This isn’t going well. And it could end worse. Much worse.
Looking ahead at the two “easy” games remaining on Indiana’s schedule — Rutgers and Michigan State — the Hoosiers have already lost to both of them. At home. Decisively.
And then there is another road trip to face a Purdue program that IU hasn’t defeated in five years. Five years. You already know all too well that Archie Miller has never defeated the Boilermakers since he took over the program for the 2017-18 season.
Indiana’s only home game remaining comes against a top-5 Michigan program that Miller has also never defeated while at IU. And what does home court really even mean anymore? Certainly not much for a Hoosier squad that is 4-5 in Bloomington during league play.
If you think the noise surrounding Miller’s job security is loud now, where are we going to be in two weeks if IU drops these last four games to finish the regular season 12-14 overall and 7-12 in the Big Ten?
BILAS AND VITALE WEIGH IN
In response to all of the grumbling by fans, two prominent national voices gave their takes on Miller on social media.
“Archie Miller is an excellent coach,” ESPN commentator Jay Bilas said on his Twitter page.
Dick Vitale, another well known ESPN commentator responded to Bilas.
“I totally agree there is no doubt Archie Miller can flat out coach,” Vitale said on Twitter. “He was super at Dayton and has had some great moments at Indiana. Expectations (are) so high annually in Hoosier country and the depth of the Big Ten creates problems.”
There is no doubt that this 2020-21 Big Ten conference is an absolute bear to contend with. According to KenPom.com, the league is the best in the country and bordering on the best ever based on Adjusted Efficiency Margin. But on the other hand, programs are of course still succeeding in the brutal league, including three coaches leading the way who were all hired at the same time or after Miller.
At the top of the Big Ten standings sit second year coach Juwan Howard, and fellow fourth year coaches Brad Underwood and Chris Holtmann.
To use the difficulty of the Big Ten as an explanation for Indiana’s struggles ignores the fact that other conference programs are thriving. And it isn’t the established old guard who have figured it out.
A LINEUP CHANGE OVER THE FINAL FOUR?
Before Indiana faces Rutgers on Wednesday night, Miller will have one more chance to evaluate whether he wants to ride or die with his starting backcourt duo of Al Durham and Rob Phinisee. The upperclassman pair have helped fuel big wins this season, but in many cases they have been non-existent, including against IU’s upcoming foes.
In Indiana’s prior losses to Rutgers, Michigan State and Purdue, Durham has shot a combined 4 of 17 from the field for a total of 16 points while Phinisee has gone 4 of 18 for a total of 11 points.
With that kind of production from his starting guards, it is reasonable to wonder if Miller will stick with Durham and Phinisee as starters down the stretch against the same opponents. Perhaps the pair would benefit from coming off the bench? Miller spoke more generally about starting lineup changes last week.
“If we change our lineup it will have something to do with if we feel that that guy really earned the right to get off to an earlier start in the game, or deserves more playing time,” Miller said before IU faced Minnesota.
And therein lies the rub for Miller. Who has shown that they deserve more playing time? At this point Miller only has freshmen to turn to off the bench unless he wants to move to a bigger lineup that puts Jerome Hunter on the wing.
Trey Galloway would provide a better perimeter defender than Durham, but he has been dealing with both a sore back and perimeter shooting troubles. The door has been wide open lately for Khristian Lander to take over at point guard, but he has the highest turnover rate on the team, is struggling with his shot, and still makes too many defensive mistakes.
In the end, Miller finds himself in the strange predicament of going with what hasn’t been working, or playing for a future he might not have. He’ll likely go with Durham and Phinisee down the stretch.
“Al and Rob play a big role for us,” Miller said after the loss to Michigan State. “Those two guys, they work at it. Today wasn’t their day. Come back at it here in the next few and be ready to go at it, those are the type of guys that they are. There is no question that not getting much out of those guys from the perimeter today hurt the team.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT DEFENSE?
Back in late November and early December, it felt reasonable to use the word elite to describe Indiana on the defensive end of the court.
Through its seven non-conference games, five of which were high major opponents, Indiana had held teams to an average of .864 points per possession and at one point was top-10 nationally in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency. No one scored more than a point per possession in those seven contests.
And then Big Ten play began, and the wheels came off.
IU allowed 1.1 points per possession in a Big Ten opening loss to Northwestern, and since they have only kept three teams (Maryland, Iowa and Northwestern) under a point per possession.
In conference games only, Indiana is just No. 11 in the Big Ten in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are No. 12 in effective field goal percentage defense, a figure inflated by allowing conference foes to shoot a league-worst 36.7 percent from 3-point range.
What has happened is fairly obvious. Big Ten coaches have spread out Miller’s pack-line defense with four or five on the perimeter, at times overloading the offense to one side. They have emphasized the dribble-drive, with either points in the paint or kick-outs for 3-pointers as the result. Teams have looked for their best one-on-one matchups to exploit, and like Aaron Henry on Saturday, it hasn’t always been guards.
The result has been 1.06 points per possession allowed in Big Ten play, or a roughly .2 points per possession jump over the non-conference slate. In games with roughly 70 possessions some easy math tells you that Indiana has to score a lot more points with its mostly mediocre offense if it wants to win. And for the most part, at least against good defensive teams, they haven’t done that.
Miller called the second half against Michigan State a “complete bust on defense.” But truth be told, the last two months have been a complete bust on defense, save for a few shining moments against Iowa without its best shooter, C.J. Fredrick. Defense has been Indiana’s calling card under Miller, but the Hoosiers haven’t been anything special on that end of the floor over the last two months.
And if Indiana doesn’t figure something out over these last four games, “complete bust” might just be the epitaph on Miller’s Indiana tombstone.
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