Hoosiers adopting tough-minded defensive approach

With Archie Miller, it’s all about toughness.

That’s the characteristic that defined him as a college player at North Carolina State and the quality most visible within his Dayton teams of years past.

Amid the home stretch of Miller’s first season at Indiana, his Hoosiers are adopting that identity, too.

Nowhere is it more evident than on defense, where IU has lately shown clear signs of understanding Miller’s pack-line approach. The Hoosiers have grown from a mish-mash unit into a team displaying better cohesion and tenacity on the defensive end of the floor.

The product of that development is a team ranked among the most efficient defensive squads in the Big Ten.

“We’ve done a better job just understanding how we play,” Miller said. “We’ve got more experience playing with one another now.”

Naturally, that was going to take time. Though given where this Indiana team stood mere months ago, it has made up a remarkable amount of ground in short order.

The Hoosiers weren’t even ranked inside the top 200 in defensive efficiency two months ago, but came off Friday’s 80-56 win over Minnesota ranked No. 55 nationally and second among Big Ten teams in conference games only.

Noting that jump in the rankings on his weekly radio show this past week, Miller said it’s due in large part to players feeling more comfortable with the system.

“We went from a team that counted on one and a half players in November and December, like you could count on those guys playing really hard and you knew what you were going to get from an effort level standpoint,” Miller said. “Now, I think we’ve emerged to where four and half players on the floor at one time are going max effort. If you can get all five every single time out there playing as hard as they possibly can, that’s when you have a team that’s getting better.”

For Miller, his pack-line defense principles come down to a few key points of emphasis — pressuring the ball and protecting the paint.

IU did a particularly nice job of pressuring the ball in the Jan. 28 loss to Purdue, when its perimeter approach was a major reason why the Boilermakers shot only 5-for-18 from beyond the arc.

Against Rutgers and Minnesota this week, IU allowed an average of 49.5 points on 28.9 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Juwan Morgan says there was no epiphany that led to IU’s defensive breakthrough. Rather, the junior forward believes Indiana’s success is reflective of the daily buy-in that has built across the first three-plus months of the season.

“It’s nothing that we didn’t work on every day,” Morgan said. “It was just finally breaking through that door, and once we did that, we’ve just been on a roll now.”

Morgan has grown as a more complete defender this season, while playing out of his natural position. Rob Johnson has accepted the responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s toughest offensive matchup on a given night and Zach McRoberts has provided great length and instincts to a team that needed a boost.

Across the conference season, Indiana ranks fifth in effective field goal percentage defense (49.6 percent), second in turnover percentage defense (20.4 percent) and fourth in two-point field goal percentage defense (46.5 percent).

IU closed last year ranked dead last in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, 10th in effective field goal percentage defense (51.7 percent), 13th in turnover percentage defense (15.7 percent) and 10th in two-point field goal percentage defense).

“I think they’ve clearly gotten better since some of those early wacky games,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said, alluding to IU’s losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne. “Archie is a very, very good coach. He’s young, but he’s an old-school coach. I think they’re a good defensive team. When you don’t move the ball like we did, they’re going to make you pay.”

Shortly after Miller took the Indiana job last March, he expressed his desire to turn the Hoosiers into a tough, nasty group defensively. Upon his first glance at this year’s roster, the 39-year-old didn’t see a dominant defensive team, but he did hold hope that these Hoosiers could at least provide a defensive foundation for this program to build upon in future seasons.

With only four games left in the regular season, it seems that wish is coming true.

“It’s a team thing with us,” Miller said. “I think these last two games have been team approach. Our frontcourt players are doing a really good job making things hard for the guards to get open looks or clean looks, and I think our guys are playing with great energy. Like I told them, you can lose things just like you can get them. So we’ve earned our way to where we’re at now, and we’re going to try and earn our way until we play on Wednesday.”

22 comments

  1. Love Coach Miller. He is building a team that can be in a game even if other parts are struggling. Their growth defensively is impressive. Once Archie gets his guys, they will be more consistent. Sustained consistency is what we are shooting for- Not flashes of brilliance likes Creans teams. They were never Elite but sometimes Sweet (16)

  2. I also love Coach Miller. He’s the real deal. Of course every college basketball team is “shooting for” “Sustained consistency,” but what does that mean? Are you implying that Miller will eventually build the program to where IU makes it to and beyond the Sweet 16 on a consistent basis? If so, that’s setting the bar extremely high. Archie’s brother has not achieved that level of consistency, and he recruits some of the most talented players in the country year in and year out. Izzo is probably the best coach in the Big Ten and he’s only won one National Championship. Calipari recruits the best talent in the country almost every year and he’s only won the Championship once. Here’s what I expect: I want IU to win minimum of 23 games each season and compete for Big Ten Championships every season. I want IU to make it to the Sweet 16 on a regular basis. I want IU to make it to the final four at least once every five years. And I want IU to win at least one more national championship in my lifetime. If Archie achieves that level of success and consistency, I will consider him to be a GREAT College Basketball Coach.

    1. I don’t know Po,
      I see something different in Archie from his brother or the other coaches you mentioned. I think there is a core toughness in Archie Miller which non other than Bob Knight spotted and appreciated immediately. I think it stems from Archie not being gifted talent wise, with the notable exception grit and determination. I think a certain OSU alumnus also shared that trait. You also see such on display this year in Zach McRoberts and it was quickly picked up by JM and the gang.

      I think with the right mixture of talent you will see Coach Miller turn the IU version of pack-line into an opponent’s nightmare. We often forget a key element in the Knight success was lock down defense to accompany the beauty of his motion offense. I think we may come to view this in reverse the Archie Miller tenure. It will be a highly effective offense to accompany to beauty of a brutally efficient (as he would say, nasty) pack-line defense.

    2. I think to be a legit contender in the big ten consistently. Finish in the Top 4 or 5 yearly. 20+ wins a year would be satisfactory. Consistently make the NCAA tournament and go to a final 4 within 4 or 5 years from now. Win a national championship in our lifetime would be great.

  3. As Knight stated, ‘get behind him and you’ll enjoy some good BB’ at Indiana. Yes and I personally expect large amounts of positive performances and team results produced from AM’s pack line man to man D and motion offense. Just as I did from Bob Knight.

  4. ^^^That’s a quality post. Hope you agree. It’s not about consistently getting back to deep tournament runs. Was Knight really that consistent in deep tournament runs? Every five years in his heyday….But one thing fans of the game were always guaranteed was that no matter that varying talent levels of an IU team under Knight, they would be force to be reckoned with. If you were the competition facing the Hoosiers, you’d better be damn prepared…because talent alone would rarely beat an IU team under Knight. That’s the consistency we desire again. Butler had stolen our signature …..We hope to get it back. Do we also desire talent with teaching and team principles? Of course. .And getting back to recruiting Indiana will help the cause of both sides of the equation(talent & b-ball IQ) But If raw talent was the only factor worth valuing in the college game then UK would win a title every season with ease.

  5. I watched Wisconsin vs. Michigan for 3 minutes and noticed them throughout year. After 3 or 4 exemplary coaches and coaching staffs for the last 20 years and paralleling with departure of IU’s coach Knight… Wisconsin’s exemplary basketball is over. They will now have many future years of struggles from mid to lower part of big ten conference….No NCAA tournament runs, hardly any NCAA appearances, challenge to make NIT. That will be the future of Badger basketball for many years to come. They just have a different image now days.

    1. Good chance you are right. Wisconsin does not have the built in advantages of a school such as IU. With Ryan gone it is going to be hard to bring in players to play for a little known coach.

      They had their moment in the sun. Some schools never do.

  6. Before Ryan it was Bennett. Plus successful interim coach (Soderberg) between that was passed over for Ryan….all while IU bb with seemingly many more resources including available coaches were trying to get their ducks in a row. That has been really frustrating for IU basketball in that it has taken so long to get to the summIt of the mountain. I really, liked Ryan and something off the beaten path that he brought to Wisky basketball. Bennett and Soderberg did well also.

  7. Well, Archie has had the benefit of being mentored by his older brother, so maybe that will allow him to become an even more successful coach. Younger brothers often exceed the standard set by their older brothers. The real question becomes, “can Archie (or any coach) recruit enough top talent to IU to compete at such a high level on a consistent basis?” Being a student athlete at IU is probably a little harder than playing basketball for schools like Louisville, Kentucky, North Carolina (where you never have to go to class and you still get an A), U Conn, etc. Not saying that all the top basketball programs are guilty of academic fraud, but many of them are masters of finding the loopholes that make it really easy for their athletes to do minimal academic work while focusing on basketball or football. I’d like to think that IU has higher standards for their athletes’ level of academic participation. We certainly know that as long as Fred Glass is the AD, he won’t tolerate any shenanigans (hookers at recruiting functions) or anyone cutting corners.

      1. I agree. I think both AM & TA are doing the same thing in this regard. More to the point, I think they are looking for specific body & personality types which lend themselves well to playing their style of game. Quite frankly, neither program may need or want what we would consider the top talent.

  8. That’s sounding a little like sour grapes, guys. AM has a much better chance of signing “top talent” than Tom Allen does, and I assure you that if AM could have recruited Deandre Ayton, he’d have done it without hesitation. And if he Ayton was a Hoosier right now, in spite of the team’s other deficiencies, IU would have at least 22 wins by now, be contending for the Big Ten Championship and would be projected as a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course you want young men with high character who fit into your team’s culture, but there is no substitute for superior talent. For example, there was no way IU was going to beat Michigan State’s 1979 national championship team, which included Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and Jay Vincent. No matter how good IU’s defense was executed, no matter how hard IU’s players worked, and no matter how well they were coached, they weren’t going to beat that MSU team. And they didn’t. IU played MSU three times that season and lost by an average of 17.6 points per game. The key is getting those rare athletic talents who are good teammates and play within their coach’s system. I assume that’s why AM is trying to sign Romeo Langford.

    1. The three games? That was before the days of the B1G tournament. The Hoosiers played MSU in the Alaskan Shootout.

      At the time it was the only team to beat IU three times in a season.

    2. Po,
      Not sour grapes but a different perspective. If there was no substitute for superior talent, Kentucky would have a lot more championships over the last few years than they do. The question is the right blend of player skills and attitudes. Also, how well do they work together within your desired system. Yes, a couple high level players never hurts, but do you want a 5 star who cannot or will not work within your system versus a 4 star who will?

      As for TA, unless I miss my guess, do not underestimate his South Florida connections. Right now he is pulling 3 star players regularly. If he can pick up the quality to about 50% 4 stars and keep the same quantity, could be fun to watch. Will still be difficult for him in the B1G East, but a couple breaks here and there, you never know. If Bill Snyder could pull the only other comparable program out of the dumpster, then who knows, may Tom Allen can work a similar miracle.

      Either way, I am impressed with the approach both AM & TA are taking with their respective programs, even with the football OC question at this time. Time will tell, whether or not the two programs will succeed. History tells us the basketball program has better odds, but would love to see IU strike gold with both programs and both coaches.

      1. Good thoughts. Yes I have negative concerns about the offensive staff. I view them as mediocre with a posture to not attack aggressively. 180° from the mindset of the D on the same team. But we’ll see. As far as BB goes Chet mentioned it the other day ‘defense is the constant performer every possession, every game’. In my view that tells me Coach Miller’s transition of the program is more than half complete. Again we’ll see.

  9. thinkaboutit;
    I’m a big fan of both Tom Allen and Archie Miller. I support them 100% and believe they both have a goof chance to significantly upgrade their respective IU programs. Obviously, it’s more likely that Archie will lead IU to meet the fans’ expectations, but the bar is set much higher for him as compared to expectations of Allen. But I’m rooting hard for both of them. However, we can’t speak about recruiting as if it’s 100% on the coaches. IU Football could have a staff of the best recruiters in the world and they’re still not going to sign a bunch of 5-star football players coming out of High School every year. Recruiting is heavily affected by the school’s history, reputation and the level of support that the school’s fan base gives to the program. In relative terms, Archie enjoy’s the benefit of IU Basketball’s history and support from a very passionate fan base, so he’ll have a much easier time recruiting top talent to IU than Allen will. We can’t say the same thing about IU Football. In fact, it’s almost the opposite; no history in football and little passion and support from the fan base. Many Hoosier fans feel that “as long as we’re good in basketball, that’s enough.” And that’s the problem for any IU football coach! Just consider the difference in the level of fan support between IU BB and IU FB! Just consider the buzz between the two programs. IU won’t sell out a home football game next season no matter how good this incoming recruiting class is. But if Archie signs Romeo Langford, almost every IU basketball game played in Assembly Hall will be sold out, and that place will be rocking with anticipation. I’m sure Archie knows that within a few years he’s going to come under enormous pressure to begin signing a couple of Romeo Langfords in every recruiting class. Because he knows that in order to meet IU’s expectations, he has to sign that level of talent year in and year out in order to win at the level Hoosier fans expect.

  10. Not sure if you can totally measure changes in fan support(+ or -) for basketball and football respectively when seating capacities are such opposite extremes.

    Filling 57,000 seats(Memorial) compared to 17,000(Assembly) makes it difficult to determine if basketball passions may have tapered off. We have heard of balcony seats going more empty….Maybe 10 years ago we could have filled an arena twice the size of Assembly for basketball games..? Now, at times, we appear challenged to get full crowds for lot of home games(unless it’s a rivalry or a very highly ranked opponent…e.g. Duke, UK, etc).
    There are many other measurements for passion in fan base …..How is television viewership when the Hoosier basketball team is playing compared to historical numbers? Passion across the board for many sports is falling off the table. Have you watched the Winter Olympics currently going on? The crowds at events are way down….Even strategic camera shots can’t help avoiding the occasional panning out to disclose views of many empty seats and sparse crowds.
    It’s worrisome times for all sports. OSU football …Michigan football….They all look relatively safe, but things may begin to change far faster as cultural attitudes and preferences begin send the aftershocks and shifts now being felt more in traditionally less stable(less passionate) markets.
    A shift is happening …and it’s pretty apparent. Filling a 57,000 seat stadium in Bloomington, Indiana under the most positive times of societal consumption of sports would still pose a challenge. This isn’t simply about “our” history….The numbers are down everywhere. All the more reason to be very thankful we still have close to capacity for all those soft non-conference games Crean was scheduling…year after year. We took advantage of the basketball passion we thought was an endless gold mine…We may pay a price for not living up to delivering a quality product, along with quality non-conference competition, that the fans deserved. Abandoning the decades-long tradition of our yearly game against Kentucky stands at the forefront of example for the flippant regard of the gold mine…and golden hearts of our basketball fan base; a fan base that is operating, like all others, within the overall shifts of lowered preferences(especially in younger audiences) to consume sports.

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