Torch not passed directly from Knight to Miller, but maybe Miller is finally the right coach

(Fox 59)

Indiana Basketball getting back to where fans crave it to be is not about Bob Knight.  It’s about the values that are established by successful basketball programs – many of which were embraced by Knight as he led the Hoosiers to 11 Big 10 titles and three national championships.

Being successful is not dependent upon the ideology of a coach 19 years removed from his position as a program’s czar.  It’s about recruiting, culture, athleticism, intellect, diligence, compliance, and other factors.

There is no single way to skin this cat.  Coaches of disparate styles and levels of integrity have found ways to win.  At Indiana, the DNA of the program requires several traits be adhered to – recruit the best high school players from its home state and region, remain NCAA compliant (and then some), graduate players, play tough man-to-man defense, and embrace an extreme level of toughness.

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Sounds like Knight, right?  Sure, he’s been gone for 19 years, but that doesn’t mean the recipe he used to win no longer works.

So how’s the latest IU coach doing in measuring up?

Archie Miller is recruiting Indiana exceptionally well.  He got IU into the game for Indiana high school kids who had turned their backs on the program when Tom Crean was the coach.  He’s 2-for-2 in delivering Mr. Basketballs, and has surrounded them with other well-regarded Indiana All-Stars.

Academics are trending up.  The most recent APR (Miller’s first year as coach) saw a single-year improvement to 980 after several bad years under Crean, who knew he was on a short leash and threw a couple of Hail Marys to win enough to earn either an extension or another job.

If Miller is cheating, he hasn’t been caught or implicated.  IU fans’ need for a level of clean beyond what’s demanded by the NCAA is a direct reflection of the Knight years.  It’s not enough to win for IU fans.  We need to be able to beat the crooks and rub Hoosier values in their faces.

Miller has IU playing man-to-man, which IU fans understand because of decades of watching Knight teams do it.  This was a disconnect with the Crean teams.  IU fans had trouble figuring out what the hell IU was trying to do on the defensive end.  That’s not Crean’s fault, but it was like taking a history class at IU taught by a professor who spoke only French.

As far as toughness, this is a place where IU fans have a bone to pick with Miller.  A lack of toughness might be penalized behind closed doors or at practice, but during games players are allowed to continue to trot back on defense after a turnover without being pulled from the game.  Minutes talk, and Miller’s refusal to bring out a quick hook for violators is a problem.

Miller is not a Knight disciple, but the methodology is similar enough to give longtime fans hope.

Clearly, this wasn’t an orderly passing of the torch like we saw at Purdue as Gene Keady gave way to Matt Painter, but in the end it might be as successful – if Miller can make toughness a clear priority.

6 thoughts on “Torch not passed directly from Knight to Miller, but maybe Miller is finally the right coach

  1. Steve S

    I was a freshman in 1980 when they won the national championship and I was still living and working in Bloomington when they won in 1987, so I’m pretty familiar with Knight’s teams and their successes. However, I have serious doubts as to whether IU can come back or not if fans and the media keep going to the Knight well closing on 20 years after he left. I loved the successes of the past, but until IU, the media, and its fans embrace the present and the future, the results will be spotty at best. Until Knight actually returns to the university or he passes away, let’s not talk about him any more.

  2. Jeff Showalter

    Kent, Miller isn’t exactly an offensive guru either. Doesn’t matter how many 5 stars you get if they just stand in the corner.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      Correct. Romeo in the corner was evidence of overthinking – or knowing that Langford’s thumb was too badly hurt to allow him to score.

  3. hardly

    All of the traits you mentioned are basically the same for every moderately successful Big 10 coach – so really this article isn’t worth much at all. The exact same article could have been written about Tom Crean, especially in the early years when he was recruiting Indiana well.

    The HUGE difference you missed is the subtle, yet profound, changes in tactics for each game and each team that depended on the opponent, Indiana’s personnel, and many other factors (likely including the referees slated for the game). These subtle changes are what made Knight a brilliant coach. These subtle changes – implemented in the pre-game plan and changes to the plan in-game – added up over games and over seasons to make a big difference in the long run. Sometimes these changes were ridiculously obvious – UNLV 1987. Most other times they were much more subtle.

    This latter factor was ultimately Coach Crean’s failure. We all would have put up with missing on Indiana kids if everything else had been right. IMO the jury is still out on this point for Coach Miller – he seems to do a better job than his predecessor, and I don’t think he should be judged by a 13 game stream in his 2nd year, nor buy a McDonald’s all american who under-performed unrealistic expectations because he had an injury requiring surgery, but decided to gut it out instead.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      There is no doubt Knight was a superior tactical coach, but I don’t believe anyone in my lifetime will be his equal. Comparing Miller to Knight in that area will always be unfair to Miller as it is one he cannot win. Crean fails to measure up to Miller in virtually every way.


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