There is no way around it — an 82-53 blowout loss to St. Mary’s stings.
But with a night to sleep on it, it is time for reflection, and a look at the big picture.
A reasonable goal for Mike Woodson’s first season at Indiana was to end the program’s NCAA Tournament drought that extended back to the 2016 season.
While it was the rollercoaster ride you’d expect for a 21-14 team that made it to the First Four, Woodson’s crew found a way to get that done.
“It was a great run for our ball club this season getting back into the Big Dance, and now we’ve got to build on it for future,” Woodson said on Thursday evening in Portland after the dismantling by St. Mary’s of his exhausted team. “That’s what it’s all about at this point.”
So what does building for the future look like?
With a season in the college game under his belt, that is likely an easier question to answer for Woodson than it was a year ago when he took over the program.
Step one is figuring out who will be on the team. It is reasonable to expect a lot of roster activity in the coming month. With 16 scholarship players signed and 13 spots available — there simply has to be some. And there will be.
With six seniors on the roster, many will consider whether to continue playing college basketball. All 13 current scholarship players have the option to return, but they also have the option to enter the transfer portal. And of course IU could nudge a few in that direction.
For those who come back, film study and conditioning will be a major part of the offseason plan.
“I’m going to make every player watch every game that was played this year by the Hoosiers,” Woodson said. “That’s one way you go back and you reflect and you learn. I’ll sit down, and I’ll have a program in place, along with my trainer, Cliff, our strength coach, in terms of things I think that they need to work on to get better.
“They’ve got a lot to learn in terms of basketball and how I want to play and the style of play that I want. So it’s going to be a work in progress, but that’s what we all signed up for. We just got to get through that process and get better for next season.”
Woodson had a lot on his plate when he took over the program last March, and was short on experience for how to build for success at this level.
With a year under his belt, he was blunt in his assessment of what needs to improve with the program to ensure this season was the first step forward and not a blip on the radar.
Woodson came from the NBA, where most teams have four or five capable perimeter shooters on the court at all times. That might not be a realistic goal at the level, but IU was no where near that level this season, and Woodson knows it.
“Shooting is a big part of it,” Woodson said when asked about what needs to improve. I thought our defense carried us guys, and we didn’t shoot the ball extremely well this season. You guys know that. You watched us play. And we got to get better in that area. I’d be foolish to say we don’t because we do.”
Indiana brought in Miller Kopp from the transfer portal to address that need. He shot an acceptable but not great 36.1 percent from long range, but offered little else in the way of posing a scoring threat or on the defensive end. He made 1.1 threes a game on just 3.1 attempts — not nearly enough to offset his shortcomings.
Parker Stewart was already on board when Woodson arrived, and his struggles were much the same as Kopp. He made a team best 39.3 percent from three but like Kopp, struggled to get enough attempts as opponents came to realize he wasn’t a much threat inside the arc. Stewart made 1.5 threes per game on 4.0 attempts.
Both players were by a large liabilities on the defensive end. And while Woodson didn’t point straight at them, he pointed in their direction.
“We got to be better on the wings from a defensive standpoint,” Woodson said.
Woodson and Indiana seemed to find defensive answers at times over the last two weeks when Trey Galloway returned from injury and joined a lineup that included Rob Phinisee and Xavier Johnson on the perimeter. That trio led the charge to wreck Michigan and Illinois’ offenses and serve as the catalyst for IU’s late-season push to the NCAA Tournament.
What did Woodson and his team learn about themselves that they can build from during those recent games?
“It’s just the level of play,” Woodson said. “I thought, the Michigan game, the Iowa game, the Illinois game, they really forced us to really, really play at a high level, and that’s how it should be.”
But from the sound of it, that was a level of effort the IU head coach wanted to get out of his team all season, not just when their NCAA lives depended on it.
“Teams shouldn’t have to force you because you should develop a team that way that want to play at a high level,” he continued.
His players got a taste of what it takes to succeed at this level, and for those who return, they can do so without the burden of the “never made the NCAA Tournament label.” Even that small point is something to build on.
“Moving forward it’s big time because it gives them an opportunity to taste it and feel what it’s really like,” Woodson said of making the tournament.
“Now these guys, they have a feel. They got this summer to go and work on things that can make them better as ballplayer and make us better as a team when they come back.
“So it’s a lot of positives making the Big Dance this year for our program.”
And now begins the process of determining who will be in the program for the 2022-23 campaign, and how to make sure the NCAA Tournament once again becomes the floor for IU.
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