Miller sees the Hoosiers’ defense trending upward

In the descriptors Indiana coach Archie Miller uses to describe his team on the defensive end, he can plot out a trend line.

In November, the Hoosiers were just bad.

In December, average.

“To now, where January has grown, pretty good,” Miller said. “We are better right now than we were a week ago. We are way better than we were two weeks ago.”

In a win-a-game, lose-a-game conference season, where one night’s success can be obscured by the frustrations of the next, that kind of steady progress is worth embracing.

In three of the Hoosiers’ last five games, they have held opponents to under 40-percent shooting. While their shots haven’t always fallen, as was the case out at Rutgers, Miller’s squad has been more able to weather shooting droughts because of more consistent defensive effort.

After a split of last week’s road contests, questions about how much IU has truly grown should be answered this week at home. First, the Hoosiers face No. 11 Michigan State on Thursday, a “heavyweight” squad, as Miller put it Monday on his radio show.  Maryland, the No. 17 team in the polls, then arrives Sunday.

“You kind of center your feet again,” Miller said. “You gotta ground it, and you can’t make the week bigger than it is. It’s about today.”

As the Hoosiers prepare for the Big Ten’s frontrunners, the defensive end of the floor will continue to be a major emphasis. Michigan State (14-4, 6-1 Big Ten) is led by perhaps the best lead guard in the country, Cassius Winston, who is the biggest reason why the Spartans lead the nation in assists per game (19.1).

They are also the No. 2 team in the NCAA in rebounding margin, out-producing their opponents on the glass by 10.1 boards per contest. Defensively, Michigan State is holding foes to 37.4 percent shooting, good for the 13th-best rate in college basketball.

If the Hoosiers (14-4, 4-3) are going to step up to the challenge, their defensive improvements have to continue. They will have to close a gap between “pretty good” and “good,” and then some.

“We are a more familiar team defensively. Now you are starting to get into those 50-50 plays, making more hard plays at the rim, competing a little bit longer in possessions, to dig down, to play through slumps and runs,” Miller said. “Our team has grown in that area, and we talked about it today. If we are pretty good now, can we get to good by the end of the week? If we are pretty good or a little better at the end of this week, as we head into February, can we get to that level of we are playing great on defense?”

IU has had to overcome some youth and inexperience to become a more connected defensive team. There were first-year players like Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, and Jerome Hunter to integrate, as well as a grad transfer in junior Joey Brunk. Injuries to the backcourt, including Rob Phinisee and Devonte Green, complicated matters further.

But as the Hoosiers hit the back half of January, Miller sees inexperience as less of a factor.

“We’ve kind of broken through that ‘Hey, we’re young,’ or ‘Hey, we are new.’ That’s not the case anymore,” Miller said. “You are a player here now. You know what to do, and we’ve got to do it longer, better, concentrate more.

“If we can just pick up our communication a little bit better, I think we can probably save ourselves six more points defensively, just by talking.”

Searching for that next level, the Spartans will give the Hoosiers something to grasp for. Winston’s crew includes standouts like 6-foot-8 junior Xavier Tillman, who averages a double-double of 13.9 points and 10 rebounds per game. Indy native Aaron Henry, a 6-6 sophomore, adds another 9.8 points and 4.4 boards a contest.

MSU coach Tom Izzo is employing a deeper bench than usual, as well, with nine players averaging double-digit minutes per outing.

It’s a game that will test the Hoosiers’ toughness as much as their discipline, which comes back to Miller’s use of the term “heavyweights.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with X’s and O’s, it has everything to do with when you come into that ring, are you ready to go? Because they are going to throw some serious haymakers and some body blows at you,” Miller said. “If you can’t come up off the mat a few times, they are going to run you down.

“I think we are really going to have to get back. We are really going to have to rebound, and we are really going to have to deal with Cassius Winston in this game, in terms of being not able to allow him to just pick us apart.”

13 comments

  1. Just a reminder…As Fred rides into the sunset on his white horse, a storied rivalry born anew refuses to quit tonight.

  2. Wow…Any of you see the huge brawl at the end of the Kansas vs. KSU game?

    My opinion…?
    Full year suspension for anyone who threw a punch.
    Suspension from NCAA tournament for anyone who left the bench to partake in the brawl.
    Six game suspension for each head coach.
    Full apology to any fans near the brawl who could have been seriously injured. (If that would have been my wife knocked to the ground, I would be in jail right now for bloodying many noses).
    Financial penalties from each university to indemnify those fans traumatized or who were put at risk. Best do the right thing now AD’s and respective universities because lawsuits are coming.

    And then film of the Illinois player stepping on the chest of a Purdue player on the ground? Things are going to far in this prima donna world of college sports. And some want to start paying prima donnas above and beyond a scholarship and expenses to play college ball?

  3. Thanks for the clip, Jeremy, Illinois player should be out for the rest of the year. Beyond dirty. All of this stuff needs to end. Where are the role models for these young men?

  4. It’ll be interesting to see how Underwood handles this. Will he side with his player & say tonight’s expulsion was penalty enough (like Archie)? Or will he send a stronger message?

    As for KU, what does anyone expect? This is the same program that had Snoop at it’s midnight madness event & whose coach mocked the NCAA with his bling that night. My best friend is a 1988 KU grad. I suspect the KU core is getting annoyed but they don’t dare raise a fuss as a perennial NCAA title contender. Sad state of affairs.

  5. The NCAA or Big 12 Conference may not be able to punish KU or Self for past cheating, but they can certainly punish KU for last night’s brawl. The worst offenders from both schools should be banned from all further NCAA games. Guys who left the bench or who threw punches should be done for the remainder of the season, or maybe for an entire year. The head coaches should be suspended without pay for more than a few games. The NCAA or the Conference must send a message that discourages this type of behavior in the future, or next time, someone might get injured seriously.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the fans sitting in that area suddenly develops symptoms from an injury suffered as a result of the brawl and that lawyers become involved. I hate that litigation crap, but the temptation for someone to make a nice payday out of last night might be too tempting to pass up.

  6. Many in the media (some former players like Jay Williams) are backing off of very harsh suspensions. They are saying a 10 game suspension for the maximum offenders…..Hmmm? That should make them available just in time for the NCAA tournament. What a bunch of crap…I have a better idea, suspend them for the next five games AND the NCAA tournament. Merely allow the worst offenders to play the last few weeks of their regular conference seasons….but NO MARCH MADNESS. They had their “madness.”

    But I have a prediction: They will all play in the NCAA tournament (given the KSU team also makes the tournament). Self has a protection bubble of $$$ around him.

    We’re gonna all wake up tomorrow reading of 10 game suspensions for Sousa and maybe a couple other guys. The rest of the players and those who left the benches will get only a game or two. Coaches/programs will get no penalties.

  7. And the worst offenders given five game immediate suspensions + NCAA tournament suspensions are allowed to stay in street clothes and on the bench during NCAA tournament (in order to still support their respective teams).
    There can be room for lessons here without full vilification….Everybody makes mistakes. They can learn from them. They can still play some basketball (appox. 8 regular season games after a 5 game suspension) and still be allowed to support their shorthanded teams from the bench in March Madness. You (as in the worst offenders) can always come back next year to play in March Madness…Now that would be a great story of gained maturity and redemption.

    1. H4H,
      I share your concerns and those of many regarding these actions on the court in the case of both KU/KSU and the Illinois player. Problem is, this is nothing new. Can anyone say Christian Laettner? It was my first thought when hearing of the Illinois player. Lest anyone forget when Duke’s Christian Laettner stomped on the chest of a Kentucky player in a similar situation. Only difference, Laaettner got away with no punishment.

      Problem is when you have as feckless an organization as the ncaa, these things are going to continue.

      1. Just thinking how pathetic it is that now some are likely considering banning handicapped fans from being near the court because 18 year old prima donnas (some soon to make millions and only going through a necessary burdensome step to be in college for one season) can’t play the game with self-control and dignity.

        Maybe the appropriate punishment would be to require each one of these grossly immature prima donnas to give time to those who are disabled. e.g. Take them to grocery stores…Donate time to for taking them to doctor’s appointments . Give these players some taste of life and reality.
        It seems such an affront to those who are living with handicaps who treat every day as a gift; an opportunity to go way out of their way to come to a basketball game(along with those caregivers and loved ones who help them all along the process from home to court seats to attend) as to be so disgraceful in your manner and ungrateful of their efforts to find some happiness in watching you, Mr. Prima Donna, compete in a small thing like a basketball game.

        No, I don’t think of Christian Laettner. I have no room for those reminders. I think of Landen Turner. I think of a man who lives every day while his heart died a thousand deaths of the old joys he felt playing basketball. Those involved in the brawl make basketball very forgettable. They will get lumped in with every ungrateful slob abusing the eyes of those looking through a prism of innocent and simple loves.
        Maybe it’s penalty enough to have lost true love for something.

  8. Always have had a poor image of the B12. It seems Bill Self has sold out to the culture, maybe some time ago. Any player entering that handicapped seating area auto 5 game suspension with further actions earning more severe suspensions and expulsions. No quarter to any player involved. Coaches also suspended. Set the standard.

    1. …might take it easier on Brucie and the Frosh who stole the ball got his shot blocked, knocked to the floor and Sousa taunted…I suspect he felt threatened…

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