The calendar says late March, which means three years ago we were first introduced to a young up and coming guy named Ryan Joseph Miller as the next head coach of Indiana basketball.
The 38 year old man that everyone of course knows as Archie came to Indiana after a successful six year stint at Dayton.
With three full seasons in the books, the trend lines for the IU program under Miller are pointing up, with steady, albeit slow progress. Today we take a look back at what Miller described as the pillars of his program three years ago, and evaluate how he has performed against those standards.
ON CONNECTING THE PAST WITH THE PRESENT
“The first level is obviously our past. Every player, every former coach, every former manager that laid the groundwork for this place to be what it is today, we owe them a lot, and our effort level and our give-back has to be really unmatched, and they have to feel that they’re a part of everything that we do, and our players have to feel that power. That’s something we are going to really fight hard for.”
Reuniting former players with the program has been a clear initiative under Miller.
From a wall that former players sign, reunions, and a fantasy camp that former players help run, there have obvious efforts to bridge the past with the present.
Former players are also regulars at home games, including iconic stars like Victor Oladipo. All-time leading scorer Calbert Cheaney was also featured prominently at the 2019 Hoosier Hysteria event.
Could more be done? Of course, but outwardly it looks like the effort is being made.
Of course Miller was the beneficiary of the greatest homecoming when former head coach Bob Knight returned in February. That was a former player driven event, but it took Miller having the program in a place where both Knight and the former players felt comfortable coming back.
“We’re going to have a great way about us, and the term that we’ll use is called inside-out. We have to start inside this state of Indiana, and we have to start moving outside very slowly, because the footprint is there. The inside-out approach means that we have to dedicate ourselves to the high school coaches in this state, the high school talent in this state, the grass-roots programs in this state, and they must feel like they’re being dominated by Indiana University. You’re not going to get every player; you understand that. But if we want them, we should have a great chance of getting them because of the commitment level that we’re putting forth 24 hours a day at home.”
The inside part of the inside-out recruiting strategy has been an unmitigated success.
Including graduate transfer Joey Brunk, Miller has successfully landed a total of nine Indiana based players in his first three recruiting classes at IU if you include point guard Khristian Lander in the class of 2020. That is obviously three in-state players per year, and about as much as you could reasonably expect.
Miller has brought two consecutive Indiana Mr. Basketball winners to Bloomington for the first time since 1998. If either of 2020 in-state signees Anthony Leal or Trey Galloway takes Mr. Basketball this year, it will be the first time ever that IU has secured three straight Indiana Mr. Basketball winners.
Miller has seen far less success when it comes to his out-of-state recruiting efforts, although that is somewhat influenced by significant injuries incurred by Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter. Both players are now trending towards productive Indiana careers.
“Here at Indiana University, non-conference scheduling is about finding a way to put yourself in a great position in terms of seeding. You know, you have to be the master of creating a non-conference schedule that, one, creates great excitement with your fans; two, challenges you at the highest level as you enter the Big Ten; and three, puts you in a non-conference résumé that stacks up with the best teams in college basketball. That’s what will be our goal.”
One of the silliest talking points in elements of the IU fan base during the 2019-20 season was the supposedly soft non-conference schedule.
The chatter was fueled by the sequencing of the schedule much more so than its difficulty. Indiana opened the season with seven straight home games against low to mid-major opponents, including one team that won its conference (South Dakota State) and another (Louisiana Tech) that finished No. 71 in Ken Pom.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee made unnecessarily difficult non-conference schedules seem pointless in 2019, and the reality is that with 20 Big Ten games in a deep league, just a few high major nonconference games is more than enough to end up with a respectable overall strength of schedule.
Moreover, it is unlikely that anyone will be talking about an easy schedule in 2020-21.
With multiple early tests in Maui to be followed by the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on the road, the Crossroads Classic and possibly a Gavitt Games contest on the road, it is unlikely that we will hear much criticism of next year’s slate.
ON HIS OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
“Style of play for me is always on the run offensively. I think the more we’re on the run in the full court and the half court, which means a lot of movement and a lot of pace. I think our teams at Dayton were known for great ball movement, unselfishness. But I told these guys, it’s going to be pace, it’s going to be player movement, flow, and it’s going to be an attacking, aggressive style. They’re already terrific offensive players. They’ve been used to some great offensive teams here in the past, and I think our style will fit with a lot of different personnel. Versatility is something we look for.”
This has perhaps been Miller’s biggest challenge at Indiana — getting his preferred running style to work in the physical and half court oriented Big Ten.
Indiana has never been better than No. 10 in the league in Ken Pom adjusted offensive efficiency in Miller’s three years, as the Hoosiers have been unable to consistently generate transition offense and haven’t found a way to be effective in the half court. When it comes to tempo, IU has been seventh and ninth in Big Ten games on the offensive end the last two seasons.
Miller’s last point might be the key to what has been missing thus far. Versatility is what he looks for, but the roster has been lacking in positionless players that can create space, operate through contact and score at all three levels.
Perhaps the roster is rounding into form with two point guards that can push in Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander, along with the continued emergence of more versatile players such as Armaan Franklin, Jerome Hunter and Race Thompson.
ON HIS DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
“Defensively, it’s something to take great pride in. We have to become a tough, nasty team on defense, and I think at the end of the day, if you looked at our teams at Dayton, we may not have been the biggest, but there wasn’t very many days that I left that I said that’s not one of the toughest-minded groups of people. We have to become a tough-minded group because to win at the level that we want to win at, you have to be able to beat different styles. You can’t be one-dimensional. You have to have some versatility, not only on offense, but you have to have some versatility on your defense. We’re aggressive; we’re going to be very physical; and we’re going to try like crazy to be very disciplined. It’s not going to be very frantic.”
After a slow start in year one, Indiana has been disciplined with Miller’s pack-line principles. The Hoosiers were No. 32 and No. 26 in Ken Pom adjusted defensive efficiency in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively. Rob Phinisee has been a difference maker when guarding the ball, but he hasn’t always been healthy and no one else has been quite as effective on the ball.
When it comes to playing with a tough-minded, aggressive style, that hasn’t always been the case. If there is one overarching attribute that seems to have been consistently missing over the last three years, it’s toughness.
It will be interesting to see if that nastiness and tenacity that Miller mentioned three years ago becomes part of the fabric of the program as the roster continues to take on Miller’s identity.
WATCH THE COMPLETE MARCH 27, 2017 PRESS CONFERENCE
Video credit – IU Athletics
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