“Much more in the realm of how we want to do it.”
Did you catch that?
Indiana head basketball coach Archie Miller let us all in on a little secret at his last media availability in late July.
How he wants to do it is “more perimeter oriented with more guard play” as Miller put it.
By logical inference, how he did it last year — with a two power-forward and one center starting lineup — was how Miller didn’t want to do it.
But he did it.
31 out of 32 games, the combination of Justin Smith, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk started together.
Whether it was playing to strengths, out of necessity with only four scholarship guards, not trusting the up-and-comers, or perhaps a stubborn refusal to change, Miller stuck with the trio through thick and thin.
Some coaches like to tweak the lineup game-by-game based on the opposition and perceived areas of vulnerability.
Miller seems to be much more of a season-by-season coach when it comes to his lineups and rotations. What are the strengths of the roster? What is our identity going to be this year?
Last season the emphasis was on playing big, drawing fouls and dominating the glass. More often than not, it worked. Most reasonable analyses had Indiana in the NCAA Tournament — a step forward for the program under Miller.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Miller was in love with his big lineup.
Miller was pressed about his reluctance to change his starting lineup after a March win over Minnesota. He talked about why he tends to stick with a rotation once it is established, and what it takes for him to change direction.
“I’ll tell you this much, the minute you change (the starting lineup), you lose guys. There’s no reason to do that,” Miller said. “In general, if we would change it, it would be out of a movement of strength not out of a movement of weakness.”
As we approach the 2020-21 season, there are new strengths on the IU roster, and change is on the horizon.
Rather than just four scholarship guards as he had in 2019-20, in 2020-21 Miller will have six including new five-star Khristian Lander.
And for the first time since he has been at IU, Miller will have two point guards. He’ll also have veterans in the backcourt schooled in his system. If he’s lucky, he’ll even have a few guys ready to knock down shots.
The movement of strength this year is towards a more perimeter oriented approach.
And that is exactly the kind of scheme that helped Miller land the job at IU in the first place.
THREE GUARD / PERIMETER ORIENTED LINEUPS LED THE WAY AT DAYTON
Miller’s 2013-14 Dayton team that reached the Elite 8 was like his most recent Indiana squad in one respect. Both teams started two forwards and a center.
But that’s where the similarities ended.
The two starting forwards on that squad — Devin Oliver and Dyshawn Pierre — were serious threats to score from the perimeter, shooting 39.6 and 40.9 percent from three-point range on the season, respectively. Those two played along side sharpshooters Jordan Sibert (42.6 percent from distance) and Khari Price (39 percent) to form a formidable outside-in, perimeter oriented attack.
Over the next three years, three-guard starting lineups became the standard at Dayton. And each year, the Flyers finished in the top two in their conference and made the NCAA Tournament.
In 2014-15 Sibert, Scoochie Smith, and Kyle Davis formed a the starting backcourt trio while Pierre and Kendall Pollard started in the frontcourt and both shot above 33 percent from three.
In 2015-16 Smith, Davis and Charles Cooke were the starting guards, with Pierre and Pollard (both only 6-foot-6) starting and once again posing a threat from the perimeter.
The pattern held true to form in 2016-17 when Smith, Cooke and combination of Kyle and Darrell Davis drew the starts to once again form the three guard lineup. Once again Pollard, along, with Xeyrius Williams and Ryan Mikesell drew most of the frontcourt minutes and all of them could knock down long range shots.
Miller no doubt played to his strengths with those teams just like he did in 2019-20. But there is more to it than just playing to your strengths.
Coaches have preferred styles of play, and Miller showed his hand this summer when he said the 2020-21 approach will be more in line with how he wants to operate.
Now in his fourth year at IU, Miller arrived saying he wanted to play fast on the offensive end, something that has been largely unattainable in the Big Ten. A smaller, more athletic lineup likely checks that box too.
The Dayton way under Miller is about to become the IU way.
WILL BRUNK START?
Redshirt senior Joey Brunk brought a lot of positives to IU during his first season in Bloomington.
He is a much needed vocal leader, an efficient paint scorer, and he helped keep Trayce Jackson-Davis out of foul trouble by guarding opposing centers.
Brunk did not post a threat to score from the perimeter, which in isolation isn’t a major problem. But when coupled with Jackson-Davis and Justin Smith’s inability to consistently score outside of the paint, IU became, relatively speaking, easy to guard.
Whether or not Brunk starts in 2020-21 may be in large part out of his control.
If Miller is truly going back to the formula that delivered success in Dayton he needs at least four threats to make shots on the floor from the perimeter.
One thing is certain. Jackson-Davis is going to be on the floor as much as possible. If he is making jump shots and opening up the floor, that will make it easier to justify having Brunk in the same rotation. If Jackson-Davis is still primarily only a threat in the paint, it will likely be difficult to keep Brunk on the court with him. Once again, IU would be easier to guard and their style would not closely resemble the approach used at Dayton.
Also out of Brunk’s control is who he might guard in the Big Ten. There might not be as many favorable match-ups this year.
Gone are big men Kaleb Wesson, Matt Haarms, Jon Teske, Mike Watkins and Daniel Oturu. But you could still see Brunk taking on Micah Potter, Luka Garza, Hunter Dickinson and Myles Johnson.
If Miller wants to play the style that worked at Dayton, much more significant roles should be coming for Jerome Hunter, Race Thompson, and perhaps Jordan Geronimo this year. Whether Miller goes that route or continues to start Brunk remains to be seen.
A hybrid, match-up based approach would seem to have merit, but Miller has been reluctant to go that route thus far.
In the end who earns the most minutes, and is on the floor at crunch time, is more interesting than starting lineups.
But somehow Miller has to find a way to get back to the magic that worked at Dayton.
And there, small lineups with at least four perimeter shooters was always the answer.
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