Hoosiers settling in to postseason routine

Archie Miller saw it coming.

In the hours leading into Tuesday’s NIT opener, the Indiana coach sensed his team lacked focus. The Hoosiers were still shaking off their NCAA Tournament disappointment, and their preparation for St. Francis reflected it.

So as IU ambled its way through an ugly first half against the Red Flash, Miller wasn’t caught off guard. It was only a matter of time before the Hoosiers’ waning concentration caught up to them.

Miller’s mission when that happened? Getting his team to reckon with reality and recalibrate its focus on the fly. Eventually, that objective was accomplished. The Hoosiers reset themselves at halftime, attacked the rim in the second half and cruised to an 89-72 victory in their opening-round matchup.

With one game down and a second-round showdown with Arkansas looming on Saturday at noon, Miller believes his Hoosiers are starting to settle in. These early-round NIT games are often as much about desire as they are about talent, and as the tournament continues — and the possibility of a championship trip to Madison Square Garden grows into focus — it’s Miller’s hope that Indiana’s intensity level will rise to match the moment.

“It’s definitely a different game,” Miller said. “The first game is one of which you don’t really know what to expect, and it’s on you fast and you’re dealing with a lot of different types of things, whether that’s not getting in the tournament or who are we playing. Next thing you know is you get through the first one (and) it becomes a little bit more of your normal routine where you have an opponent like Arkansas, who’s won a game. You now have gotten one game under your belt at home in the postseason and you’re playing another one. Just looking at our guys in terms of getting through the first one, now moving into practice and whatnot, I thought we had a good vibe about us and guys worked really hard.”

To stay alive in the NIT, that will have to continue.

Arkansas comes to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall with one NIT road victory already, having knocked off Providence, 84-72, on Tuesday in Rhode Island. But the Razorbacks team that the Hoosiers will see this weekend is far from the one that beat them in Fayetteville on Nov. 18.

Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, a 6-foot-11 sophomore forward who scored 27 points in that 73-72 win, left the Razorbacks’ program on Monday after declaring for the NBA Draft.

That means both squads could be without their most talented players, with Indiana still waiting to see whether Romeo Langford can play through a lingering back injury.

An Indiana spokesman said on Friday that Langford continues to receive treatment, and his status for Saturday’s game is still to be determined. Although Langford’s situation is fluid, the Hoosiers know one thing is certain: Arkansas will pressure and attack them up and down the floor.

The Razorbacks forced Indiana into 18 turnovers in the November matchup, with the Hoosiers committing errors on nearly a quarter of their total possessions.

IU didn’t fare particularly well against coach Mike Anderson’s press in the first meeting, but the Hoosiers hope their November experience gives them a better idea of what to expect in this weekend’s rematch.

“I think when you play them at Arkansas, it’s a very different game than when you play them on the road or at home. Maybe they don’t go to it as much,” Miller said. “But definitely when they put it on, obviously you have to be very organized. I think the thing that they do is they put the ball in other guys’ hands with the doubling and getting rid of it and moving it that other guys have to make decisions other than maybe your main ball handlers. So our other guys, I think that’s the one thing coming out of it playing the first time is you really can’t get sped up. You have to try and be very, very detailed, very, very smart.”

Though Langford’s potential absence would once again leave Indiana without its leading scorer, the Hoosiers’ backcourt has appeared up to the challenge of replacing his production.

Devonte Green is enjoying his best stretch in an IU uniform, scoring in double figures in each of the past five games — the longest such streak of his career. Green’s 41 percent shooting mark from beyond the arc ranks fifth in the Big Ten.

Green didn’t play in the first matchup with Arkansas. Al Durham and Rob Phinisee did.

Phinisee will be looking forward to posting a more complete performance this time around, after foul trouble limited him to seven points and one assist in 21 minutes at Bud Walton Arena. Durham scored 11 points while playing all but four minutes in the Nov. 18 contest, and as the season has progressed, the sophomore guard has become a trusted complement to Phinisee at the point and Langford on the wing.

Altogether, Indiana’s guards have combined for some of their best basketball of the season in the past few weeks.

“They’ll be a big, big key at both ends of the floor defensively and offensively against Arkansas,” Miller said. “You need multiple ball handlers at times, and the decision making and turning it over is something that Arkansas (does well. The Razorbacks are) like 12th in the country in forcing turnovers.

“You need your guards to really play well. So hopefully those guys getting on the floor and playing a ton of minutes is good, and hopefully the next game they’re ready to go.”

For Miller, that’s more of an expectation than a hope.

The Hoosiers have come to terms with their place in the NIT, and now it’s about staying locked in and taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them.

“I think focus has been good throughout practice, but especially now we’ve got one under our belt,” senior Zach McRoberts said. “I think we know what it’s going to take, know how hard we’re going to have to play from the jump, and I think guys are ready to go.”