“You’re going to run into some of these opportunities here where you’re going to have to find out a little bit about yourself.”
That’s what Indiana head coach Archie Miller said after a disappointing 84-64 blowout loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.
Miller could not have been thrilled with what he found out about his team in Madison. Perhaps most troubling, what became apparent to him during the course of the game was something that has seemingly plagued all of his IU teams during his nearly three year tenure in Bloomington.
“The thing I took away most importantly is where we are at from a leadership standpoint and where we’re at from a group standpoint in terms of our resolve, Miller said after the game.
“You can just tell throughout the course of the game that we had a quiet group today – all the way around. I have to do a better job of finding ways to continue to get them to use their voices to each other and continue to use each other as they talk to one another – it’s all you have on the road.”
It’s all you have on the road. Indiana didn’t have it. And they were steamrolled.
Variations of the concerns Miller expressed about having a quiet team have been heard from the IU head coach throughout his time in Bloomington.
The same holds true for attributes like resolve and tenacity. Although he said he hates to use this word at this time of year, Miller also used “soft” to describe his team on Saturday — and we’ve heard that word over the last two seasons as well.
Whether with players he inherited or players he recruited to Indiana, Miller has been seemingly unable to this point to develop gritty, tough-minded teams at IU like he did at Dayton.
While it is still too early in the 2019-20 season to start drawing definitive conclusions about much of anything, it was something else that Miller said on Saturday that really stood out.
“I think we’ve pleaded with this team as much as any that I’ve been around to get guys to talk a little bit more,” Miller said.
Could this particular group be quieter even than Miller’s first two teams at IU?
Before the season at the Big Ten’s media day I asked Miller about this very topic. Who was standing out as a vocal leader?
Miller pointed to graduate transfer Joey Brunk as someone with a strong voice, and he also highlighted that sophomore point guard Rob Phinisee was making strides with becoming more verbal with his teammates.
Of course Phinisee’s season has been nothing but a frustrating series of nagging injuries. He’s rarely been on the floor at all, and thus, by no fault of his own, not a big factor in any capacity.
Perhaps with their point guard back as soon as this week, and the rude awakening this team received in Madison they can finally start to get past this issue?
It is certainly going to be a point of emphasis moving forward.
“You go through season after season, you learn about your group and we’ve got to become more of a grinding team on the road,” Miller said. And he wasn’t afraid to call out certain players that he expects more from verbally.
While there “were some guys that have never been there (on the road) before,” as Miller put it, even for the freshmen lessons must be learned fast.
“Now that they’ve been there, there’s no excuses,” Miller said.
But it was upperclassmen Al Durham, Devonte Green and Justin Smith that Miller called out by name as guys that should already know better and must do more than just lead by example.
How exactly does a coach get his players to become more alpha?
“You have to put that on the front burner in terms of demanding it,” Miller said. “You’ve got to have a rallying cry at some point, and somebody has got to be able to jump start you and shake you up a little bit so to speak. Guys have got to grab you by the jersey a little bit, player to player.”
Ultimately, just like jump shots, dribbling and defense, Miller believes that his players are going to have to work at it, and find it within themselves to become strong, tenacious, verbal leaders.
“I think it’s just an adjustment, just like a player that’s working on their game,” Miller said. “Part of working on your game and your role, you’ve got to step outside yourself and be better in certain areas.”
The Hoosier head coach recognizes that the buck stops with him, acknowledging that he has to find a way to get through to his team.
“No one feels worse about it than me, and I’ve got to do my part to make this team better, and part of it is that I’ve got to get them to engage each either a little bit differently at times,” Miller said.
For better or worse, Indiana has a short turnaround to try to crack the code that has eluded the program during Miller’s tenure.
While it isn’t a true road game, the crowd on Tuesday night is likely to favor nearby UConn.
Playing on ESPN in front of a prime time audience at one of basketball’s most iconic venues, the resolve of Miller’s team will once again be tested.
“Obviously, we’re on a big stage Tuesday night as we head to the Garden,” Miller said. “This feeling that’s in us right now, it’s not going to go away until you work it out. You have to earn that right and we’re going to try real hard to do that as we take the floor on Tuesday.”
Somehow, in just a couple days, Miller needs to orchestrate a sea change in Bloomington.
After back-to-back years of missing the NCAA Tournament, and a 20 point loss at Wisconsin, more of the same is definitely not a formula for success.
And Miller knows that better than anyone.
“If you’re not ready on Tuesday, it will be the same thing,” Miller said.
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