IU trying to rediscover physicality, mental toughness

Indiana coach Archie Miller can run down a list of ills that have dogged his team during a three-game losing skid.

There has been little physicality in the paint. There have been too many careless turnovers. There haven’t been enough trips to the free throw line.

But as he reviewed the symptoms Monday during his radio show, Miller came back to the underlying cause.

What’s ailing the Hoosiers, Miller believes, is in their heads.

“We have to bring back the muscle, so to speak, and get our heads right in terms of how we are competing,” Miller said. “There is so much ball left to be played, you want to be playing your best at the end of the year. To do that, you can’t ever question where your mind is.”

This week should provide IU (15-7, 5-6 Big Ten) a point of intense focus. Purdue, the in-state rival, is coming to Bloomington on Saturday. In a Big Ten season where every home game is an invaluable opportunity, the Hoosiers have a chance to change the narrative surrounding their play.

It wasn’t that long ago IU was butting heads with and beating Michigan State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, only to lose by one point to Maryland in the homestand’s capper. But the next two losses were a troubling slide, not just in execution but in the Hoosiers’ overall demeanor.

Those lackluster efforts prompted IU radio man Don Fischer to ask Miller whether he’s getting enough leadership from his upperclassmen. He didn’t agree with the premise, but the third-year coach did feel like the Hoosiers were rudderless in another way.

“You may not play well, but usually there is a guy or two who shows the response and the fight,” Miller said. “For whatever reason, we were all moving in the same slow-motion this past week, which was unfortunate.”

From the backcourt to the frontcourt, the Hoosiers were just not ready to play with the physicality the Big Ten requires.

One glaring side effect was a lack of rebounds, troubling for the nation’s No. 15 team in rebounding margin. The Hoosiers were outpaced on the glass by Penn State in Wednesday’s second half. Then Ohio State had 11 offensive rebounds to IU’s four in Saturday’s loss in Columbus.

There are some reasonable excuses for the deficit. IU has been without sophomore forward Race Thompson, who is working toward a return from a back injury suffered in a fall versus MSU. Miller also said junior forward Joey Brunk was sick leading into the OSU contest.

But IU’s biggest issues may have been mental in nature.

“Sometimes teams hit those mental blocks where you get a couple of guys that aren’t engaged and aren’t there mentally and certain things tend to go,” Miller said. “Whether you are worried about shooting, whether you are worried about something else, the things that usually tend to go are your sharpness and your ability to compete.

“That’s one thing that is very unique about the Big Ten. You find very few teams that aren’t bringing it in terms of the physicality of the game. Because if you don’t have that in our league, you are going to get pummeled.”

Luckily, the Hoosiers have the middle of this week free to work on themselves and recapture their fight. They also have to take better care of the ball.

Twelve turnovers in the second half at Penn State, and nine in the first half at OSU, were backbreaking. IU currently ranks last in the Big Ten in turnovers, surrendering a league-high 294 in the first 22 games.

“It’s the type of turnovers,” Miller said. “It’s the sped-up turnovers, it’s the unnecessary turnovers, it’s the ones that everyone says, like, ‘What in the world was going on on that one?’ It’s not ones that are just a tough play, a 50-50 play, or the ball goes out of bounds. It’s the ones where you uncharacteristically make a play no one is ready for and the ball is turned over and you can’t respond to it.”

All is not lost, though. Purdue (12-10, 5-6) presents an opportunity to snap a losing skid.

Miller went on to compare the season to a mile race. February is the final turn down the homestretch. Mentally, the Hoosiers have to be tough enough to finish out the final quarter-mile strong.

“That’s the hardest part of the race,” Miller said. “You see some guys pull up with the hamstring, you see some guys with tight backs, slow down. You see some other guys just push through. We are at that quarter bend here, we have to push through right now. And we have to find a way to breakthrough.”

10 comments

  1. We live in a world of coaching clichés….

    you want to be playing your best at the end of the year.

    But doesn’t that encourage playing soft for the first 2/3 of the year? How about doing your damnedest to play your best every time you put on the uniform? Screw the end of the year…By the end of the year it’s too late.

    Wait until the end of the year? My dad used to say, “Weight(wait) broke the bridge.”

  2. Playing your best at end of year? At beginning of year team gets beat by average of 12 points per game and end of year the same team gets beat by average of 5 points per game. However, the team is 0 wins and 28 losses.
    In IU case that weak pre conference boring non eventful unexciting schedule where IU was squeaking out games making a pretty good win loss record losing only to any such team the likes of an Arkansas pretty much tells the story of IU basketball program for many years now.

    1. I believe the idea is that your players and team will improve throughout the season such that the poise, experience, toughness, etc. has reached about as far as one would expect for the season based on the ages and classes of student athletes. A younger team would likely look a lot different at the end of the season when compared to the beginning of the season. Not nearly so if you have say 5 seniors. Their incremental improvement would be much less but still some.

  3. Or Razorback.
    Yes. It’s hard, stressful, long hours, physically demanding, mentally draining, and those emotions. It requires many qualities, dedication and qualifications (like many jobs). Thank you for the opportunity and millions of dollars of financial security I (coaches etc) will be financially fine. So many long analysis that really say nothing and all that money/financial resources and benefits (not just talking about IU but everywhere and all of it. This includes the panels of 3, 4, or 5 etc on tv in their suits whether sports, news, talk shows, political talk shows, entertainment making up things to talk about and analyze saying a bunch of nothing other than all that money and financial wealth. Great gigs for all those all dressed so professional and can talk as if they are old timers setting on a park bench around the old courthouse square or in there favorite gathering place in a time gone by. The only difference is the old timers setting around the old courthouse square or in their favorite gathering place did it for nothing, no pay, and no financial gain. My, how times have changed.

  4. THIS is the week our team gets together and decides to play with energy, enthusiasm, and the sheer joy of effort. Why this week? Because this week we have only one game, against Purdue!

    I watched Maryland/Rutgers, and then Michigan State/Penn State and was struck by how on each of those teams there was comraderie and joy.

    Same thing with Maryland/Iowa. Team/comraderie/joy.

    Our players are probably watching television too and will get the message that instead of acting like entitled prima donnas who don’t care about each other, they should mesh and become the TEAM that we are all hoping to root for.

    And what better group to prove this against than Pur-doo. Go I.U.!!!

  5. To sort of be my own devil’s advocate (and sort of yours too, Rock), maybe the camaraderie stuff is overrated.

    Isn’t winning the best form of camaraderie? Don’t guys look completely as one when the final trophy is hoisted above the shoulders? All the challenges finally pay off in those glorious moments. That’s when you see the joy finally erupt into smiles and relief.
    Maybe those on great teams really don’t need to like each other all that much…Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe liking each other builds too many sub groups and cliques…Practices become less intense because friendships are too important to challenge via challenging the effort of a friend?
    Maybe the “individual parts” on a roster need to respect each other more than anything else? At the end of the day, a team begins with respecting each other. You have to be willing to relinquish self-importance…and relinquish the sub groups more wrought in winning popularity contests with teammates more than winning basketball games.

    We should be careful to not squelch individualism and independence…Sometimes it’s within the independence where true leadership and purpose begins to foster and evolve. Is it possible that the simple confident backbone rooted in an individuality to resist being part of a group (maybe even a certain amount of eccentricity as well) could be that rare common thread found in the “individual parts” of some of our greatest Hoosier teams ever?
    Could it be a bit of an anti-group…(or anti-groupie) mentality that fosters taking care of the business at hand (the necessary unselfish, all of us are equal, mentality) rather than a weaker and easier pathway to simply get along as flower children?

    Conclusion: Archie might just be fostering the “dislike” necessary via an independence in spirit to see everyone on a roster as an equal? Not fawning over each other isn’t necessarily a bad sign..The necessary chemical reactions for the formation of a team could reside in such independence. The reward and joys come at the end of the road…The brotherhood and lifetime friendships are forever formed into a “rock” because the central force was never about liking each other. The team becomes the offspring…The team becomes the mother, the father, the brother and the child. It’s placing of such unselfish goals at the forefront requires more individuality than less…It takes leadership qualities at every point of a star.

    Never forget, the greatest 5-star hiding from ranking services and buried deep in dirt and stone as the rarest of gem, is found at the five points a star; the “winning” circle completed in touching each of those points represents the work, the grit, the necessary independence to not make it about personality- to build toward a common goal in becoming a team. I’m wondering if the deepest love in such a process may take a bit of finding the stubborn independence symptomatically displayed in the fighting, frowning, feuding, forgiving, and fast forgetting (as in losses) within each soul in search of unselfish quests?

    Maybe we should recognize something bigger at the end of the road may be brewing in the discontent of not being flower children to each other?

    Just food for thought…while being my own devil’s advocate. Camaraderie overrated. A team doesn’t function any stronger as a bunch of groupies at the back of a classroom. Purpose unites and sometimes, in the immediacy, you have to put liking each other aside to build the brotherhood in the end.

  6. I want Iowa to take down Purdue tonight…And I think Iowa will win in West Lafayette-to-have-a-banner.

    I want Purdon’t coming into Bloomington at their meanest and most stubborn. I want them fuming from losing at home. I want our Hoosiers tested by a team very hungry in fighting for a must-win and their postseason hopes.

    I want to beat Purdouche when their backs are against the ropes…Nothing sweeter than beating the rival when they have to give you their best shot. And we need something of a challenge with a bit more oomph on our home floor. Lastly, I simply think Iowa is enough of a better team to counter the hostility of Mackey.

    Iowa 69
    Purdue 65

  7. Have you noticed some BigTen teams are starting to win on the road? If we don’t soon board that train, we’ll be left at the station and out of the Big Dance.

    I see more boarding that train with Iowa winning @ Purdue. The players are beginning to separate from the posers.

    And I wouldn’t count on all the chatter claiming 10 or 11 teams from the BigTen will make the NCAA tournament. I’m seeing eight at most. If not in the top eight, you’ll be staying home.

  8. And if you haven’t noticed, we are currently in a 4-way tie for 8th place in the Big standings (Indiana, OSU, Minnesota, and Purdue …all at 5-6).

    Any questions? Can’t afford to lose anymore home games. We must win one or two of our remaining road games. 8th place will be the cutoff.

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