Perhaps more than anyone else on the roster, IU freshman forward Malik Reneau was a revelation over the first few games of the season.
Of course the top-40 Montverde Academy product was expected to play a role right away, but it was the way he was impacting games early that had folks buzzing about the 6-foot-9, 233 pounder from Miami, Fla.
And Reneau’s production wasn’t just limited to the wins over cupcakes.
Reneau had 12 points and six rebounds in just 16 minutes against Xavier, giving Indiana a spark off the bench that played a major role in an important road win.
Reneau made 28 of his first 44 shots (63.6 percent) over the first six games of his college career and averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds over that span despite playing just 17.7 minutes.
The minutes are precious as the power forward spot, and one of the challenges for Reneau has been attempting to unseat a sixth-year player and three-year starter in Race Thompson.
Thompson’s playing time is meaningfully down, from 28.5 to 22.1 minutes per contest, year-over-year. Some of that is due to blowout games when every starter’s minutes are cut, but some is clearly due to Reneau.
But Reneau has created his own obstacles when it comes to staying on the floor. At 6.4, Reneau has been called for more fouls per 40 minutes than anyone else on the Indiana team by a wide margin Jordan Geronimo is second at 5.0 per game. By comparison, veterans Trayce Jackson-Davis and Thompson stand at 2.5 and 2.8 fouls per-40 minutes, respectively.
There’s an art to not getting called for fouls, and Reneau clearly has to figure the details like not swatting down at shots and reaching, and maintaining verticality.
In foul trouble early and often, Reneau hasn’t been able to establish much of a rhythm beginning with the North Carolina game when he went just 1-of-6 from the floor and picked up three fouls in 11 minutes. Including that game, Reneau has gone just 8-of-19 from the field over the last five games.
Last week Woodson said he needs to let Reneau play with two fouls, and beyond the dent in the team foul tally that makes sense, because he probably won’t play long enough to foul out anyway.
“I can’t take him out, just let him go get three (fouls),” Woodson said.
“He’s gotta be a lot smarter about it, because he picks them up so quickly that he doesn’t even give himself a chance to even play.”
Reneau has seemingly improved in that regard of late, with only two fouls total in the Arizona and Kansas games in 26 total minutes.
But in those minutes Reneau shot just 4-of-9 and had four turnovers, as he’s had to learn to deal with greater length, athleticism and double-teams in the post.
Jackson-Davis called Reneau a “nightmare matchup” after the Xavier game, but he hasn’t consistently looked the part since.
Part of that is undeniably the way teams are defending IU, doubling every post touch. But Woodson says he wants to see his freshman big man play harder and impact the game in other ways.
“I think he’s still searching, and trying to find himself, and I’ve been on him a lot lately because I tell young guys this all the time, there’s always another level,” Woodson said of Reneau on his Monday night radio show. “Kansas taught you, after that game, the level of play you have to play at.
“He’s a talented kid that can do a lot of things on the floor, but I’ve gotta get his motor going a little bit higher than where it is right now.”
And while he wants Reneau’s motor higher, Woodson’s freshman has to learn play harder than he is now, without fouling.
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