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Preseason Roundtable Discussion: How will Indiana handle expectations under Mike Woodson?

It’s been a long offseason. Archie Miller is no more and the now Mike Woodson-led Hoosiers start a new era of basketball this week. Expectations have always been important for Indiana basketball, because they’ve always had them. 

This year something just feels different. It’s time to have a way too early roundtable overview from our team covering Indiana basketball this season. 

William McDermott, Zak Ibrahim and Jack Edwards discuss some of the season’s biggest question marks. 

Which Indiana newcomer will make the biggest difference?

William: The easy answer for me is Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp. He’s been inserted into the starting lineup and provides size and a 3-ball. At 6-foot-7 he has length and can be a force defensively if he puts the work in. Woodson said rebounding and defense are Kopp’s biggest question marks. 

Zak: I’d have to say Miller Kopp. He brings an outside scoring element to Indiana which perfectly complements an offense looking to work inside-out. A career 36 percent 3-point shooter at Northwestern, Kopp should get the same amount of looks with the difference being the quality of them. More open looks equal more makes for a player with gifted shooting touch from distance. 

Jack: Xavier Johnson won the point guard spot for the season opener against Eastern Michigan, and with Rob Phinisee hot on his tail, that inter-squad battle could be golden for Indiana. In a team with a clear goal of shooting the 3 better, a guard who can move the ball like Johnson will be necessary. He led the ACC in possession and assist rate, making himself a big part of Pittsburgh’s offense. Alongside Kopp and Parker Stewart, he will elevate their game as part of a trio of transfers in the backcourt.

What non-conference game stands out the most to you and why? 

Zak: Has to be their game against Syracuse. Not only do the Orange themselves create a challenge for IU but the atmosphere inside a hostile environment surely will be. It gives the Hoosiers an excellent opportunity to gauge themselves and how they compete with a team outside of the Big Ten. It also comes before back-to-back games against Nebraska and Wisconsin to open up conference play.

Jack: Traveling to the Carrier Dome is a daunting task for Woodson’s men, against a team they haven’t beaten since 1987. Syracuse will be good offensively (projected 18th best offensive efficiency in the nation according to KenPom), and this marks the biggest test early in the season of Indiana’s ability to get in a shootout and stick around. Indiana is favored in every game ahead of it (and heavily in many), and this will be the one where we can say if this iteration of Indiana might be for real.

William: Honestly I’m going with a bit of surprise but I’m saying next week’s St. John’s game. The Red Storm is a fringe NCAA bid contender and a win early on in the season would be huge for Woodson. Something Archie Miller never really was good at was winning the games he’s supposed to win. IU is surely on upset watch. 

A point of emphasis from Mike Woodson this year has been 3-point shooting. How do you expect the Hoosiers to shoot from beyond the arc? 

Jack: They will be better. Woodson isn’t a magician and can’t turn Trayce Jackson-Davis into a serious threat from beyond the arc, but there is an obvious shift in mentality that will lead to an uptick in makes from the junior and beyond. After years of a stated desire of improvement in shooting that wasn’t followed with results under Miller, I’m pessimistic until I can see more evidence. Losing your two best shooters in Armaan Franklin and Aljami Durham hurts, but the transfers will bring experience and a track record of making buckets. Last year they were ninth in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage. They move up two or three spots in my eyes, falling around 33-34 percent.

William: I think the percentages will improve in the grand scheme of things. Although, an issue I see with this team is that they are lacking a shot creator. Without Durham and Franklin, shot creating and shots off the dribble will be scarce. Someone will have to step up. I could see Parker Stewart as that guy. 

Zak: Personnel suggests this team will be able to shoot the 3 at a much higher clip than in years past. The past four seasons never saw IU shoot better than 32 percent and I feel that number will increase this year along with the amount of makes. The more of a threat they are in the paint, the better looks they’ll get from outside. While they are missing an off-the-dribble shooter, it shouldn’t take more than knocking down spot-up 3s within the flow of the offense. I could see a solid 3 percent increase in their 3-point shooting this year. 

Which player takes the biggest leap from last year? 

William: Rob Phinisee. It feels weird putting a senior on here but Phinisee really struggled last year. From beyond the arc, the starting point guard shot 26 percent. That was down 7 percent from the 2019-20 season. He’s elite defensively and if he builds confidence and develops rhythm offensively it would go a long way in helping the Hoosiers. 

Zak: With all this talk about shooting the 3, I’m tempted to say Anthony Leal. Last year the Bloomington native only made nine 3s in limited playing time. If Indiana wants to improve from the perimeter, this 3-point specialist will have to contribute.

Guard Rob Phinisee of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game between the North Alabama Lions and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. (Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics)

The struggles for him emerged on the defensive side, but if he takes advantage of his open opportunities he will almost force his way onto the court.

Jack: Jordan Geronimo. The Hall is dying to chant some iteration of his last name, and I think he delivers that this year. His explosiveness, ability to sit back and learn from the experience ahead of him, and Woodson pushing him to expand his game make me very excited for his potential off the bench. Jackson-Davis spoke out about his shooting ability this year, adding further excitement. We saw glimpses last year, we’re ready for a bigger sample size.

What will be the most challenging aspect of this season?

Jack: Managing the herculean expectations of Woodson’s return and the history around the program. The season will have its lows, and how this team reacts to inevitable pessimism and negativity from fans and media will be huge. While the culture shift is very apparent, a lack of results can lead to apathy (looking at you, Memorial Stadium). Woodson will earn more patience, but he will also recognize the need to satisfy fans starved of success for many years.

William: Having fans back in the Big Ten. Indiana doesn’t head on the road until it goes against Syracuse but a Big Ten conference environment is going to be wild after a year with no fans. Although, this could be to the Hoosiers’ advantage. 

Zak: Handling expectations will be the biggest challenge they face. Fans can anoint you as a team that will bounce back and make noise in March (which could happen) but you still have to take it game-by-game. Woodson will be the first to tell you that.

What does Mike Woodson provide that Archie Miller didn’t?

Zak: Woodson is both a leader and a teacher. He represents the best of Indiana basketball’s history along with an NBA pedigree. This creates a true presence on the sideline that players react and respond to. His insightful comments to his team show a passion to win along with a wealth of basketball knowledge which is bestowed upon us whenever he steps to a microphone. 

William: The NBA talent Woodson has coached and been around is unmatched in college basketball. Miller was very reserved with everything he did was very under the radar. It’s important and has been clear early on for Woodson to maintain a jovial presence and image on social media and more. 

Jack: Self-awareness. He’s done this at the NBA level, he knows what’s needed, and if it isn’t there, he will tell it like it is. That’s appreciated by fans and helps in my assessment of this team’s ability to handle adversity. He’s felt the pressure on his shoulders as a Hoosier player, and the national pressure of the NBA, and will be able to instill in his players the wisdom and reality required to find success.

What is your NCAA tournament seeding (if any) prediction?

Jack: This team is built to make waves in March. I see Indiana as the higher seed of one NCAA tournament game, as anywhere from a 6-8 seed, with the breakout potential for more in the tournament. While they won’t want expectations to be low, making the tournament will be a welcome improvement from everyone around the program.

William: I think Indiana finally gets over the hump and makes the NCAA Tournament this year. I think this team has a ceiling to be as high as a No. 6 seed but realistically I see around a No. 8 or No. 9. Not bad for Woodson’s first year back. 

Zak: I see IU as a team that will challenge in the Big Ten and end up a possible 6 or 7 seed come March. We should be able to see what this team is made of early in its conference schedule with opportunities to impress down the stretch with many seeing them as a sleeper to win some tournament games. That would be a huge step in the right direction after the past few years.

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