Since he arrived in Bloomington, Indiana fans have been talking about Trayce Jackson-Davis’ jump shot.
If he could only make threes, he’d finally be that dominant player who could lead the Hoosiers deep into March, the story went.
Truth be told, while it may not be a strength of his game, Jackson-Davis can make threes. But it makes little sense to shoot them when he can dominate in the paint like he has for the last two months.
Moreover, if he was making threes in games, Jackson-Davis would have left Indiana for the NBA a long time ago. As it turned out, we got to see how truly dominant he could be at the college level precisely because he never did start making threes.
But while the perimeter jump shot never became a staple in his college repertoire, Jackson-Davis has improved in just about every other aspect of the game. Now a March run is in fact in play for Indiana, and Jackson-Davis is first team All-American good.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has seen astronomical growth in year four.
“I’ve watched him grow as a player, and I think he took small steps for three years, and maybe he works for NASA, or he just took a giant step for Indiana at least, if not mankind,” Izzo said on Monday.
“He’s really improved his game with his ball handling, he’s improved his game with his strength. I think he’s improved his game with his passing ability.”
In their first meeting in January, Jackson-Davis had a game that while other-worldly, looked a lot like all the others he’s had lately: 31 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.
But Michigan State likely could have survived that onslaught if not for Indiana’s 9-of-15 shooting performance from beyond the 3-point arc.
While Jackson-Davis hasn’t turned into a 3-point shooter himself, he’s become a very effective facilitator of long distance shots for others. He had four assists against the Spartans last month, and his willingness as a passer is another area where Izzo has seen improvement.
“I thought at one time he was a black hole, it went it and didn’t come out,” Izzo said. “Now I think he’s added different dimensions to his game. He’s very hard to double. He can catch the ball anywhere on the floor and get to wherever he wants, and he’s got as good a first step as any player at any position. He’s a load.”
It’s bittersweet for Izzo to watch Jackson-Davis’ development. He recruited the Greenwood, Ind. product aggressively. He became close with both Jackson-Davis and his family, and still communicates with his step-father.
For most of the year, the long-time Spartans head coach can sit back and enjoy the development of a good kid, even if it at the same time he’s left to wonder what it all might have looked like if Jackson-Davis had chosen to play in East Lansing.
Tuesday night is one of those nights when Izzo doesn’t enjoy the great player Jackson-Davis has become.
But he still knows stories like his are good for the game.
“He’s kind of what you hope college basketball is supposed to be,” Izzo said. “Kid came in and he was a good player. Got to be a pretty good player and then a real good player. And then he made this monstrous jump between his third and fourth year where I think we get condemned for staying in school, but he’s a kid where I think it’s really benefitted him. So I think it’s been good for the game.”
While Jackson-Davis scored 31 in the first meeting, he needed 20 shots to get there. It was his 13 free throw attempts, along with offensive outbursts from Tamar Bates and Trey Galloway that ultimately led the Hoosiers to an 82-69 win in Bloomington.
Izzo acknowledges there’s a pick-your-poison aspect to playing Indiana right now. Single coverage is too easy for Jackson-Davis, and double-teams give up open threes.
It sounds like the game plan on Tuesday night will be to throw the kitchen sink at Jackson-Davis with a wide variety of looks, while accepting the fact that he’ll still put up big numbers. Jackson-Davis has scored 18 or more points in 11 straight games.
“We’re going to have to mix some things up. I don’t think there will be a steady diet of anything,” Izzo said.
“But really, Trayce is going to get his 20 points. He gets enough touches, he gets enough opportunities, and he’s a phenomenal player. The game plan won’t just be to stop Trayce, we got beat last time because Bates hit five out of six threes, and I’m not sure he’s hit that many since. But he did. And Galloway hit three. So two surprise guys hit eight threes, and that’s the problem.
“People want you to double, and you’re giving up threes. People want you to guard the threes and you’re giving up 30 points to the post guy.”
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