs him out of foul trouble and on the floor, and they need him on the gas at all times. When he did that at times against Louisville, he was great.
*Mackenzie Mgbako (D-) You can see the raw talent, but continuing defensive lapses, poor shooting, and on Monday, foul trouble, has the freshman off to a disappointing start. Mike Woodson is preaching patience, and only five games in, that seems reasonable. Mgbako is playing out of position, but with Reneau playing so well, the four spot doesn’t appear to be an option.
Gabe Cupps (C+) It wasn’t as if Cupps played poorly in New York. He gave Indiana a serviceable 28 total minutes and helped keep things afloat with Johnson in foul trouble vs. UConn. But you can also see that it still may take some time for him to be impactful vs. high majors.
C.J. Gunn (C+) Gunn continues to take steps forward after a sluggish start, and that’s saying something considering the caliber of opponent was much greater in New York. His four steals vs. UConn flew under the radar because of the loss, but that’s where Gunn stood out in both games — energy, effort, and aggressiveness. The glaring issue is he needs to start making threes — and stop taking long twos.
Anthony Walker (C+) What a tale of two games for Walker, who looked lost against UConn and helped lead an exceptional bench effort against Louisville. He went from no rebounds in the first game to seven in the second. We’ll see if this is the start of something. He can help this team with effort and smart basketball if he plays like he did vs. the Cardinals.
Kaleb Banks (B) Banks also didn’t factor much against UConn, but he was a star in game two. Indiana may not have won without his contributions on both ends. Above all, it was Banks’ motor that stood out, and he’ll force his way into a larger role if he can maintain that level of effort. Put him on a long list of guys who can change the direction of this season if he starts making threes.
Payton Sparks (C+) Sparks looked a bit nervous in the early games of the season, and an injury during the first exhibition didn’t help him get off to a fast start. But he showed something vs. Louisville. Sparks doesn’t move great laterally, but he’s a physical defender, and he can rebound, block shots, run the floor and score at the rim. He’s a solid backup center for the Hoosiers.
Anthony Leal did not play. Jakai Newton (knee) is out long-term.