Mike Woodson made it his first mission as Indiana’s head basketball coach to try to bring everyone on Indiana’s 2020-21 roster back for 2021-22, and he almost pulled it off.
Of the six players who entered the transfer portal, four returned and one of the two who left was expected to leave. Senior guard Aljami Durham played the entire 2020-21 season as if it was his final year at IU and decided to play at Providence for the extra year each player was allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The only surprising loss was that of sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, the team’s second-leading scorer, who announced his intention to transfer to Virginia on Thursday.
“We got commitments from all but one to come back and that’s very exciting for me,” Woodson told reporters Friday. “I was hoping no one left. Armaan Franklin made the decision he wanted to leave, but we just gotta push on.”
Push on, in this case, means the Hoosiers have to attack the portal themselves and try to fill out a roster that will be drastically changing its style on offense from a relatively slow-moving unit that utilized two post players.
Woodson plans on making the Hoosiers an uptempo, four-out, one-in team that utilizes outside shooting and spacing, but he doesn’t have a player on the roster who made more than 25 3-point shots last year.
“Everybody talks about how they want to play uptempo,” Woodson said. “I’m that way too. I want to bring an NBA style game to our ball club, depending on how fast they can pick things up. I don’t know a lot of things until you actually assemble the team and you start working with them. I don’t want to overload them, but I do want to play faster and get quick strikes earlier in the offense so we don’t have to settle and come down and face a lot of zones and tough man-to-man defense. If we can get early strikes that takes some of the pressure off our half-court offensive game.”
The Hoosiers have already claimed an important piece from the portal that should help the cause. Point guard Xavier Johnson from Pittsburgh excels at creating turnovers on the defensive end and breaking down opposing defenses off the dribble on the offensive end. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder averaged 14.2 points per game last season and 42.6 percent of his shots came at the rim.
However, Johnson is a career 33.6 percent 3-point shooter and the Hoosiers need something better than that, especially considering how effective Franklin was from outside as a sophomore. He made 36 3-pointers on 85 attempts to lead in percentage at .424. The only player who hit more was Durham, who made 38 on 100 attempts.
The Hoosiers already added Parker Stewart as a mid-year transfer from Tennessee-Martin. He didn’t get on the floor all season, but he adds range having made 142 3-pointers in his two college seasons. But Woodson acknowledged that more perimeter options are necessary for the Hoosiers to make the system work.
In Johnson, junior Rob Phinisee and freshman Khristian Lander, he has three players who can handle the point guard spot and each have shown an ability to step off the ball. However, the only other true off-guards other than Stewart are freshmen Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway. Leal was recruited for his shooting talent and 30 of his 32 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc this season, but he made just nine in limited minutes. Galloway defended well and made plays off the dribble but made just six of 33 3-point attempts.
“We have some holes to plug,” Woodson said. “… Losing Franklin, we’re going to have to look in that area in terms of a scoring 2 and maybe some help at the 3-4 spot, maybe the 3. I like (Race) Thompson in the 4 spot where he is. We have the big fella, (Trayce Jackson-Davis) in the hole. We just gotta start plugging in some pieces where I think we’re a little weak at. That’s the 2-3 spot. We’ve got to fill those spots. We’re still in the portal trying to compete there and see where it leads us.”
In redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter and freshman Jordan Geronimo, the Hoosiers have two players who seem to fit as stretch fours with shooting ability at the power forward spot. However, Woodson said he believes redshirt junior Race Thompson, who operated as a more post-oriented power forward in 2020-21, can handle being more perimeter oriented next season.
The 6-foot-8, 228-pounder got 52.7 percent of his shot attempts at the rim in 2020-21 and has made just 6 of 28 career 3-pointers at Indiana but he was a 45 percent 3-point shooter in his final year of high school at Armstrong High School in Minnesota and Woodson believes he can regain that form.
“I have to expand his game, just like I have to expand the big fella Jackson-Davis’ game,” Woodson said. “Both of those guys, they gotta be able to shoot out on the floor and feel good about shooting. I gotta get Race in position that he feels comfortable about shooting 3s. It’s gotta take some time to do that this summer. Once he gets back this week, we’re going to start working on those areas of his game. Because I think he can expand his game in those areas.”
Woodson will still use Jackson-Davis at center, but as Jackson-Davis mentioned in his own press conference, he will be expected to step outside the paint and make shots. The 6-9, 245-pounder needs to do that to raise his stock on NBA draft boards, and it would help to keep the floor spread.
“I think he’s gotta expand his game in terms of being more productive with his right hand and being able to shoot 15-, 16-, 17-foot jumpers when the defense plays off of him,” Woodson said. “I’m watching him in our individual settings and he can make that shot. I just have to give him the confidence and the latitude to shoot it when it presents itself. I don’t want him to be scared to shoot it. I’m going to give him that latitude.”
But they and the rest of the Hoosiers are going to have to prove they can hit shots from outside to keep the floor as spread as Woodson wants it to be. So as much as he wants to play uptempo, he knows he can’t guarantee the 2021-22 Hoosiers will play that way
“It’s hard for me to sit here and say this and say we’re going to play like this before I get the team assembled,” Woodson said. “I’ve watched enough on tape to think I know where I want to go offensively. I got an idea, but I just don’t know where it’s going to go until I put them in a five-on-five setting and start teaching.”
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