Hoosiers regrouping for Big Ten opener

It was an encouraging practice, the kind Archie Miller was hoping to see.

Thursday’s workout heartened Indiana’s coach, particularly because of what it followed. After Tuesday’s late-night drubbing at Duke, IU returned to work in the middle of the week with a vigorous practice session that featured healthy bodies and good energy.

Players were engaged, things were upbeat — good signs at any time, but especially now.

“We had a lot of guys really treating the practice as if it was a game,” Miller said. “Coming off a tough loss, you want guys that want to get back in the gym. We had that.”

For good reason.

The Hoosiers recognize what time it is and where they stand. With the first leg of Big Ten season beginning on Saturday afternoon against Northwestern, there’s no time for IU to sulk or stew.

The Hoosiers have some glitches to fix and some areas to address. Doing so amid their current five-game stretch against teams ranked inside the KenPom.com top 60 only compounds the pressure to make things right.

Right now, IU seems committed to regrouping and following through on improvements.

“We can’t lose that (Duke) game twice,” senior guard Zach McRoberts said. “We want to move on and be ready for Saturday because it matters as much now as it does in March, this game. It’s definitely, definitely important to be ready for it.”

After returning from North Carolina earlier this week, the Hoosiers took a second look at the Duke film before flushing that game from their minds.

There were at least two key takeaways that IU addressed immediately: the need to cut down on turnovers and run better, crisper offensive sets.

Fixing the former will go a long way toward helping the latter, with Indiana striving to shave down a bloated turnover percentage (21.4) that ranks 275th nationally.

Across IU’s last four games, the Hoosiers are averaging 17.7 errors per contest. In each of Indiana’s two losses, Duke and Arkansas were able to speed up the Hoosiers with their pressure and traps. That led to hurried movements and careless passes. That was especially the case at Duke, where the Blue Devils saw IU turn the ball over 20 times.

Turnovers, Miller says, are Indiana’s biggest weakness at the moment.

“I think we made a couple adjustments (during Thursday’s practice) that will help us moving forward,” forward Evan Fitzner said. “We definitely have to take care of the ball. We’ve got a young group who are kind of learning as they go. So it’s definitely not about where we’re at now. As long as we learn and we’re able to adjust, I think we’ll be good.”

IU is also trying to steady itself in the halfcourt, particularly after Duke’s switching caused problems for Indiana off pick-and-rolls.

“We’ve got to be better at creating a little bit more action, just maybe more in the middle of the floor and doing some things where we have the floor a little bit more wide open so we can take on the switches a little bit better,” Miller said.

“I think one of the things that was really evident with the switching was our guards were timid off the ball screen. When you recognize there is switching going on over the course of a game, you have to really start to recognize as a player who is coming off to be aggressive, and to take those big guys on sometimes. We didn’t do a good job of that.”

But no one is close to panicking yet, or reading too much into the Duke loss — even as IU’s past four games have unfolded in underwhelming fashion.

Since the start of last week, Miller has tried to use each game as a learning experience. There was the one-point loss at Arkansas, a couple of short-handed efforts against UT-Arlington and UC Davis, then the blowout defeat at Duke.

“It’s November,” Miller said. “I can remember a lot of teams that we’ve been with, even teams that I’ve played on, that you don’t even remember the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game come February, (because) it’s so long ago. But hopefully these opportunities make us better. We’ve played a pretty difficult schedule to date and it will get harder here in December, so we’re going to need to be better.”

Indeed, there’s little room for error across the next couple weeks, with the start of Big Ten play coming against Northwestern and Penn State, followed by premier non-conference matchups with Louisville and Butler.

The good news for Indiana is that it appears to be getting healthier.

Both McRoberts (back) and guard Devonte Green (thigh) are back in the rotation after returning to action at Duke on Tuesday night. Green played 20 minutes off the bench in that contest, while McRoberts logged 16 minutes.

Neither player is expected to be restricted in any way moving forward.

“It was good to get them out there and I think that’s the first step,” Miller said. “There won’t be any restrictions unless it’s obviously something that arises. I think those guys are committed to going right now (after a) full practice (Thursday). They just got to get their rhythm back and their conditioning back.”

Indiana’s team, meanwhile, has to get its swagger and confidence back.

Thursday’s practice may have been the first step. It was one of the first times this season that Indiana has had a full roster available to practice — Miller doesn’t count Race Thompson (concussion) and Jerome Hunter (lower body) because they’re still out indefinitely.

Thursday was also the best IU has looked to Miller in a “long, long time,” the coach said.

And given what’s on deck, that’s important.

“I think it was a really good practice,” McRoberts said. “I think we were really competing, really ready to go right from the start. So I think guys did a good job responding and working towards (Saturday).”