Hoosiers learning to lean on defense

His defensive results at Dayton improved measurably across his tenure, making Archie Miller an attractive option during Indiana’s coaching search of 2017.

Nearly a season and a half into his run at IU, the Hoosiers are already seeing all-important growth on that end of the court.

Ten games into Miller’s second year, Indiana is winning games with its defense.

It’s a crucial area of development for IU’s program, one where the Hoosiers are beginning to see an identity emerge. As closely-contested games continue to surface on the early-season schedule, Indiana is finding itself equipped to win in ways it hasn’t in years.

“The one thing that’s been evident with this group, we’re much better, we’re much tougher, we’re much bigger at times on the floor than we’ve been in the past,” Miller said. “We’re able to get key stops at times to help us.”

Indeed, that’s been clear across IU’s current three-game winning streak, a string of victories decided by a total margin of five points. While the Hoosiers have weathered early inconsistencies and sought to patch their flaws on the offensive end, they’re leaning on an improving defensive approach that is beginning to define their growth under Miller.

IU ranks 22nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, taking another step forward from last season when the Hoosiers closed the campaign ranked 65th in the country.

Through 10 games, Indiana has held all but two opponents, Duke and Louisville, under a point per possession. But even in that victory over Louisville on Saturday, the Hoosiers held the Cardinals to 1.00 point per possession — Louisville’s worst mark of the year.

Louisville was only the latest team to post its worst offensive showing against the Hoosiers. Penn State (.87 ppp) Marquette (.978 ppp) and Montana State (.487 ppp) also turned in their least-efficient offensive efforts of the young season against IU. Chicago State (.68 ppp) and Arkansas (.966 ppp), meanwhile, posted their second-worst points-per-possession figures of the season against IU.

All told, IU is making fewer mistakes off the ball in Miller’s pack-line defense. Its veterans are more versed with Miller’s expectations, while its newcomers, particularly freshman point guard Rob Phinisee and star guard Romeo Langford, are coming up big situationally.

“Just as a team, as a collective group, we feel comfortable in coach’s game plan and we all trust it,” junior forward De’Ron Davis said. “We just trust in what coach has for us and we execute that.”

Miller’s ability to teach and develop defense was one of biggest selling points for IU athletic director Fred Glass when he hired him in March 2017. At Dayton, the Flyers’ defensive efficiency rating improved across each of Miller’s first five seasons, peaking at No. 15 in the country in 2016.

Around this time last year, IU’s defensive efficiency rating hovered around the low 200s. Through the first 10 games last season, seven teams scored more than a point per possession against the Hoosiers.

“Our base stuff is better than it (was) a year ago at this time,” Miller said. “If you look at our numbers a year ago at this time through about the same amount of games, it’s a drastic difference just in terms of the ability to defend for longer stretches, be more organized in the half court, have positioning more oriented. We’re better there. We still have a long way to go, though.”

For one, Miller says he wants to see better on-ball defense as the season unfolds. Part of the issue now, Miller says, is youth.

Another part of the equation for growth is simply getting healthier. Zach McRoberts, who had a case to make for inclusion on last season’s All-Big Ten Defensive Team, continues to work his way back from a lower back injury that sidelined him for four full games last month.

“I think we can always have room to grow,” Miller said, “but from a defensive standpoint, I think as of right now, we’re doing OK. We have to become a better rebounding team. We have to do it more by committee. Right now we’re not blocking out as well as we need to. That’s a big thing. We’re fouling a little bit unnecessarily off the ball with reaching and slapping. That’s something that can get cleaned up, but just in general, I think we’re ahead of where we were a year ago.”

That, of course, is helping Indiana earn the close victories that eluded it last season.

Midway through Saturday’s second half, Louisville managed only one field goal during a six-minute segment. That coincided with an offensive charge that allowed IU to take its first lead of the day, outscoring the Cardinals 12-3 in that span.

IU’s defense also prevailed in Tuesday’s win at Penn State, helping the Hoosiers overcome an early 9-0 deficit. In the second half of each game, Indiana held both Louisville and Penn State to 34 percent shooting from the field.

While IU’s offense continues to find its footing, its defense is leading the way.

“When you need a run, when you need the ability to get back in the game or you need something to happen,” Miller said, “sometimes it’s not offense. Sometimes it’s defense.”


  1. Archie Ball=Defense, Rebounding, Assists/TO ratio, Controlling fouls, High % FG. Now that sounds like a winning formula!

  2. I just want them to become a team that is average at shooting free throws. If they ever achieve that, or if they can start knocking down a slightly higher percentage of 3-pointers, they’ll find the victories much easier to achieve.

  3. So, just how bad is this IU team’s free throw shooting so far this year? Well, here are some facts through December 11:

    We’re currently ranked 311th out of 351 D-1 teams.
    Every team on IU’s remaining schedule is better shooting free throws than IU is so far this year. Here are some notable upcoming opponents’ stats. Iowa – 76.6%, Butler 75.8%, Purdue 74.7%, OSU 74%, NE 72.2%, MSU 71.6%, etc., etc.

    Comparing this IU team to some of the more notable IU teams from the past, here’s how those former teams did at the free throw line:
    90/91: 949 Attempts, 695 Made, 73.2%
    86/87: 795 Attempts, 610 made, 76.7%
    80/81: 665 Attempts, 495 Made, 74.4%
    75/76: 662 Attempts, 462 Made, 69.8%
    74/75: 726 Attempts, 521 Made, 71.8%

    I was surprised by the percentage made for the 75/76 team. As for the 86/87 team, that percentage reflects Steve Alford’s 180 free throw attempts and that he made 89% of his attempts.

    1. So our numbers at the charity stripe are only 6 percentage points under what many declare as the best college basketball team ever; the undefeated ’76 Hoosiers? And you’re losing sleep over this for what reason …as we’re a whopping 2 games into the BigTen season?

      Prediction: During the NCAA tournament, we’ll shoot 76.76% as a team from the stripe in honor of the ’76 Hoosiers.



  5. You’re right, Chet. I never thought the 75/76 team was as good as the 74/75 team, but yet they ran the table, and were the last team to ever accomplish such an incredible feat. Oh what could have been had May not broken his arm!

    1. You never know. Had they run the table who knows if there might have been a championship hangover.

      Everything has to perfectly fall into place. That is a pretty big variable to toss in there. We are probably better off to go with ‘what if’.

  6. Here’s a fun number for the intellects here…When Knight got to the Final Four, his career percentage/odds in taking home the banner to Indiana ends up roughly equal to our current free throw percentages. He was 3 for 5…or 60%. Michigan/Beilein is 0 for 3. MSU/Izzo is 1 for 7 …and 0 for his last 5.

    Beilein and Izzo combined = 1/10 = 10% chance of taking home the banner.
    Bob Knight = 60%

    There’s your ‘what ifs’…..and your odds.

    1. Dean Smith was a Final Four regular before he ever won a title.

      Calipari had to go to the Final Four three times before they included it in the record books.

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