What we learned about Indiana in Year 1 under Mike Woodson
Before the season started, as the Hoosiers entered Year 1 of the Mike Woodson era, their primary goal wasn’t so much a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, although that was a big one, but to find stability within a program that had seemed rudderless for at least a half-dozen years, perhaps longer.
So consider 2021-22 a success. On the brink toward the end of the regular season, Indiana had to fight its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning 2 games in the Big Ten Tournament. But once in the Big Dance, the Hoosiers’ first appearance since 2016, they won a game, albeit in the First Four, before falling in the tournament’s first round.
Indiana finished the season 21-14, scoring big wins against then-No. 3 Purdue (and ending a long losing streak to the in-state rival), and Michigan and Illinois in the conference tournament.
But a foundation was laid, Indiana hopes, that Woodson can build upon for years to come. Let’s take a look back at the season:
Indiana regained its lost mojo.
After years of Archie Miller trying to get the Hoosiers to reclaim some of their confidence, it didn’t take Woodson long to get his players to feel good about themselves again. The nonconference season helped. Although it was light on strong competition — the non-Big Ten slate ranked in the 300s in strength, and IU played only twice out of the state in 2021 — the schedule gave the Hoosiers a chance to get on an early-season roll.
And IU carried that momentum into the first portion of the Big Ten season, as it picked up wins vs. ranked Ohio State and Purdue.
The Hoosiers frequently won with their defense, which was a bit of a shocker to anyone who had watched IU in recent seasons. But Indiana locked down on the defensive end, becoming one of the most difficult teams in the Big Ten to score against; the Hoosiers allowed only 66.2 points per game, the 2nd-lowest in the Big Ten. And opponents shot less than 40%from the field, the only team in the conference to hold foes below the threshold.
Veteran post Trayce Jackson-Davis was outstanding, continuing to play at an All-America level but also taking on more of a leadership role. And he needed to with the newcomers on Indiana’s roster. But he helped to integrate pieces like Xavier Johnson, a transfer point guard who became a big reason the Hoosiers edged into the NCAA Tournament.
What didn’t work
Despite the newcomers — Johnson, Parker Stewart, Miller Kopp and Michael Durr — who were brought in, at least in part, to help bolster a struggling offense, Indiana still had a struggling offense. The Hoosiers couldn’t consistently shoot the ball well from the perimeter, only 33% (11th in the Big Ten) with a 3rd-lowest conference total of 206.
It made their margin for error razor thin. If Indiana didn’t play well, or had a particularly bad shooting performance, then IU had virtually little chance to pull out a victory. During a 5-game losing streak in early February, when Indiana went from what looked like a guarantee in the NCAA Tournament to a bubble team, the Hoosiers scored more than 61 only twice, and that was 69 they had in a loss to Wisconsin and the 69 they had in an overtime loss to Ohio State.
Until Johnson and Jackson-Davis started pairing up in the pick-and-roll late in the season, Indiana had little that it could rely upon as its foundation for an offense. But when those 2 starting clicking, as they did in the last 2 weeks of the regular-season then into the 2 tournament, Indiana found more of a groove.
In Year 1, Woodson gets an A.
The former Hoosier under Bob Knight and longtime NBA coach did what other Indiana coaches before him could not: He earned the respect of his players, giving them reason to buy in to his philosophies. And in return, he did a solid job of giving players responsibilities, then instilling confidence in them to get those things done.
When Indiana fans hassled Johnson early in the season, Woodson stood by the point guard. When Rob Phinisee struggled early in the season, Woodson implored him to put past demons in the past. When others questioned why Stewart and Kopp stayed in the lineup, Woodson said he wanted to stay with his guys, his seniors.
Oftentimes, his moves worked, although not always. But the Hoosiers very much valued the consistent messaging and know-how from their coach.
Will Woodson recruit at a high enough level to get Indiana back to what it wants to be, a national caliber team that can compete for Big Ten and national titles? Well, only time can tell, but Year 1 was a success on the court.
Although an argument could be made for Johnson, since he changed the dynamics of the Hoosiers late in the season, Jackson-Davis was IU’s MVP.
The 6-9 forward was the player opponents had to prepare for, because of his ability to take over games on the interior. A second-team All-Big Ten member, Jackson-Davis averaged 18.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in what one has to think is his last season in Bloomington.
But if he is gone, Jackson-Davis should be remembered as a player who stuck around during a hard transition, then helped Indiana turn a corner back to the NCAA Tournament.