Mike Woodson has spent the last 40 years observing the highest level of basketball on the planet, as a player and coach. You may think that Woodson has seen enough practices and games to ignore numbers, tell the basketball nerds to shut up, and make decisions off of “intuition” or the “eye test.”
Your thoughts would be wrong.
“Analytics has followed me really the last five, six years of me coaching in the NBA,” Woodson told reporters on Friday. “Analytics is huge.”
Hoosier fans expressed plenty of frustration last season over Indiana’s suboptimal strategy on the court. Only 32.3% of Indiana’s field goal attempts last season were three-pointers, a rate that came in 291st in Division I, and 13th out of 14th in the Big Ten. Specifically, corner threes, one of the most efficient shots in basketball, were virtually nonexistent.
Meanwhile, IU frequently relied on post-ups frequently to star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis. In the NBA, from where Woodson hails, the post-up has gradually declined in its frequency and efficiency since the days of Kareem, Wilt, and Shaq.
There isn’t a single panacea for Indiana’s offensive struggles from the 2020-21 season; many aspects need fixing. Still, with a team desperate to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, in a tough Big Ten conference, exploiting every analytical advantage can bag those extra two or three wins that make the difference in any Hoosiers season.
On Friday, Woodson transparently explained how data drives his decision-making. “I also use analytics in terms of setting my offense and how I draw up plays, based on what side of the floor can guys operate off of from an offensive standpoint. A lot of that is personnel-driven, based on what player can do what at a given time and a spot on the floor.”
That analysis may have helped someone like Al Durham, for example, who transferred to Providence for his final season of college eligibility. Last season, Durham shot more accurately from the right side of the floor, making 13-of-28 attempts (46.4%) from three from that side. However, Durham took *48* threes from the left side of the court, making 16 (33.3%).
Durham, or other players, taking shots from their more proficient side may have made the difference in those close losses Indiana had to Florida St., Wisconsin, Illinois (2x), Rutgers, or Northwestern.
Woodson will have resources at his disposal to make snap statistical decisions. “We have some of that in-house,” Woodson said. IU has a team internally that offers +/- data, lineup analysis, and other information to the head basketball coach and his staff.
Much of that data from last year will translate smoothly to the 2021-22 season, with the entire team slated to return, except for Durham and Armaan Franklin.
Woodson is no stranger to deploying lineup strategies based on quantitative information. “I used to use it for combinations of who played well together on my ball club,” Woodson said. “A lot of times you base that on the minutes that the particular combinations play together.”
For those that may be concerned with too much influence of mathematics on basketball, have no fear, Woodson is the head men’s basketball coach, not a finite or calculus professor. “Analytics is what you make of it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, you’ve still got to coach and put talent on the floor. Those players have got to be able to work within the system in terms of making things happen when it comes to winning and losing.”
Ultimately, it’s April 9th, and no one knows how Mike Woodson’s tenure will play out in Bloomington. Still, by combining his decades of experience with a willingness to listen to statistical analysis, Woodson will unite “old school” with “new age” in his first career college foray since playing for IU.
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