Indiana’s class of returning sophomores has had very different seasons this year.
Malik Reneau has taken a huge step forward, and is IU’s leading scorer. But CJ Gunn and Kaleb Banks haven’t been able to make similar strides.
During a media availability over Zoom on Thursday, IU head coach Mike Woodson was asked about what’s kept Gunn and Banks from progressing this season. And he wasn’t entirely sure of that answer.
“You know, I wish I knew. Because they have worked. I mean, in practice they work,” Woodson said. “I’ve just got find some confidence somewhere in one of them, if not both, because it’s tough. You can’t just play six guys.”
Both players have had some positive moments this season. Gunn’s have outnumbered Banks’, though the forward did score 12 points and play a key role in Indiana’s win over Kennesaw State in late December. Gunn scored 10 points in IU’s win over Ohio State in Bloomington, and was a really important part of the win at Michigan in December.
But neither of the sophomores have played with the consistency the Hoosiers were hoping for entering the season. And those struggles have caused their roles to slim down late in the season, for the second straight year.
Gunn has played fewer than 10 minutes in three of IU’s last four games — though he might have played more at Wisconsin if he wasn’t ejected. Meanwhile, Banks has fallen completely out of the rotation — he hasn’t played in three straight games, and played no more than five minutes in the four games prior.
The Hoosiers have had various health issues throughout the season — currently, Xavier Johnson is out indefinitely. With other pieces in and out of the lineup at times — not to mention, when foul trouble arises — it’s hard for Woodson to have such a thin rotation. Anthony Leal’s emergence has been a huge relief in that sense.
But IU could still really use some improvement from Gunn and Banks. It could make a big difference to get some more quality minutes from those two off the bench going down the stretch this season.
“I’ve just got to keep working and trying to get them where I need them to be, man,” Woodson said. “We still got a lot of basketball left, and my thing is when I put them in there, maybe I’m putting too much pressure, they’re feeling too much pressure to have to perform,” Woodson said. “I don’t want them to feel that way, so I’ve just got to … that part of it, I’ve got to figure out.”
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