LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Word leaked from the early college basketball magazines. Lindy’s picked Indiana to finish seventh in the Big Ten. Blue Ribbon yearbook knocked the Hoosiers down a spot to eighth.
That’s not Stop The Presses news considering the Hoosiers finished tied for 10th in the conference last season, a season when 10th place would have translated into a spot in the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled by the novel coronavirus.
It’s year four for Archie Miller in Bloomington. Indiana should absolutely be better than 10th.
On several occasions, Miller has talked like a guy who loves his basketball team more than any coach would love an eighth-place team.
What are the skeptics missing?
“Nonstop work,” said Al Durham, the Hoosiers’ senior guard. “Everybody wants to be around each other. Everybody wants to learn from each other. It’s a good vibe.”
During IU’s virtual media day Tuesday, the day before the official start of practice, the coach and players talked about all the things coaches and players always talk about on media day.
Better team chemistry. Trayce Jackson-Davis, the guy Blue-Ribbon named a third-team All-American this week, said a year ago multiple players declined to show up for extra shooting on Saturday mornings. These days, everybody shows up every Saturday.
“We’ve just got to play with a chip on our shoulders,” Jackson-Davis said.
“Our young players are here for the right reason,” Miller said.
Miller also touted the leadership provided by Jackson-Davis and senior Joey Brunk.
“They don’t blink,” Miller said. “They’re about winning. They bring chemistry. You want to be around guys like that.”
Better health and conditioning. Rob Phinisee, the junior point guard, is over his abdominal issues. Jerome Hunter, a redshirt sophomore, is another year removed from his lost 2018-19 freshman season created by an undisclosed leg issue. Race Thompson, another player who has battled injuries, won the belt as the team’s summer workout warrior.
A four-player freshman class, led by 5-star point guard Khristian Lander, should upgrade the Hoosiers’ talent.
Interesting stuff, all of it. But here is what matters: Indiana needs to play faster, smarter and more efficiently on offense.
Miller’s first three teams have ranked 92nd, 82nd and 65th in offensive efficiency. Not good enough. It’s time to advance to the top 40 — or better.
Miller knows that and appears to be tweaking his lineup and his offense to a more perimeter-oriented approach, more dependent on dependable ball-handling, intelligent passing and mature shot selection.
Lander, Phinisee, Durham and Armaan Franklin give him the option to attack with three guards.
Miller will never say this but I will: Indiana will improve because the Hoosiers will be without two players who failed to learn the value of a possession.
Devonte Green (10.8 points per game) and Justin Smith (10.4) were Indiana’s second and third-leading scorers.
Green also had an effective field-goal percentage of 47% while launching nearly 31% of the shots when he was on the court.
When Green was great Indiana beat Florida State and Iowa. When Green was not great, don’t ask.
Smith had nearly twice as many turnovers as assists and insisted upon launching 38 three-point attempts even though he only made 10. He contributed on defense — when he was engaged.
What Miller did say Tuesday during a media availability is that eliminating turnovers will be a point of emphasis.
“We have to be the lowest turnover team we’ve had,” Miller said.
IU averaged 12.6 turnovers per game last season, the second-worst average in the Big Ten. Miller said he wanted that number reduced to 11 or perhaps 10 this season.
Good luck. Only three Big Ten teams averaged fewer than 11 per game last season.
With Smith, Jackson-Davis and Brunk in the frontcourt, Indiana played three guys who did not have to be defended more than 8-10 feet from the rim.
The Hoosiers inconsistency from the three-point line made the offense look choppy. According to the numbers at Ken Pomeroy’s analytics site, Indiana ranked 12th in the league in offensive efficiency in league games. IU was one of three teams that failed to average a point per possession.
It’s time to use a different playbook. Miller said he expected solid production from Hunter, the redshirt sophomore who rarely played as many minutes as he expected that he would because of issues on defense.
Miller said that Hunter has looked more confident and versatile, a guy who can attack the basket and score from the perimeter.
“He’s ready to take a bite out of the apple a little bit bigger," Miller said. “He’s going to play a much bigger role on the team. He has to be a much more consistent scorer. He has to be a more consistent defender.”
There is also the addition of Lander, the five-star point guard who bypassed his senior season at Reitz High School in Evansville to join Miller’s program.
“He’s very explosive,” Jackson-Davis said. “They sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to be a really, really, really good player.”
The Hoosiers need Lander to be really, really, really good — and more.
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