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IU basketball: Woodson wants more shots for Stewart and Kopp, bigger role for Bates to help struggling offense

Through three Big Ten games, Indiana’s offensive profile looks a bit like the IU teams of the last four years.

And not much like the offense head coach Mike Woodson described when he took the job in the spring.

The Hoosiers are doing a better job of taking care of the ball in league games, but that comes at the cost of a pace slower than what Woodson has in mind.  For the most part in the Big Ten, teams are content to focus on their defensive scheme and eliminate transition opportunities rather than gamble to create turnovers.

The 4-out, 1-in offense Woodson described before the season seems to have largely given way to playing with both Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis in the paint with an emphasis on playing inside-out.  That’s an approach aimed at playing to the team’s strengths, but can lead to congested driving lanes and poor overall spacing.

Woodson also said before the season he wanted to emphasize the “three ball.” But the 3-point makes that had fans hopeful during the nonconference aren’t available right now, and the long-range shots IU does find aren’t going in.

Woodson readily admits the offensive product on the floor right now is not what he had in mind when he transitioned to the college game.

“No, I mean again, I like the floor to be more open,” he told Don Fischer on the radio on Monday night when asked if this is the offensive product he envisioned.

Indiana is averaging just 61.7 points through three Big Ten games, and making just 39.5 percent of their shots from the field in those contests.  To this point IU has only faced one league opponent (Wisconsin) expected to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, but already they have a clear sense for how difficult the next two months will be.

Woodson has adapted to the strengths of the team, but to this point those moves have been countered well by his fellow coaches in the conference.

Indiana’s first-year man in charge is still looking for answers.

“I thought we did a lot more motion pass-and-cut last night (Sunday at Penn State) and the ball moved from side-to-side,” Woodson said.  “But in college you have to have pick-and-roll play, I don’t care how you slice it up, and we’ve not really been good in that area.

“So that’s why we’ve kind of converted to posting the ball, because that’s where our strengths are.  And they are doubling, and when they do we hope to get Miller and Parker shots out on the perimeter.”

To this point Kopp and Stewart have largely been used as spot-up shooters in the offense as they await kick-outs from the post or passes from the point guards after high-ball screens.  But with Kopp and Stewart not posing a serious threat to attack off the bounce, defenses have largely figured out they can stick to IU’s two best 3-point shooters.

The result is that while Kopp stands at 40 percent from behind-the-arc and Stewart a team-best 47.5, neither is getting enough of a shot volume to make a big difference.  Kopp has attempted just 2.3 shots from long range in the last six contests, and Stewart just 2.5 over the last four.

Woodson knows he has to change things up offensively to get the duo more looks from distance.

“I’ve got to change some sets and try to get Miller and Parker more involved where they can get some shots off of screens,” Woodson said.  … “I’ve got to get more movement and see how that works.”

Part of the offensive challenge for Indiana right now is that the five starters have limited spots on the floor where they are a threat to score.  Jackson-Davis and Thompson are for the most part confined to the paint-area, and Stewart and Kopp behind-the-arc.  That dynamic is making IU easier to defend right as opponents have less areas of the floor to be concerned about, and less variables to account for.  And it has led to offense that often leads to point guards Xavier Johnson and Rob Phinisee dribbling too much and shooting too much — because that’s what defenses are allowing.

Indiana expects to get Trey Galloway back for Ohio State on Thursday.  He should give Woodson a different look on the perimeter as the sophomore guard poses a threat to attack off the bounce.

“He brings energy,” Woodson said.  … “He’s good at attacking off the dribble so that will help us a little bit in playing our drive and kick game.”

But to this point Galloway hasn’t been a major threat to knock-down perimeter shots.

The one player who is truly a three-level scorer who might be able to shake things up for this IU offense has been something of a forgotten man in recent weeks — true freshman Tamar Bates.

After some impressive performances in The Bahamas and the early portion of the season, many thought Bates might work his way into the starting five by this point in the season.

But the 6-foot-5 Bates has had challenges off the court recently.  He lost his uncle a couple weeks ago, and recently announced on social media he is an expecting father.

Those variables and a canceled game have contributed to Bates somewhat fading out of the picture.  He has only appeared in two games and played just a total of 21 minutes over the last three weeks.

But there have been flashes to suggest Bates might be able to provide exactly what IU is missing.  Previously the Kansas City, Kan. product has had some strong performances against high major competition, including an 11-point effort against St. John’s and 13-points against Nebraska.

Bates has been at his best in home games.  He’s made just 2-of-11 shots on the road while averaging as many turnovers as points in those contests.  With the Hoosiers in Bloomington for their next two games, Woodson knows he has to get his top-30 freshman back on track.

“I’ve got to get Tamar back up to speed,” Woodson said.


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