Improvement a measuring stick for IU

Progress was slow to take shape, but Archie Miller is seeing it now.

As he’s studied games across the first month of his tenure, the Indiana coach has noticed some of the foundational qualities he wished to install in Bloomington come into view.

At this point, with IU set to close a difficult five-game stretch against power conference opponents today against No. 18 Notre Dame, Miller isn’t evaluating his group so much on wins and losses as much as he is improvement.

So far, he’s been pleased with the growth.

“We’re playing harder,” Miller said. “I think we believe in what we’re doing a lot more than we did a month ago. There’s not as much, ‘I hope this is going to go well for us tonight,’ or, ‘I’m hoping that we play well.’ There’s a lot more confidence in how we do things and what we do, and we’re being able to establish, I think, our style for longer stretches and we’re able to play harder for longer stretches.”

In spurts during the past two weeks, Indiana has authored segments of very good basketball.

Miller was especially pleased with the defensive tenacity he saw in last week’s 71-62 loss at Louisville, a game he says included some of IU’s best defensive moments of the first 10 games of the season.

That contest also included some puzzling offensive moments for the Hoosiers, who went 0-for-12 from beyond the arc in the second half and saw their point guards combine for nine turnovers.

Recognizing growth in some areas is a start, but Miller has a lengthy to-do list of things he wants to see next.

“We still have a lot of room to grow,” Miller said. “We can really continue to develop our half-court defense. That’s something I think that’s going to be something that, week-by-week have to challenge ourselves to continue to get better. The better we are on the defensive side of the ball, the easier it becomes for us.

“I think offensively we’re still trying to find that chemistry where we have a lot of different guys playing at their best. It just seems like we haven’t had a lot of chemistry and continuity offensively, where we’ve had four and five guys clicking on all cylinders.”

If and when Indiana reaches those checkpoints, it will have a chance to begin consistently putting forth more complete performances against top-tier teams.

This afternoon at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, the Hoosiers will need an all-around effort against one of the better teams they’ll face all season.

Notre Dame won this year’s Maui Invitational after running through Chaminade and Louisiana State and holding off Wichita State late in the tournament finale.

The Fighting Irish did fall victim to the big-game atmosphere of the Breslin Center in an ACC/Big Ten matchup at Michigan State and also had a hiccup against Ball State, losing to the Cardinals on a late 3-pointer last week.

“Ball State did a nice job on both ends of the floor,” Miller said, “but I thought they out-hustled them a little bit just in terms of 50-50 rebounds. There were some loose balls that they ended up getting that Notre Dame hadn’t given up, and I’m sure that’s probably one of the big reasons why they were able to bounce back pretty big on the road at Delaware.

“They’re a team that is very, very hard to play against, and they’ve got great experience, great chemistry and continuity with their rotation, and I think you’re playing against a team that has a toughness about them and knows how to win.”

For the Irish, that stems from the play and tenacity of versatile senior Bonzie Colson, a consensus preseason All-American and a candidate for national player of the year.

Colson is the only Atlantic Coast Conference player to rank among the top five in five different statistical categories: scoring (fourth, 19.5 points per game), rebounding (fifth, 9.6 per game), steals (third, 2.1 per game), blocks (fifth, 2.3 per game) and defensive rebounds (first, 7.8 per game).

Colson has also scored in double figures in 27 consecutive games and leads all current ACC players with 28 career double-doubles and 784 career rebounds.

“He’s a very unique player in that he’s got tremendous IQ,” Miller said. “He’s a very, very intelligent player. He knows how to get to the foul line. He knows where to pick his spots. He’s become really skilled over the course of his career, not only being able to be a mismatch guy down low on smaller guys but also a mismatch guy on the perimeter, being able to shoot it and drive it. I think he really fits how coach (Mike) Brey wants to play.”

The Hoosiers, meanwhile, continue to learn how Miller wants them to play at Indiana. Miller’s challenge is getting them to display the best versions of themselves by February.

Although the quality wins have been slow to come, Miller believes this team may not be far from finding its springboard.

“We’ve gotten better every week, almost every game,” Miller said. “I felt, even the Louisville game, there were some signs there that we’re starting to figure things out, especially defensively. I’m hoping, against a great opponent in Notre Dame, we’ll continue to be right there and continue to get better. It’s definitely a team that has a lot of room to keep improving. It’s definitely a team that, if we stay with it, we will continue to improve.”