LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The last time Archie Miller answered questions press-conference style was 138 days ago.
His Indiana team routed Nebraska by 25 points in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, likely securing Miller’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in his three seasons in Bloomington.
And then … well, you know what happened.
We talk about the novel coronavirus every day. We’ve moved from discussing how the 2020 college basketball season abruptly stopped to worrying about whether the 2021 season will even begin.
Miller, for the record, believes there will be a season, although he’s not ready to forecast a starting point, the number of games or the likelihood of non-conference opponents. He does like his team.
“It’s going to be a good group to coach,” he said. “I’m more excited now than I’ve been in a while.”
Here are five takeaways from his ZOOM teleconference session Tuesday night.
*Freshman point guard Khristian Lander has confirmed his 5-star billing since arriving in Bloomington this month.
“Khristian has that ‘it’ factor,” Miller said. “He has that feel factor with the ball. He just knows how to play. He is so gifted on the court.”
A top recruit at Reitz High School in Evansville, Lander surprised the world by committing to the Hoosiers last winter. Then Lander accelerated his graduation to move from the Class of 2021 to IU’s 2020 four-man recruiting group.
Although Miller, a former point guard at North Carolina State, made certain to note Lander is only 17 and has been on campus for only three weeks, there is little doubt the coach believes Lander will be a major factor this season.
“I just think as a basketball player, he’s so natural,” Mille said.
*The Hoosiers are likely to play a three-guard offense.
Rob Phinisee, IU’s junior point guard, said Miller changed the offense to include more ball screens.
That is one reason Miller did not seem concerned about the unexpected transfer to Arkansas by small forward Justin Smith, a starter for more than two seasons.
“We’re going to be more of a three-headed monster,” Miller said.
Al Durham returns as the team’s most experienced player. Phinisee said the time away from basketball has allowed his body to heal. He said that he felt better than he had in years. Armaan Franklin showed his capabilities against Nebraska and Notre Dame.
Lander and two other freshmen, Indiana Mr. Basketball Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway, can also play in the backcourt.
“My hope is that our skill level will go up,” Miller said. “Our turnovers will go down. Our shooting percentage will go up.”
*Miller does not expect on-campus recruiting visits by prospects or off-campus home visits by coaches for the rest of 2021.
The NCAA currently has those items on hold. Miller said that he and his coaching staff have held hundreds of ZOOM calls with recruits as well as with the current players and other coaches.
“Recruiting has taken on a whole new element,” Miller said.
*Miller said that he believed Trayce Jackson-Davis was one of the most productive freshmen in America last season but that he was an even better teammate.
Miller said that most players have occasional conflicts. “He doesn’t butt heads with anybody,” Miller said. “He’s such a great teammate.”
Miller said that Jackson-Davis worked to improve his ball-handling, ability to drive and jump shot.
“Trayce has to continue to evolve,” Miller said. “He has to become an elite defender.”
At 13.5 points per game, Jackson-Davis led all Big Ten freshmen in scoring and was second to Kofi Cockburn of Illinois in rebounding at 8.4.
*Miller said the team’s current workout format will end Friday.
The Hoosiers will be off Wednesday and return for small group weight-lifting and basketball drills Thursday and Friday.
Miller said the players have worn masks inside the Cook Hall practice facility. There have been no five-on-five or even three-on-three competitions. Contact has not been allowed in the facility.
The coach said he was fine with that.
“Our deal is working,” Miller said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better six weeks. I’m surprised where we’re at from a competition standpoint. I feel like we’ve done a really good job handling it.”
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