Did you hear it?
Indiana head coach Archie Miller has let loose a few times during this confounding season, calling his team “soft” and “scared” at one point and suggesting that the lack of competitive spirit was a “deal breaker” at another.
Radio voice Don Fischer has even let loose a time or two, at one point saying the players “weren’t giving a damn” about playing with Indiana on the front of their uniform.
Of course we and others in the media haven’t held back either.
In recent weeks those concerned voices had dissipated as the Hoosiers had seemingly gone from soft and scared to tough and fearless with a regular season ending four game winning streak.
Throughout it all there hadn’t been much from the players on the topic. Well versed in the art of avoiding substance with the media, there had actually been nothing at all.
That is until last Thursday, when the uninspired losers of 12 of 13 games came back for an encore performance against the Buckeyes.
After the game, senior co-captain Juwan Morgan said this about the team’s apparent lack of energy throughout the first 33 minutes of their Big Ten Tournament opener —
“It’s a lot easier said than done,” Morgan said after the loss to Ohio State. “You can say just go out there and give effort and we’ll have a chance, but at the same time guys just have to have that fire, that will within themselves, and other guys can only do so much to try to light it for them, but in the end it’s individual.”
It would be irresponsible to try to guess who those comments were directed towards, but they sure don’t sound like empty talking points, do they?
Morgan certainly seemed to give the first indication from the player perspective that there are one or more guys in the rotation that are not consistently giving, to use a Miller phrase, “maximum sustained effort.”
As a direct result, the Hoosiers find themselves in the NIT rather than the NCAA Tournament.
And all indications are that Miller isn’t going to tolerate a lack of effort from anyone when the event tips off in Bloomington on Tuesday evening.
National Invitational Tournament
St. Francis (PA) (18-14) at Indiana (17-15)
- Tip time: Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
- Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
- Television: ESPN (Dave Feldman and Dan Dakich)
- Series: First Meeting
- Point Spread: Indiana is a 19 point favorite.
Game Note: Miller indicated that freshman guard Romeo Langford is day-to-day with back soreness.
Miller said this at a Monday press conference when asked whether he was concerned about another lethargic effort against St. Francis on Tuesday night —
“I don’t think so,” Miller said. “I think the team shows up, if they’re not playing well, we put other guys in the game. At the end of the day our staff is ready to go. The guys who are ready to go, they play. If you get a feeling things aren’t going well, you have to adjust.”
The guys who are ready to go play.
The NIT is a different animal than the NCAA Tournament. Of course Indiana would like to win the whole thing, but the lights aren’t quite as bright when you are gunning for the consolation prize.
Miller has some flexibility here.
Young guys like Race Thompson, Damezi Anderson and Jake Forrester that have shown flashes but for the most part haven’t appeared quite ready could benefit greatly from significant playing time over the next couple weeks.
Miller quickly shot down the idea that the NIT could be used as a tool to play for the future, indicating that Indiana will be “playing to win.” But the concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Indiana can play to win now and play for the future — a time when wins will hopefully have more meaning.
While he wasn’t willing to come right out and say that he was playing for next season, that at least appears to be part of the mission here in March —
“If you get a couple wins here in the post-season, regardless of what you’re doing, that can really change individual player’s paths into their future, build confidence, get more reps,” Miller said. “That’s what we’re looking for right now.
You got guys on the bench that are going to play a different role as we get into this. We have to find a way to get guys to finish and find a way individually to feel good about what’s moving forward.”
That certainly sounds like a coach that is looking forward. But it’s also a coach that knows, as well as Morgan, that there are some guys on that bench chomping at the bit to see the floor, while others haven’t taken full advantage of the opportunities that have been given.
Now in the postseason, Miller knows that those dynamics are going to be exposed to an even greater degree.
“I told the guys, there’s two types of teams in post-season play: ones that are excited to keep playing, and whether it be down or out, not as excited, these teams get eliminated very fast,” Miller said.
“The team that’s the most excited, the team that’s the most enjoyable right now to be around each other, the team that wants to get to that jump ball tomorrow and is excited, they got a chance to win the game.”
There is no doubt that this game will be a big deal to St. Francis.
— Saint Francis U MBB (@RedFlashMBB) March 18, 2019
But what about Indiana?
Beyond Morgan, who frankly should be allowed to play as much as he wants, it’s time to hand this team over to players that have a pilot light that is always lit.
Morgan and Miller know whose fire won’t consistently ignite. Playing with those guys landed Indiana in the NIT.
And it’s time to move on. Both for winning today…and tomorrow.
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