Hoosiers creating competition in preseason

ROSEMONT, Ill. — At the end of every Indiana basketball practice, Archie Miller calls out scores.

Players are graded in real time throughout each on-court session, earning points for positive plays and losing them for detrimental ones. So by the end of each day, Miller’s Hoosiers know where they stand.

After Wednesday’s practice in Bloomington, freshman guard Romeo Langford left unsatisfied.

“Romeo, he had 25.5 (points),” senior forward Juwan Morgan said at Thursday’s Big Ten Media Day. “Everybody was like, ‘Dang!’ He looked right at me. As Coach went down the list, he got to my name. My number was 29. (Romeo) would not talk to me in the locker room, because he said I wouldn’t let him win.”

That’s exactly what Miller wants.

The second-year coach has overseen a series of spirited practices through the first week and a half of the preseason, fostering the kind of competitive environment he believes his program needs.

With renewed program depth and at least a dozen Hoosiers vying for roles, Miller wants his players’ practice habits to dictate who earns the minutes this season. With less than a month before the season opens on Nov. 6 against Chicago State, that’s what Miller sees happening.

“The one thing that makes a coach feel good is when he leaves the practice gym every day and he sees the guys got after it,” Miller said. “They’re working. We have that right now. We have competition. That’s good, but you have to be productive, as well. You have to start defining roles. Part of it is that practice system, scoring and having your players aware of what’s going on.”

Through the first few practices, Morgan has backed up last season’s production. Morgan, who along with Langford was named to the Big Ten’s preseason all-conference team on Thursday, has been IU’s best player in practice to date.

Miller says Morgan has been both dominant and consistent early this month, enough to earn IU’s gold practice jersey, which is handed out weekly to the program’s most productive practice player.

“It’s just his consistency all the way across the board,” Miller said. “He’s not trying to do anything right now that he’s not been asked to do. He competes very, very hard. When you watch practice film or you’re in there, you see a guy that has an edge about him. He’s there for a purpose.”

IU’s length, and the way it translates to the defensive end, is another component that stands out to Miller in IU’s daily practices.

Morgan notices it, too.

In Wednesday’s practice, one team comprised of Morgan, Langford, forward Evan Fitzner and guards Devonte Green and Quentin Taylor squared off against another squad comprised of forwards Justin Smith and Clifton Moore and guards Zach McRoberts, Al Durham and Damezi Anderson.

“It was just up and down, five-on-five,” Morgan said. “It was almost weird because nobody was really scoring. Everybody was just guarding as well as they could, because neither team wanted to run. It was just competitive all around.”

A sign of things to come?

“Hopefully,” Morgan said. “Team’s not scoring against us? I hope so.”

As much as IU needs to add some offensive punch — between Morgan, Langford and Fitzner, the potential is there — the Hoosiers are trying to continue building off the defensive gains made last season.

After finishing the 2016-17 season with a league-worst mark of 1.11 points allowed per possession, Indiana held conference teams to 1.004 points per possession during Miller’s first season. That was the fourth-best mark in the Big Ten.

“I knew it was going to be competitive going in,” Morgan said. “It’s been great, just all the guys are really getting after each other. There’s never any slack off where, last year, there were times where you knew what team was going to win that day of practice. This year, it’s real competitive. It’s pretty much back and forth every time between red and white.”

Miller also singled out sophomore guard Al Durham as one player who has impressed in practices. A year ago at this time, Durham and the other players in the 2017 recruiting class had the advantage, while the players left over from the Tom Crean era were left to learn a new system and an updated set of expectations, the newcomers were processing everything on a blank campus.

This month, the returners understand the standard. That’s led to the kind of ready-made competition Miller wants to see for the precious few spots available in the regular season rotation.

“We have a lot of different conversations going on all the time, pre- and post-practice,” Miller said. “I think the one thing is we’ve set the bar high for our guys in terms of competition. They’re going to have to earn it every day. I think they understand that they’re going against somebody that wants the same amount of minutes as them.”

4 comments

  1. As I said, last year, defense was not the problem, it was offense. We’ll probably be better on defense this year, but if we want to win 23 games and go to the dance, the offense will have to be much more effective.

  2. Crean wouldn’t know how to function with this roster…It would be substitution roulette wheel. The greatest challenge for Archie will be to work toward a consistent group and building chemistry.
    I’m confident so many options will be more a blessing than a curse for a quality coach. Managing minutes without killing momentum is a challenge with rosters bringing back established talent alongside incoming superstar/freshman talent. Our former coach’s head would explode….

    Only Achilles’ heel for this Archie Miller team? Could still be perimeter shooting. Deadly perimeter shooting is a lovely thing in March. How would you like the trey balls to fall 8 for 8 out of the gate in your Elite Eight?

  3. Does too much Archie foot contribute to Achilles’ heel? Can a toenacious defense conquer the BigTendon? Arch madness or March sadness? I shoedn’t complain….Sole many questions unanswered should make it interesting. Who knows…? Maybe we’ll go undefeeted?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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