Johnson determined to build consistency in sophomore season

  • 10/04/2015 12:33 pm in

The freshman guard play in last season’s Big Ten was exceptional. The conference welcomed three McDonald’s All-Americans and several other players who made instant impacts.

Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was the second pick in last June’s NBA draft. Maryland’s Melo Trimble led a turnaround season for the Terps in College Park. James Blackmon Jr. scored the third most points ever by an Indiana freshman.

One of the other newcomers who made a strong first impression in the Big Ten but who isn’t talked about as often is Robert Johnson.

The 6-foot-3 guard from Richmond, Virginia started 33 of IU’s 34 games and shot nearly 39 percent from behind the 3-point line last season. But Johnson, who arrived in Bloomington with a national reputation as one of the best shooters in the 2014 class, spent a lot of the offseason looking to strengthen what was already a very capable part of his game: his shot.

“I think it’s amazing that he shot 39 percent and he’s still willing to change and they think he can get better at it,” Ryan Marable, who coached Johnson at Benedictine College Preparatory Academy in Richmond, told Inside the Hall. “He’s so mature. Even as a young kid when I had him as a sixth grader to a senior in high school, his maturity really allowed him to really take the good and the bad away from his freshman season at Indiana.”

During his press conference on Thursday, Tom Crean talked at length about what he expects from Johnson as he begins his sophomore season. Decision making, better speed with the ball, defense, playing better without the ball and getting the ball up the court more quickly were all mentioned.

But Crean also talked about some of the changes Johnson made this offseason with his shooting.

“He was a guy who I didn’t think shot nearly as good as he’s capable of shooting,” Crean said. “He’s made a lot of strides in his improvement of shooting, especially the way he lands because he’s a jump shooter, and a lot of times jump shooters have a tough landing spot. He’s really worked on landing in the right place, which is really just a little bit forward.”

Marable, who spent time in the gym with Johnson this offseason in Richmond, said that he’s hopeful that more attention to detail will help his former player this season.

“I think he’s kind of simplifying his shot, like coach Crean talked about,” Marable explained. “I was just really impressed with the consistency of his shooting (this summer). We shot a lot and he’s always been a good shooter, but kind of a streaky shooter.

“And a lot of that has always been consistency with getting underneath the ball and with his arc. Even in certain games, I could tell if he was going to make or miss a shot just because of the trajectory of the ball. I think he’s gotten that really consistent and he’s getting his legs underneath him.”

Marable, who watched almost every Indiana game last season and attended a few in person, believes consistently landing in the same spot is important for any shooter.

“He’s still a jump shooter, but he’s paying a lot of attention to detail and there’s less wasted motion in his shot,” he said. “When you’re a jump shooter, sometimes your legs affect where your shoulders go and I think landing in the same spot will keep his shoulders squared to the basket.”

In offseason comments, Crean has stated that he expects Indiana to play even faster this season.

The Hoosiers, who return nearly every notable piece from the Big Ten’s third best offense, should be well equipped to take advantage of the offseason rule change to a 30-second shot clock.

Continued improvement in terms of fundamentals is something that sounds as if it was a major focus of Johnson’s individual workouts.

“We work a lot on both feet, work off both hands, drop both shoulders, all those types of things,” Crean said. “In that case, being better with his left hand is going to be big, but being able to decipher situations, concepts, decision-making at an even faster pace, if that makes sense. Also having him be able to play equally as well without the ball so he can get into situations where he’s going to get easier shots.”

It’s also no secret that Indiana needs to make major strides defensively if it hopes to meet expectations that have the Hoosiers in several preseason top 15 rankings.

Like most freshmen, Johnson had his ups and downs in that area last season. Crean said Thursday that Johnson has “just got to be an absolute terror on defense.”

As a high school coach who has watched several players transition to college, Marable isn’t surprised that there’s still plenty of work for Johnson to do on that end.

“I think defensively, any freshman struggles,” he said. “We harped on defense as a program in high school. He played great defense and a lot of times he was guarding the best player on the other team. But as you know, the best player on the other team in high school isn’t Dez Wells.

“The experience of just playing against those guys every day and knowing how he can guard certain guys now, I think he’ll be able to take what he learned last year and be able to guard longer. He showed some flashes, but I think he’ll be able to do it more consistently.”

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  • TomJameson

    Hmmmm, it’s something that’s always been there, the big step from HS to CBB, but the thought that even a very good defensive player in HS could struggle as a freshman, never did click until reading it hear.

    I guess now I expect RJ to become a very good defender this year, and maybe a lock-down defender by his Junior year.

    If RJ can bring more consistency to his shot, and up his 3-pt conversion to low to middle 40% range, then look out!

  • Arch Puddington

    At the risk of carrying on a debate from another thread, RJ’s apparent regression defensively from high school to college is about more than the quality of the competition. Never mind D’Angelo Russell or Dez Wells; last year East Washington’s Drew Brandon and Tyler Harvey combined for 52 points on 19-36 shooting while being guarded primarily by Yogi and RJ.

    If athleticism and determination were all it took, such things would not have happened as regularly as they did last year. JBJ has never been known for his defense, but Yogi and RJ both have the physical ability to defend well, and so, for that matter, did Stan Robinson. But not only did they not play to their abilities, it is arguable that all three have regressed while at IU. What that speaks to is the complexity of both individual and tam defense at the D1 level. Ability and effort are not enough. Coaching and teaching matter, and it seems pretty clear that CTC either can’t coach defense well or simply chooses to focus on offense at the expense of defense.

  • I don’t know anything about shooting mechanics, but I have noticed in videos that his shot is released more quickly and seems to have less of a wind up to it.

  • straight no chaser

    Exactly and this is why it bothers me when we start downplaying the complexity of teaching defense.

  • Arch Puddington

    Here is a break down of IU’s defensive rankings over the last 5 years compared to other top teams in the B1G:







    Any one year may be an anomaly, but year after year CTC’s teams perform less well than Izzo’s, Matta’s, and Ryan’s. It’s almost (but not quite) true to say that our best defensive teams are about the same as their worst defensive teams.

    And this is the stretch during which we have had multiple McDonald’s All-Americans, multiple top 20 recruiting classes, and multiple first round picks. So talent and athleticism are not the issue. Coaching defense is every bit as hard as offense, maybe harder. An offense can score if it has even one mismatch or one player capable of getting his own shot, but good defense requires the coordination and skill of all 5 players.

  • Miamihoosier

    Look at the big men on the other teams during that stretch. You have to have post defense in cbb. Troy Williams was guarding 4’s last year, and Perrea always had two left feet. Even with just Vonleh by himself at age 18, we were a top 50 D. With Thomas B and Max B, we’ll be in the top 50 again, relax. If we’re not #1 or at least top #5 in Offense nationally , THAT would be the travesty

  • Arch Puddington

    I think you’ve missed my point. While there is some criticism of CTC and some worry about our future built in to my argument, neither is really the point. The point is that defense requires just as much coaching as offense, something that has been debated elsewhere on ITH in recent days. Other coaches get consistently better performance out of their defenses than CTC, something I do not think can be attributed simply to the presence (or lack thereof) of a big man. During 3 of the 5 years covered by my data the Hoosiers had a future first round draft pick defending the middle. It still works out that our best years during this stretch are just barely better than the other teams’ worst, something I attribute to the commitment and skill of those coaches in teaching defense.

  • Jrod

    Maybe it is our weird man zone that he likes to play. He has other teams guessing the defensive as well as our players. Hopefully we can play man to man this year and not get blown by.

  • Young Hoosier

    Well good. Hopefully speeding up his release will help him. Really has to work on his handles though. That was a struggle for him last year. Should be a good year for him. Personally I think he should be our “6th” man. More in a Will Sheehey role. I think he’d thrive more. Or maybe even bring JBJ in off the bench to lead it. Maybe trying that would make JBJ understand his play determines his minutes.

  • PBzeer

    Dayton didn’t have a scholarship player over 6’6″ and still had a significantly better defense than we did. Positioning and good perimeter defense are vital to playing small lineups and neither was very evident last season. These are teachable things, that don’t seem to be being taught.

    You want your perimeter guys to funnel their man, not let him blow by, so your interior defense is ready, instead of reacting.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    Nice information to realize and thank you for the breakdown. Good stuff indeed.

  • TomJameson

    Arch, what has been debated really is which takes more coaching. Nobody at all has said that ALL it takes for defense is athleticism and determination. Yes, coaching is required, but even if a kid knows everything about defense, how good he is will depend on his hustle.

    Team defense is still man-to-man, but you have to add in more court awareness, vision, and practice to know your teammates and what to expect in that regard. My point is that if a player is good at man-to-man, it doesn’t take a lot more to play good team defense, zone, or any other kind of defense.

    Although it’s not a requirement, I think it helps a lot to be athletic
    I think that If you have a balance of coaching and determination (hustle, assertiveness, etc…), then I’ll stick with my opinion that the balance for offense is heavier on the coaching aspect.

  • TomJameson

    Not sure anyone was saying athleticism and determination was all it took to play defense. I for one think that absolutely Yogi has not regressed in his defensive ability since arriving on campus. Yeah, you can pick out some outlier games where somebody scored well on him, but you can also pick out some games where Yogi pretty much shut them down.

    IMO RJ didn’t regress as much as he didn’t adjust very fast from HS to CBB. That’s pretty simple and I won’t go into it any more except to say that we will learn a lot this year about RJ.

    IMO … CTC had to focus on the offense last year because (yes I’ll say it) offense is harder to teach. I would bet my maximum person limit of a nickel that he regrets it to some degree because the boys didn’t pick it up as fast as some thought they would. Although late (too late) in the season they started to pick up their defensive intensity and actually had some good showings.

    I don’t have an axe to grind with CTC. I don’t agree with everything he does, but I’m happy enough with the progression of the team. Not as fast as some like, but I’m a slow-and-steady kind of guy anyway. I am pleased with the fact that every time there is a lacking on this team, it has been addressed the next year … rebounding, turnovers, shooters, and now hopefully defense.

    I’d say that by the time B1G season starts we’ll all have answers to our questions, and I’m pretty darn sure they won’t be answered by us right now! LOL

  • TomJameson

    Pretty sure you’re talking about the “switching” defense in the middle of a possession. No, that didn’t work, but in his defense (pun intended) CTC was pretty much trying things out to try to stop the defensive bleeding. It’s not like he did it the entire season and/or every game.

    I would bet a nickel that we won’t see that again this year. LOL

  • TomJameson

    One thing they talked about was his “landing”. Pretty sure that means literally where he lands after the shot. I’m not an expert either, but if he lands back of where he started his shot, it’s basically a fall-away and bad (not as much energy and power in the shot). If he lands forward from where he started then he has more into it, gets his legs into it (more power), and that is good.

    Like I said, not an expert but that is my understanding.

  • TomJameson

    You’re right, his turnovers were horrible last year, but supposed to be a focus this year. There is something to say about him being a 6th man. Not sure if CTC will start out like that, but it probably wouldn’t upset the fan base if it happened.

    JBJ will not come off the bench …. unless he is being punished for his bad defense. CTC did say that the bench would be the destination for those that didn’t play defense (paraphrasing), and I’m glad to see that. I actually think we’re deep enough to do that now.

  • straight no chaser

    It takes a lot more coaching to play zone once you have man to man skills because all five guys are moving like a single elastic unit and constantly communicating verbally. It takes artistry that I think coaches like Izzo have. It is obvious that you are holding onto an argument that just makes no basketball sense. My reading is that Crean has decided that the marginal effort it takes for him to coach a top 20 defense as opposed to a top 50 is not worth his effort compared to going from a top 15 offense to a top 5. I think it’s a cynical trade-off that no team with our level of recruiting and talent should have to make.

  • Young Hoosier

    I don’t think bringing JBJ off the bench should be an overlooked option. There isn’t anything bad about being a 6th man and you can still be an NBA Draft pick. Look at Dion Waiters.

  • TomJameson

    Oh, I’m not saying I’d be against that … I’m saying that CTC will not bring JBJ off the bench unless there is a punishment going on. I feel sure about that.

    Yogi, JBJ, Troy, TB … add another of your choice for the starting lineup.

  • TomJameson

    If you re-read my post I said “…you have to add in more court awareness, vision, and practice …” You are pulling crap right out of thin air with your “reading”. How in the world do you read minds from wherever you are, to know what CTC has decided?

    Are you SOWRONG??? I believe you are.

  • E Foy McNaughton

    My AAU team spends at least 1/3 of every practice on defense – probably 1/2. Learning the muscle memory of both on man and team defense is not just hustle. It requires hours of practicing being in the right place so that you are in the right place for games.

  • Young Hoosier

    It’s hard to say with that 5th spot. I’m almost positive it’ll be RJ. But I’d life to see Max. And see us mainly use 8 guys.

  • straight no chaser

    You also said:

    “My point is that if a player is good at man-to-man, it doesn’t take a lot more to play good team defense, zone, or any other kind of defense.”

    And my point is that is does take a lot more to play zone even if you’re good at man-to-man.

    But now to the funny part of your post. IMSKRONG, lol. If you think I am KRONG, then you are deluded, and also paranoid. I don’t blame you, though; the guy stuck to you like bees on honey and called you Tommy. You forget that I came to your defense back then. No wonder you called me “kid” earlier today. There’s more of a chance your new friend (the “pitchforks” dude) is IMSKRONG than me. But it shows how fickle you can be, Tom.

    Oh, and the whole “reading” thingy. Study your English. I am not reading minds. One can read articles, games, pressers, ITH, the sky, the trees, and, least importantly, stats. It’s my way of saying “educated guess”. Just admit that teaching defense is not easier than teaching offense. You’d believe it in a heartbeat if Crean had said it, which he might have, actually.

  • TomJameson

    The absolutely good thing about that fifth spot is that it can be any one of a few guys. Like I said, pick your poison … lol Can it possibly be that this year it would depend on who we play against?? CTC has a history of setting his starting 5, then subbing liberally, so we’ll see.

    But I agree with you, it’ll probably be RJ … at least in the early parts of the season.

  • TomJameson

    I’m glad you’re not IMSKRONG.

  • IULore

    In game situations you can’t always launch forward, but I think he means just getting Rob to stop flying 5 feet sideways on his shots like he did last year.

  • IULore

    Defense is only 1 side of the ball.

  • IULore

    Dayton didn’t play our schedule.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    You’re comparing Crean to 2 future hall of fame coaches, possibly 3. Crean is just not that. Not yet anyway.

  • Young Hoosier


  • Young Hoosier

    That isn’t a very confident bet haha.

  • Arch Puddington

    No, I’m making the point that coaching is just as important to defense as it is to offense. It’s not an “anti-CTC” position (although admittedly he does not come out looking so great). During these same years IU has consistently finished in the top 10 offensively, so we know that we have had both the talent and the coaching to excel at that. Other coaches consistently finish in the top 10 defensively. Anyone who believes that it is easier to coach defense than offense is simply mistaken, and the fact that Izzo and Ryan are both Hall of Famers just makes the point. Arguably the main reason they are so successful is that they teach defense better than others. If it was easy, as some have suggested, they would not be able to distinguish themselves as they have.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    I agree that defense is harder to coach. And play for that matter. I think it’s just harder to get motivated to play great defense. Everyone likes to score and stuff the stat sheet. ESPN glorifies those who can consistently score 30 points, but rarely do you see a guy make the Top 10 plays for altering 27 shots, blocking 1, and drawing 2 charges.
    When you’re a kid playing ball you’re driveway, you never play great defense with your feet to get the win. It’s always the “Archy sizes up his man, crosses him over, shoots the fadeaway 3 for the win…3…2…1… GOOD! And the crowd goes wild!” lol
    If it’s not too much trouble, can you post the same rankings, but for offense? Just curious to see how we compared to those teams on the other side of the court.

  • Arch Puddington

    I don’t have the time to look it all up just now, but I do know that Indiana has finished in the top 10 offensively 3 times in the last 4 years (and will likely do so again this year). CTC does love him some offense….


    First off thanks for going back and digging up those numbers. Found them very interesting, if for no other reason than it reinforces our point, I knew there had to be a noticeable gap between those 3 and us, but, WOW, I didn’t think there would be that much of a discrepancy. Your paragraph directly under the data, is well put, states the truth and only serves to highlight even more what was a glaring point. I feel pretty safe in saying that we see this subject the same way.

    IMHO, and I’m sure it’s not shared by all and I include some former coaches like me, as well as current ones, in that group, the details of of playing correct defense is of more importance than the details of playing correct offense. Now, for some of those out there that don’t see it the same way, having said “that”, I’m “not” saying that every defensive detail is more important than any detail related to playing offense. Maybe the way I should have put it is if I had to apply a percentage to each, the one I would put at more than 50% is the defensive side and by considerably more than a couple of percentage points over 50%.


    Vegas has the odds at 3 to 1 that you can’t find another way to explain your point, I’m betting on you. lol


    It is my opinion that having shot mechanics that allow you to emphasis the part of your mechanics that involve your wrist more thus allowing more rotation, and your arm less, thus decreasing rotation, is good. Like you said utilizing your legs correctly allows you to “get more into it” which in turn means you have to rely less on the effort coming from your arm and more on the effort coming from your wrist. Picture your mechanics when you shoot the “game winner” from around half court as opposed to how you shoot the game winner from around the 3pt line or closer in. Always told my guys that every jump shot started with their toes, always point them toward the basket before shooting.

  • Arch Puddington

    I will admit I am surprised that there has been any debate at all. I would have thought that IU fans would know better than to accept Frischilla’s notion that “it’s easier to coach defense than offense.”

    I don’t want to let down the folks in Vegas, but I’ve probably made my points about as well and as often as I can. Those who still disagree will just have to remain unconvinced.

  • Arch Puddington

    Excellent point. Insightful and well stated. Relevant.

  • Arch Puddington

    In fact Dayton played a much more difficult schedule than we did, finished with a much better record and went further in the tournament. Their defense was ranked almost 200 spots better than ours.

    Villanova’s starting lineup was no bigger than ours, and they, too, had a higher ranked defense playing against a more difficult schedule.

    No one would argue that it isn’t easier to play good defense with great talent, but even talented players have to be taught. And when the same coaches keep appearing near the top of the defensive rankings year after year, it is clear that some teach it better than others.

  • TomJameson

    Well, that is my personal maximum bet … a nickel. LOL

    Maybe I just hope he doesn’t use it. Actually, I’ve read that some other CBB teams do that with some success, but it is something they do all the time and practice from year-to-year. Nothing you’d want to just make a stab at though. LOL

  • TomJameson

    RJ just needs to become consistent … and it sounds like that is exactly what he is working on. Could be a very good year for him!

  • Young Hoosier

    Well from experience of watching… it doesn’t work for us. One of those things to throw in the trash and move on. It doesn’t fool anyone but themselves.

  • TomJameson

    I agree with you Young Hoosier … as do probably 99% of the fan base! LOL

  • TomJameson

    Arch, your last sentence says it all (IMO). Some teach it better than others. To me that is an undeniable truism and I can’t argue against it.

    As far as CTC is concerned, in my lowly humble opinion, he currently teaches offense better than defense. that isn’t to say that he can’t get better at either one, or both. I personally believe that he has shown growth as a coach, and I believe that, given the chance, he will continue to get better.

    It takes time and experience to learn to teach better.

  • TomJameson

    Sarcasm alert!!! (If I’m wrong please forgive me) LOL

  • TomJameson

    From Kenpom – AdjO & AdjD for those years. In the couple of places where the defensive number doesn’t match what Arch posted, I double checked to make sure I’m posting what was on the Kenpom chart. (

    Year —— IU ———- MSU ———- OSU ——— Wis
    —— adjO/adjD — adjO/adjD — adjO/adjD — adjO/adjD

    2015 — 9/214 ——– 15/47———- 28/37 ——— 1/54

    2014 –127/47——— 12/28 ——– 128/3 ———- 4/49

    2013 —- 3/28 ——— 28/7 ———- 11/12 ——– 108/1

    2012 —- 4/84 ——— 21/2 ———– 5/7 ———– 20/12

    2011 — 63/143 —— 76/30 ———–1/16 ———– 3/53

    2010 –194/185 —- 36/27 ———– 8/30 ———-19/29