BOZICH | Pitino has "zero doubt" Miller will succeed after Indiana thumps Minnesota
Indiana swept the season series from Minnesota and coach Richard Pitino, defeating the Gophers, 80-56, Friday night in Bloomington.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – The asphyxiating portion of the Indiana basketball schedule is complete. The patient survived.
Last Saturday Indiana completed a seven-day stretch that tossed the Hoosiers against Purdue, followed by Ohio State, followed by Michigan State, three Top 15 teams.
Archie Miller’s team could have won one. The Hoosiers had a prayer of winning two.
They did not win any, sagging to 5-7 in the Big Ten and 12-12 overall.
Season over? No.
Sagging over? Yes.
Indiana dispatched Minnesota, 80-56, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall Friday, giving the Hoosiers back-to-back 20-point Big Ten victories for the first time since January 2016.
According to Ken Bikoff, it’s the first time Indiana has limited back-to-back Big Ten opponents to less than a combined 100 points in 16 years. (IU won at Rutgers, 65-43, Monday.) Bob Knight almost smiled.
“The fight that these guys are playing with hasn’t changed,” Miller said. “I’ve never seen these guys quit. I’ve never seen these guys get fractured. The last couple of games in particular, they’ve played their best basketball.”
There will not be an NCAA Tournament to obsess about in Bloomington next month. The Hoosiers are tied for seventh in the Big Ten with a 7-7 league record. There might not be an NIT invitation to ridicule.
But do not file this as a Wait ‘Til Next Year season. Miller is not a Wait ‘Til Next Year guy. He is a Wait ‘Til The Next Practice guy.
The Hoosiers are not playing as if they’re waiting for Jerome Hunter, Robert Phinisee and the rest of IU’s Top 20 recruiting class to arrive.
Yes, Minnesota is damaged goods, a pre-season Top 25 team that is down three starters because Richard Pitino lost one to suspension and two others to injuries. For Minnesota, the loss was the seventh straight.
But in November and December Indiana wasn’t prepared to play like a predator. Too sloppy. Too soft. Too early in the transition from Tom Crean’s system that emphasized offense and a frantic pace to Miller’s preferred focus on defending and valuing every possession.
In the last two wins, they’ve performed as if they’re figuring it out, getting ahead of Rutgers and Minnesota and then staying ahead of both teams. Indiana did not trail in either game.
The Hoosiers (14-12) jumped back to two games over .500 sweeping the season series from Pitino’s sagging Minnesota team.
There were 10 NBA scouts who can testify to that result. They were not in Bloomington to watch anybody on Miller’s roster. The attractions were Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason.
Murphy and Mason were outplayed by Juwan Morgan, IU’s junior forward, and Devonte Green, a sophomore guard. Both IU players scored 19. Green hit four shots from distance while Morgan collected nine rebounds.
The final score was not as important as the manner Indiana played the game. The Hoosiers are not Virginia on the defensive end of the floor. But they’re also no longer the team that surrendered 17 three-point shots in home losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne.
They limited Minnesota to .906 points per possession in the first half – and got better. That number tumbled to .730 in the second half. An Indiana team that did not rank among the Top 200 teams in the nation in defensive efficiency in December climbed to No. 55 in that category in Ken Pomeroy’s computer metrics after this 24-point win.
“I think Archie is a terrific coach and it’s clear what their identity is,” Richard Pitino said. “They are going to defend. They are going to play hard. “They are going to rebound. They are going to do a lot of these things.”
Miller has put his team on a turnover fast, too. For most of the season guys who made risky or half-strength passes were rewarded with a seat several spots from Miller. Play silly and you do not play. The silliness is starting to disappear.
Miller will not tolerate it. Don’t believe me?
With less than seven minutes to play, the Hoosiers led 67-43. Several IU players convinced themselves it was time for showtime or cruise control. IU turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions.
Exit Aljami Durham and Justin Smith. Enter Morgan and Robert Johnson.
Miller has also made two solid moves with his lineup over the last two weeks. McSwain replaced Smith at forward. Green replaced Josh Newkirk at guard.
The Hoosiers are playing faster and with more efficiency on both ends of the floor. The 80 points are the most Indiana has scored in a Big Ten game this season.
“It’s going to take time from a building standpoint, from a recruiting standpoint,” Pitino said. “But there is zero doubt in my mind that (Miller) will get there.”
Indiana is positioned to push its winning streak to three for only the second time in conference play. On Wednesday IU hosts Illinois, which has lost 10 of 12 conference games.
“Every game from this point forward really matters,” Miller said. “We have a chance to win every one of them.”
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