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Why improved depth could lead Indiana basketball back to NCAA tournament

The Herald-Times

BLOOMINGTON 鈥 coach Mike Woodson learned a hard lesson about roster building when his team missed out on the NCAA tournament last season.聽

The Hoosiers simply didn鈥檛 have the depth to compete in the Big Ten.聽

That thought informed Woodson鈥檚 approach as he went into the offseason with seven open scholarships, but not a single signee or verbal commitment.

鈥淚 just didn't want to get caught in that position again,鈥 Woodson said, before an NIL-related event at Huber's Orchard and Winery on May 29. 鈥淚 didn't think we had to this season after guys we saw in the portal that we liked and once we got involved, they seemed to like us.鈥

More:How Indiana's Mike Woodson went about building one of nation's top-ranked transfer classes

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Indiana coach Mike Woodson鈥檚 big bet on Xavier Johnson

Woodson鈥檚 vision for IU last season went out the window at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Nov. 26.聽

Starting point guard Xavier Johnson left a 89-76 win over Harvard with an ankle injury that he spent much of the month trying to play through. While the injury was unrelated to the one that limited him to just 11 games in 2022-23, he ended up sitting out until early January.聽聽

By the time he fully recovered, Johnson suffered an elbow injury that cost him six games. His minutes mostly went to true freshman Gabe Cupps both times.聽

鈥淲e really counted on Xavier to be back after all his injuries,鈥 Woodson said. 鈥淲e just thought we had him back.鈥

Indiana Hoosiers guard Xavier Johnson (0) looks at his ankle on the bench during the game against Harvard in Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. on Sunday, Nob. 26, 2023.

Woodson didn鈥檛 think it was that risky of a bet going into the season considering Johnson was one of the most experienced guards in the country (126 career starts), hadn鈥檛 missed a game due to injury through his first four-plus years of college and ran IU鈥檚 offense at a high level, but he just couldn鈥檛 stay in the lineup.聽

He made just 13 starts and only played 30 minutes eight times. Two of those games came in the Big Ten tournament with Trey Galloway sidelined. Galloway spent long stretches of the season playing out of position as the team鈥檚 primary ball-handler.聽

Woodson was again complimentary of how Cupps and Galloway handled the unexpected developments, but didn鈥檛 sugarcoat the impact of Johnson鈥檚 injuries.聽

鈥淚t crushed us,鈥 Woodson said. 鈥淲e never really rebounded from it. We were playing catch up and having to mix and match."

More:Indiana basketball guard Trey Galloway not fully cleared ahead of summer workouts

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Mike Woodson: 鈥淥ne thing I have learned, we got to be deeper in certain positions鈥澛

Indiana's problems went beyond just Johnson鈥檚 injuries though.

Woodson acknowledged the team鈥檚 overall lack of depth was an issue when Kel鈥檈l Ware was out of the lineup (foot) in losses to Wisconsin and Illinois.聽

Malik Reneau and Mackenzie Mgbako accounted for 55.3% of the team鈥檚 offense during the two-game stretch (78 points) while IU鈥檚 bench scored 12 total points.

鈥淵ou got to put pieces around them,鈥 Woodson said, at Huber. 鈥淭hey can鈥檛 do it themselves, we showed some of that at different times of the season last year. We needed more pieces around them.鈥

Indiana's Mackenzie Mgbako (21) passes inside to Malik Reneau (5) during the first half of the Indiana versus Michigan State men's basketball game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday, March 10, 2024.

Indiana鈥檚 most productive bench player last season was Anthony Walker, who averaged 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 rebounds per game (14.1 minutes).聽The Hoosiers remaining bench players 鈥斅燙J Gunn, Kaleb Banks and Payton Sparks 鈥斅燼ll entered the transfer portal after the season.

Woodson hopes the all the 鈥渞eally good players鈥 he signed this offseason will give IU's bench some added punch.

According to 247 Sports composite rankings, Indiana signed three of the top 25 rated transfers in the country 鈥 Arizona center Oumar Ballo (No. 2), Stanford guard Kanaan Carlyle (No. 16) and Washington State guard Myles Rice (No. 25) 鈥 as well as the No. 28 overall recruit out of the high school ranks with small forward Bryson Tucker.聽

It鈥檚 a group Woodson believes gives him more playmaking ability and flexibility, and one that won鈥檛 sink or swim based on the availability of one player.聽

鈥淚'm pleased with the guys we brought in, I just got to put it to work,鈥 Woodson said, with a wide smile.聽

Michael Niziolek is the Indiana beat reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times. You can follow him on X and read all his coverage.