BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana coach Mike Woodson believed that establishing a strong defensive foundation would lead to wins early in his tenure. He stayed true to his word as Indiana finished with the top adjusted defensive efficiency in the Big Ten, allowing 66.2 points per game.
On Monday, Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis reiterated that sentiment, saying that Indiana spent the early days with Woodson with a total emphasis on defense.
“We rarely focused on offense,” Jackson-Davis said.
Woodson knew he had to construct defensive building blocks in his first season, and that is sure to carry over into next season. But in year two of the Woodson era – with Jackson-Davis running it back alongside three other starters and a top-10 recruiting class – Indiana is looking to take the next step offensively.
Woodson laid out an offensive identity when he was hired to coach Indiana. He wants to bring the professional game to college, playing a four-out, one-in style with pace, space and shooters all over the court. Last season, Indiana scored 70.8 points per game, good for 10th in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers finished 95th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and Indiana’s 5.9 3-point field goals per game was last in the Big Ten.
Indiana brought in three new starters last year, and Jackson-Davis said the team was learning how to play with each other as the season progressed. But now, after a full season of experience together, Jackson-Davis thinks the Hoosiers have a stronger sense of chemistry that will translate into better offensive play.
“At the end of the year is where our offense really started clicking, minus the last game (an NCAA Tournament loss to Saint Mary's),” Jackson-Davis said. “I think the pick-and-roll was big for us and having a spaced floor. … Just seeing what we can do and what we can achieve with actually putting more time and effort in [offensively] is going to be really key for us.”
When Jackson-Davis met with Woodson to discuss his return to Indiana, it came with a few suggestions on how to improve the team’s offensive chemistry. Last season, Jackson-Davis said Indiana only practiced with the starting five against the bench. This season, he wants to switch up the teams during practice to build better chemistry so when bench players enter the game, they’re more comfortable playing with the starters.
“We're going to be in the gym all summer working on that and then just playing with each other,” Jackson-Davis said. “A lot of guys didn't get a chance to play with certain guys last year, and I think that's going to change. We're going to mix it around a lot.”
Jackson-Davis said this is absolutely the best team he’s played on at Indiana. After focusing on defense for the majority of last season, he thinks there will be a greater emphasis on running offensive sets to generate a better offensive flow.
“We have talent all across the board from the guards all the way down to the centers,” Jackson-Davis said. “We have dudes that care about the program and are here for the right things.
And personally, Jackson-Davis hopes to add an outside shot to his repertoire this season. When he was in California preparing for the NBA Draft Combine, trainers told him to always look to shoot when he catches the ball. In the past, Jackson-Davis said he’d catch the ball and assess the defense, but he’ll have more confidence to let it fly this season.
“I feel like when I'm in rhythm and I'm shooting the ball without any hesitation, it's a totally different looking shot,” Jackson-Davis said. “Especially when I'm shooting with confidence.”
Jackson-Davis also plans to take freshman Malik Reneau under his wing this summer. Reneau is a 6-foot-8, 210-pound five-star power forward from Montverde Academy, who is coming off back-to-back GEICO National Championships. Like Jackson-Davis, Reneau is a lefty and could really benefit from a summer learning from one of the top forwards in the Big Ten.
“[Reneau] is a great player,” Jackson Davis said. “The thing with him too, he's a winner. So that's great. Montverde is a powerhouse team. Him and Jalen [Hood-Schifino] coming in, they're going to make big contributions, no doubt about that. They're very mature for their grades.”
A big question that remains for Indiana, offensively, is perimeter shooting. The Hoosiers shot 33 percent from beyond the arc last season, and Parker Stewart — who led the team in 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made — transferred back to UT-Martin.
A candidate to fill this role and take the next step is Tamar Bates, who enters his second season at Indiana. Bates arrived in Bloomington as a four-star recruit and the No. 30 player in his class. After the loss of Bates’ uncle midseason, Jackson-Davis said Bates’ season got “derailed.”
“That's some things you can't control, and it really messes up your mentality,” Jackson-Davis said. “I think [Bates] is back. He's got his head straight. He's ready to get to work.”
As a freshman, Bates appeared in 32 games off the bench, playing 14.5 minutes per game. He clearly has a smooth offensive game and showed the ability to create offense all over the court, but shots just didn’t fall for Bates last year. He shot 33.8 percent from the field and 29.8 from 3, scoring 3.9 points per game.
Jackson-Davis called Bates a gym rat and thinks he could be in for a breakout sophomore campaign after battling adversity as a freshman.
“As the season goes around, that mental aspect, you start to lose it a little bit,” Jackson-Davis said. “But I think this year, having one year under his belt, [Bates] is going to be able to attack that and handle that, and I'm going to be right there helping him.”
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