Hoosiers look to grow from B1G tourney grind

This is the time of year when teams want to be playing their best, and Indiana coach Archie Miller can run down a list of positive indicators for his own.

In the Hoosiers’ last handful of games, leading into this week’s Big Ten tournament, they have been playing harder for longer stretches. Their backcourt, in particular, has taken better care of the ball. And while IU couldn’t seem to hit from within three feet against Wisconsin, some of Miller’s better outside shooters have found their range.

But along a road from season’s start to season’s end, every coach can find one or two things that could be better. As the Hoosiers prepared for Wednesday night’s tip against Nebraska, thoughts of improved backcourt play from Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, and Devonte Green brought Miller’s mind back to freshman Armaan Franklin.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Indianapolis has been quiet of late, with just six points in his last eight games, averaging just five minutes per contest.

“We have to get Armaan going a little bit, too,” Miller said Monday on his radio show. “I kick myself. Sometimes as a coach, you want to go back and redo it. But Armaan’s a big deal going into this next tournament and beyond, as many games as we play.”

There are a couple of reasons why Miller’s mind circled back to Franklin. First of all, the freshman was the star of the show the last time the Hoosiers played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, hitting 4-of-5 from 3-point range, including the game-winner, in a win over Notre Dame. Second, it’s questionable how much Green, who turned an ankle versus Wisconsin and didn’t practice Monday, will be available in the conference tournament.

But when Miller thinks of how quiet Franklin has been, there’s another reason why it matters. The building of a team and a program requires attention to all of its parts. As the Hoosiers head into the Big Ten tourney — and, perhaps, the NCAA tournament right after — the month of March is an opportunity to continue to grow.

They have to learn how to win in a one-and-done environment. They have to perform on that stage and gain the confidence it engenders, not only for the future but also, maybe, an unexpected run in March.

“I’ve seen it 1,000 times,” Miller said. “One game, for whatever reason, can spark one guy, or some team, to do something special. You just never know where that leads. That’s why this game, this time of year, is so much fun.”

This time of year gives programs a chance to build momentum, for this year and into the future.

That spark has just been hard for Miller’s teams to find at the Big Ten tournament. Last year, the Hoosiers were one-and-done versus Ohio State. The year before that, they dropped their first game to Rutgers.

This time around, IU finds itself playing on the first day of the tournament but against a depleted Nebraska squad that will be without its second- and third-leading scorers, guards Cam Mack and Dachon Burke Jr. If they can get past the Cornhuskers, there is a good chance the Hoosiers’ postseason continues in the Big Dance, regardless of how the rest of the conference bracket unfolds.

But two-and-done isn’t what IU is aiming for, either.

“I told our team today, it’s about going to Indianapolis and your mission is to win the Big Ten tournament,” Miller said. “To do that, you have to beat Nebraska … you have to learn how to advance and how to keep advancing.”

After a brutal conference season, weathering a grind in the deepest league Miller can recall in a decade of coaching, this is a chance for the Hoosiers to show how much they’ve grown from it all.

It’s a chance for Franklin to make some 3s and draw some charges again. It’s an opportunity for redshirt sophomore Race Thompson to continue what’s been a breakout latter third of the season. It’s a venue for redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter, who didn’t play in 2018-19 because of a lower-leg condition, to show he’s still rounding into form.

“At the beginning of the season in October and November, he didn’t know his right and left and was trying to figure out how to play the game again,” Miller said. “I think he’s finishing now as another guy who can impact in the postseason and can continue to find a way to score the ball for us from behind the line, play good defense, and rebound.”

In the Hoosiers’ young core, there is hope for this season’s conclusion and beyond. Freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis was just named a third-team all-conference player. Phinisee, who has struggled with his own injuries in two seasons, just logged a game with seven assists to zero turnovers. Thompson and Hunter have flashed, and Franklin should have an opportunity for extended playing time.

“I don’t know what Devonte will be able to give us early in this tournament, if anything,” Miller said. “Hopefully, we can get (Franklin) off the schneid and get him some minutes.”

The development of Franklin and the Hoosiers’ young core matters now and into the future.

IU may have finished 11th in the conference standings, but the bracket is lined with examples of programs making leaps. The winner of IU-Nebraska faces No. 6-seeded Penn State on Thursday â€” a program that went 14-18 in 2018-19. Illinois and Rutgers markedly improved in ’19-20, as well, making an already deep conference almost unreasonably so.

But the Hoosiers weren’t totally beaten down in ’19-20. They downed teams like No. 9 Michigan State, No. 19 Ohio State, and No. 25 Iowa at home, along with near-misses against No. 12 Maryland and No. 18 Wisconsin. They have just been too inconsistent away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it took some late heroics from Franklin to upend Notre Dame. But this team has grown since then, in Miller’s estimation. In their last several games, there has been a consistent level of effort.

As they try and climb the conference ladder, there is a chance for the Hoosiers to take more steps this week.

“There’s good energy in the locker room, good energy everywhere,” Thompson said on Miller’s radio show. “We wanna play in the NCAA tournament. We hopefully want to win a Big Ten championship. We are just really going at each other every day and getting better.”

10 comments

  1. People quit getting taller at a certain age. However, life long learning lasts a long time.

    Sparks, energy, getting better, going at each other, chance program leap excuses, consistency, young core development matters, hope, chances, knowledgeable about right from left, playing harder, effort, learning, growth, little bit, aim, mission, longer stretches…. are all short words and phrases that buy a little more time.
    Less talk and win a ball game.

  2. That’s also my biggest disappointment, t. I thought the gobbledygook ended with Crean.

    Archie’s sideline demeanor seems to give evidence of a man under a lot of stress. Once again, we keep telling ourselves that more patience is in order. I was buying into that (to a degree) until I saw guys laughing in timeout huddles at the end of games we were embarrassed (NIT loss concluding last season and recent Wisconsin loss on Senior Night).
    Not a single reporter has addressed such jovial spirits in the huddle or on the bench during meltdown losses….nor has the coach. Every excuse in the book is fine…but after three years one would expect a coach to have built a certain amount of maturity, camaraderie and accountability (for one another) into a team.

  3. Get your legal teams assembled NCAA and BigTen….Massive movements across the country to limit large gatherings at sporting events, campuses, concerts, rallies, etc.

    San Francisco just joined many other municipalities to limit crowds. Don’t know how the NCAA is going to put together a tournament with more areas of the country encouraging (enforcing?) restrictions. Is the NCAA attempting to go against the mandates of city mayors, governors, etc?

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/columnist/dan-wolken/2020/03/10/coronavirus-ncaa-needs-pull-plug-risky-basketball-tournament/5016117002/

  4. Coach Miller talks like it is someone else determining when Armaan is substituted into the game. Wrong! It is you Archie! Put him in early for meaningful minutes with the starters. Instruct him to drive and kick, to be available for the pass, not to settle for the 3, but to take it when his feet are set in rhythm. Coach Armaan up!

  5. Agree …Archie had ample opportunities throughout the season to give Franklin more minutes.

    Might not matter for this year…March Madness in in serious jeopardy of being cancelled. More schools closing in Indy. Containment zones growing. Nearing crisis mode in many municipalities.

  6. There’s four coaches, including the assistant coaches and a player rotation of less ten players, that’s 2.5 players for the coaches to track and we come up with a lame excuse of NOT monitoring Franklin. Archie must be feeling the heat of Hoosier Nation and has more excuses than Carter has liver pills(an old expression). With I U controlling the size of crowd that can gather on campus, my spare us an NIT game on campus, When Archie was hired I thought the day of many excuses flowing out of the I U Men’s Basketball was over, hasn’t happen.

  7. It could be reaching the point that whether real or how real a coach and staff unable to handle this type of stress (there definitely is some degree of much stress) will make it unlikely that a coach can function as a head coach.

  8. Don’t think the tourney should go on. Half measures aren’t measures. There’s a clear response to halting the spread of this disease. I don’t think we should be having the big ten tournament, and wait and see on the NCAA. But probably not.

  9. Presidential address tonight…Maybe he’ll announce the NCAA Tournament is still good to go!

    “No worries, everyone. This is nothing but a mild cold fueled by panic spread on Twitter and other social media outlets. I mean, who uses Twitter, anyhow? Don’t believe anything you read on Twitter.”

  10. DD, TV rules the game and the NCAA wants the TV Money from their TV contracts, the networks can play some fan background noise in the background, and NCAA keeps going to the bank. Since the TV deals like the Big Ten and other leagues have, the fans are a secondary source of funds, ticket sales and donations for seat selection the big money is in the TV deals.

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