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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

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‘You win with good guards’: Why Mike Woodson rebuilt Indiana basketball’s backcourt

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BORDEN, Ind. — For much of the 2023-24 men’s basketball season, Indiana head coach Mike Woodson watched as his team’s backcourt struggled time and again. 

Woodson expected to have sixth-year senior guard Xavier Johnson lead the show. He also anticipated having Jalen Hood-Schifino, who starred as a freshman in 2022-23 before entering the NBA Draft, for another year alongside Johnson. 

Instead, Woodson saw true freshman Gabe Cupps pair with senior Trey Galloway to drive the Hoosiers’ offense, as Johnson missed 13 games with two separate injuries while Hood-Schifino was with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. 

Indiana’s guard play struggled. Woodson said he didn’t expect to have Cupps play as much as he did; the 4-star from Dayton, Ohio, played 21.6 minutes per game, and while Woodson said he held his own, the Hoosiers missed Johnson’s playmaking and pick and roll prowess. 

After Indiana finished a disappointing 19-14 season with a 93-66 loss to Nebraska on March 15 in the Big Ten Tournament and Johnson’s final minute ticked off the clock, Woodson stared into a room of guards he knew needed help. 

For Woodson, who’s now at a crossroads in his Indiana tenure after two NCAA Tournament berths were followed by a step backwards in 2023-24, his first three years resulted in a valuable lesson: To reach the heights he believes Indiana basketball should be at, having quality guards is a necessity. 

“You win with good guards,” Woodson said Wednesday night at an NIL event hosted by Huber’s Winery in Borden, Indiana. “It's great to have big guys that can play and do the things that we've had over the last three with our bigs that we've coached, (but) you win with perimeter and guard play.” 

So, the Hoosiers attacked the transfer portal and added two of college basketball’s best available guards: Stanford’s Kanaan Carlyle and Washington State’s Myles Rice. 

Carlyle was rated as the 16th best player overall in the portal by 247Sports while Rice followed closely at No. 25. They were two of the biggest reasons Indiana had the second-best transfer class in college basketball. 

During his true freshman year at Stanford last season, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Carlyle averaged 11.5 points, 2.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds. He was named an All-Pac-12 Freshman Team honorable mention and scored double figures in 15 of his 23 appearances. 

Yet for as stout as Carlyle’s year was, Rice beat him for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year — though with an asterisk. Two redshirt years, one a development-related choice and the other a necessity due to cancer treatment, meant Rice entered last season as a third-year freshman. 

Regardless, the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder starred. A starter in all 35 games, Rice averaged 14.8 points, 3.8 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest en route to earning first team All-Pac-12 honors. 

Rice left Washington State as the program’s all-time freshman record holder in single season scoring, steals and assists, among several other marks. 

With Carlyle and Rice added to the mix, Woodson said he believes the Hoosiers have amped up their backcourt, with the former Pac-12 duo spearheading a group that includes a more-seasoned Cupps, the versatile Galloway and fifth-year senior Anthony Leal. 

The vision, Woodson noted, is to have similar play styles as those of the guards he had while coaching the New York Knicks, including Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. 

Woodson said Kidd and Felton could create their own shot and make plays for themselves as much as their teammates. After the season ended, Woodson and his staff placed an emphasis on bringing in players who could do the same for the Hoosiers’ offense. 

Carlyle and Rice have NBA dreams, but they’re not Kidd or Felton yet. Nonetheless, they helped Woodson check the elusive boxes that Woodson believes hold the keys to Indiana’s success in 2024-25. 

“These two guys are capable of making plays off the bounce,” Woodson said. “They’re capable of making plays for their teammates, they’re capable of putting the ball in the hole and they’re young players.” 

Rice is the first of Indiana’s new additions to arrive, and he and Leal represented the program at Huber’s Winery. The Hoosiers will officially start summer practices June 3, which kicks off an eight-week stretch Woodson believes will shape his team's 2024-25 iteration and indicate where the group stands. 

At this stage in the summer, there’s optimism aplenty across college basketball. Woodson is no different — but he recognizes building a new-look roster is only half the battle. The second half, he says, starts now. 

“I’m pleased with the guys that we brought in,” Woodson said. “I’ve just got to put it to work and get them ready to play.” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball offseason. 

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