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College Basketball

For Indiana, The Three-Pointer Is An Afterthought

Mackenzie Mgbako #21 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the Empire Classic college basketball game against the Connecticut Huskies on November 19, 2023 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This past Sunday's 89-76 win over Harvard was the first double-digit victory of the season for Indiana men's basketball. Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware had 45 combined points as the Hoosiers outscored the Crimson 50-28 inside. Freshman Mackenzie Mgbako had his best game so far with 18 points. Indiana is 5-1, and yet there are some concerns, particularly from behind the arc.

The Ivy League should be good this season, though it's a little worrisome when a win over Harvard is considered a breakthrough game by local media. The numbers behind these non-conference victories could be more impressive. The Hoosiers opened with three home games in which they had single-digit wins over Army, Wright State, and Florida Gulf Coast (a team without a Division I win this year). Their other win came on a neutral court against a rebuilding Louisville squad. As for that one loss, No. 4 UConn blew out the Hoosiers, 77-57, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 19. Indiana has been falling in computer ratings.

The Hoosiers were expected to weather the departures of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino, who both went to the NBA. The frontcourt was the question coming into the season. Reneau had a promising freshman year and got jacked in the offseason; Ware transferred in from Oregon. Mgbako, a top-10 recruit this season, has struggled offensively, but the Hoosiers have pretty much gotten what they want inside. They shoot 60.2 percent on twos, and are top-25 in block percentage offensively and defensively. They don’t get many offensive boards, but that’s OK if a team's shooting 60 percent inside.

The inside shots are great; the outside shooting is almost non-existent. Against Harvard, Indiana hit its season high in made three-pointers against Harvard: four. The Hoosiers have converted a total of 19 three-pointers in six games this season. The three ball just doesn't exist for this team. Mgbako was expected to be able to come in and shoot; he is 2-for-18 from three. Trey Galloway, the team’s shooting guard, is 3-for-18. Yeesh! Point guard Xavier Johnson suffered a season-ending foot injury last December; he’s been listed as questionable for most of this season and left the Harvard game with a lower-body injury. The guard rotation is thin otherwise. Without Johnson, the best passer on the team seems to be Reneau.

Over his three seasons, Woodson hasn't constructed a team that tries many threes. This season just 25.5 percent of the Hoosiers’ shot attempts are from distance, their second straight season among the bottom 15 teams in that stat. Last season, the shots they took fell: They hit 37 percent of threes, compared to 24 percent this season.

Impressively, Woodson has managed to keep his team’s scoring up despite the woeful three-point shooting. “We shoot them every day, and they’ve just got to feel comfortable when they’re letting it go that it’s going to go in,” the head coach said after the win over Harvard. “They can’t hope it’s going to go in, they’ve got to make it go in.”

Clearly, hope is not the solution. Before the season, Woodson told the CBB Almanac that the 7-foot Ware just needed to “learn how to work.” Ware's previous coach Dana Altman derided his effort last season. The program as a whole seems to be working through some stuff: Woodson benched Mgbako for the final 15 minutes of the game against Army, and Johnson said earlier this month that the team wasn’t working hard enough.

“Guys in practice, we just go soft up for layups,” he said. “And when we turn over the ball, we think it's on the GAs [graduate assistants] that’s reffing our little games when we play each other.”

The Hoosiers will get a chance to work hard and hit some threes this Friday against Maryland, one of only a handful of teams in the country with worse three-point shooting than the Hoosiers. They've shot just 23.8 percent from three, though they’ve made twice the number of threes as Indiana. Those poor rims are going to take a beating.

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