If you were hoping for a big splash in the early days of the Archie Miller era at Indiana, you have no doubt been disappointed.
But with a full three seasons now in the books, the progress of the Indiana program is becoming clear. More tortoise than hare, Miller is advancing Indiana slowly but surely, including what would have been taking his first IU team to an NCAA Tournament in 2020.
While it hasn’t been at the pace that most hoped for, Miller appears to have things headed in the right direction in Bloomington.
REGULAR SEASON WINS
- 2020 — 19 (61.3 percent)
- 2019 — 17 (54.8 percent)
- 2018 — 16 (51.6 percent)
When it comes to what matters the most, the progress is clear. Perhaps agonizingly gradual. But clear.
Some will no doubt erroneously assume that improvements were made this season in large part due to an easier schedule.
That just simply isn’t true.
Indiana’s overall strength of schedule in 2019-20 (No. 23 according to KenPom) was its most challenging over the last three years (No. 54 in 2018, No. 27 in 2019).
There were also firsts in 2020, including a Big Ten Tournament win and a 20 win season for Miller. Both of those achievements came after Indiana’s one and only postseason game of the year before the wheels came off the 2020 season.
The progression isn’t as clear in conference play. After a .500 mark (9-9) in the Big Ten standings in 2018, the Hoosiers have gone 8-12 and 9-11 during the last two seasons.
But the league has changed a lot over the last three years. There were seven teams ranked No. 70 or worse according to KenPom in the Big Ten in 2018. There were twelve teams ranked No. 34 or better in 2020.
OVERALL KENPOM RANKING
- 2020 — No. 34
- 2019 — No. 52
- 2019 — No. 71
As a measure of total team progress on both ends of floor, comparing a program’s year-over-year overall KenPom ranking progression is a strong indicator.
You have to recall how things started in Miller’s first season in Bloomington.
Not just losses, but blowout home losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne marked the early weeks of the 2017-18 season. IU didn’t have the top to bottom roster talent, and the players were not yet immersed enough in Miller’s system to effectively compete on a consistent basis.
Compare those early bad losses to the 2019-20 season.
The Hoosiers still lost plenty of games, but their worst defeat by KenPom standards was a home loss to Arkansas. The Razorbacks finished the season ranked No. 47, a standing that would have almost certainly been higher had they not lost second leading scorer Isaiah Joe for five games during SEC play. Arkansas lost all five of those games and finished the season 20-12 also.
Outside of Arkansas, all of Indiana’s 2019-20 losses were to teams ranked No. 30 or better according to Kenpom.
- 2020 — 108.5 / No. 65
- 2019 — 109.1 / No. 82
- 2018 — 109.4 / No. 92
If you are not familiar with the concept, KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency attempt to measure a team’s anticipated points scored or allowed per 100 possessions.
Indiana’s offense became less efficient by a small margin during each of the last three years. That’s the bad news.
But relative to college basketball as a whole, Indiana is trending in the right direction. No doubt influenced in part by moving back the three-point line, division one college basketball offensive efficiency took a dip this year. And while IU followed the trend, they bucked it better than most.
Miller’s offense needs to get better. There is no debating that. The biggest obstacle to progress has been IU’s inability to run more of a transition offense. That is Miller’s preferred approach, and perhaps with an elite north/south point guard like Khristian Lander set to join the program the Hoosiers will start to be able to get out and run more, especially in Big Ten play.
Irrespective of that, Indiana needs to become better in the half court, with better spacing and more perimeter threats.
- 2020 — 92.7 / No. 26
- 2019 — 95.4 / No. 32
- 2018 — 99.0 / No. 65
Of course if offenses are becoming less efficient, you’d expect Indiana’s defense to become more efficient, all other things being equal.
The Hoosiers have done just that, and a look at the numbers makes it clear that IU has become strong nationally on the defensive end.
While Indiana wasn’t always great on the ball in 2019-20, with more size in the paint IU was able to protect the rim better and limit second chance opportunities.
With a fully healthy Rob Phinisee on the ball, Trayce Jackson-Davis manning the paint, along with continued development from players like Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter, IU could continue to make progress on the defensive end next year. The next step in the progression is for Indiana to become one of the elite defensive teams in the country.
In Miller’s first year with the program the Hoosiers struggled with a lack of depth and overall roster talent. IU had no size and very little high end talent left over from the Tom Crean era.
Significant additions were made in 2018-19, but injuries decimated IU’s depth and productivity in year two.
The Hoosiers stayed healthy in year three for the most part, but an an imbalance created by just four scholarship guards, and a lack of reliable wings were limiting factors.
As it stands the roster should have much better balance looking forward to 2020-21. Here’s how things look assuming no transfers out and Lander is able to reclassify into the class of 2020 as he intends.
- PG – Phinisee, Lander
- SG – Durham, Franklin, Leal, Galloway
- Wing – Hunter, Geronimo, Anderson
- PF – Smith, Thompson
- C – Jackson-Davis, Brunk
The main question with this group will be whether a few guys can become consistent shot makers so the Hoosiers can better space the floor. A lack of consistent shooting has plagued Miller during his time at IU, although the Hoosiers did improve from 31.2 percent to 32.6 percent from behind the arc year-over-year.
2020-21 is going to be a significant season for Miller. It is reasonable to expect more progress based on both the trends and the anticipated roster.
By the end of next season we will also know how Miller delivered when it comes to the critical recruiting class of 2021. That’s a class that is loaded in-state and will be Miller’s fourth at Indiana — giving him a roster full of his own guys.
It has been a bumpy and frustrating ride over the last three years, no doubt. But by this time next year Indiana fans should have a clear sense for how the Miller era will play out.
And right now the trends look favorable.
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