Stuck at home for seven months, Archie Miller has had more time on his hands than normal to strategize for the upcoming season.
Unable to jet around the country from one recruiting event to the next, Miller’s efficiency has no doubt improved year over year.
And greater efficiency is exactly what he is looking for out of his basketball team on both ends of the floor.
IU finished the 2019-20 campaign No. 65 nationally in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 26 on the defensive end.
Obviously the team needs to make greater strides on offense, but the Hoosiers did lose one of their better defenders after forward Justin Smith transferred to Arkansas.
With an ominous schedule looming that likely entails 25 of 27 games against high major opponents, Miller knows his team will need to improve on both ends to survive the gauntlet.
On defense, Miller’s early IU teams have established a pattern of starting slow and then progressing over the course of the season. He knows the schedule won’t allow for a slow start this season.
“I thought that last year in the last eight or nine games we really rose our level defensively and our numbers started to creep up into a really good defensive team at the end of the season in big games,” Miller told IU radio voice Don Fischer in an interview last week. “We have to be that way a little bit earlier.”
The numbers support Miller’s assertion. IU’s adjusted defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) was 93.99 over its first 25 games, and 86.4 over the last seven contests.
With true freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis and newcomer Joey Brunk learning the ropes of the pack-line defense early, IU was not as impactful as Miller would have liked in the paint early on.
“I thought that we were a little bit lacking in interior defense, especially for a big team,” Miller said. “Whether it’s blocked shots, making hard plays at the rim, or just staying out of foul trouble with discipline around the basket, we have to be a better paint team.”
Beyond a faster start, Miller is hoping to be a bit more dynamic — and perhaps less predictable on defense in 2020-21.
Whether it is how they hedge ball screens, or rotate on the help-side, the fourth year head coach is hoping to keep opposing offenses guessing a bit more.
“We’ve got to be a little bit more sophisticated with some of our coverages,” Miller said. “We need to be a little bit more complex in terms of not so much vanilla, not so much fastball. There’s a few curveballs in there as well that we’re able to do.”
Most would agree that Miller’s greatest challenge during his first three years in Bloomington has been on the offensive end.
Each year Miller has attempted to develop an attack that best matches his personnel. The results have been mixed, and the shortcomings magnified by teams that have consistently struggled to make perimeter shots.
Over the summer Miller signaled that this year’s team would be moving towards a more wide open, guard oriented approach.
He amplified that intention during his conversation with Fischer.
“Offensively, (we are) moving much more into a perimeter oriented group on the outside, where as last year was much more of a power ball team, a big team that needed to rebound and needed to get fouled,” Miller said.
The plan isn’t necessarily to start shooting a lot more three-pointers, however.
While more perimeter shots will probably result from having more guards on the floor, Miller is signaling that the hoped for offensive strides will come from maximizing possessions rather than draining long-range shots.
“This team needs to be high assists, very low turnovers, Miller said. ” We have to keep our turnovers as low as we possibly can ever since I’ve been here. We have to be a team that turns the ball over no more than 10 or 11 times. That’s going to spell a lot more possessions for us and a lot more quality shots for us.”
IU only had 11 or fewer turnovers in 12 of its 32 games last year, and the Hoosiers averaged 12.6 for the season. With two primary ball handlers on the roster (Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander) and much greater guard depth this year, Miller is hoping to eliminate a couple miscues per game.
Beyond greater ball security, Miller is hoping that a more perimeter oriented attack opens up the floor. Last year’s often used three forward lineup including Smith, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk made Indiana relatively easy to guard when coupled with the team’s struggles to make three-pointers.
“The paint needs to be a little bit more open, which I think it will be, Miller said.
Perhaps signaling that he still doesn’t expect a top-tier shooting team, Miller seems to be counting on better spacing and greater efficiency to help unleash his greatest weapon — sophomore forward Jackson-Davis.
“Shooting the ball better, making more free throws, all that goes into it, but I think if we take care of the ball a little bit more, we open the floor up a little bit more, along with some added depth on the perimeter, I think it’s going to give us an opportunity to free some things up for Trayce and give us a little bit more room to operate, Miller said.
“I think he’s going to have to be a workhorse for us a lot like Juwan (Morgan) was my first year here (2017-18). A lot of things are going to have to go through him.”
With the offense focused on him, Morgan made major strides statistically during his junior season.
With Smith gone, so are the days of three players on the court that aren’t reliable threats to score beyond the paint.
Miller still sees lineups with two post oriented players.
But rotations with four true inside-out threats should be seen with much more regularity this season.
“I think we can play two bigs because we’re comfortable doing it, but I also think that we can move Jerome over there a little bit, and move Jordan over there a little bit, and play a little bit more four guys that are a little bit more perimeter oriented around the big guy,” Miller said.
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