I hear you out there, Indiana fans. You’re tired of the losses. You saw Bob Knight at Assembly Hall and all your synapses started firing. Visions of championships, excellence, and toughness started dancing in your brain.
Indiana’s basketball season took a hard turn south a couple of weeks ago with 1:27 seconds left against Big 10 leader Maryland. The Hoosiers led by six and enjoyed a 5-3 Big 10 record in that moment.
As Maryland scored the final seven points in Bloomington, the nightmare began. It has continued through the following three games – road losses to Penn State and Ohio State followed by a loss at home to Purdue on Saturday with Knight and his boys as the halftime act.
So now, Indiana is 5-7 with a Thursday home game looming against Iowa. With a loss to the Hawkeyes, a path to an NCAA Tournament bid becomes difficult to plot. Indiana’s hasn’t been to the NCAAs since 2016, so Indiana fans are getting anxious – to say the least.
Some fans are downright angry. They see Miller as intimidated by players – a coach afraid to hold his roster accountable to behavioral demands. The result is passionless and joyless basketball against teams willingness to ball out. That has brought mediocrity to Bloomington for an unsettlingly long stretch.
Four straight years outside the NCAA hasn’t happened for Indiana Basketball since a five-year period that ended in 1971-1972. In 1971 and 1972, it’s very likely the Hoosiers would have qualified if the tourney field was 68 as it is today. Quinn Buckner and Scott May are in their mid-60s today. They were not yet IU freshmen the last time IU was absent from the Big Dance for this long.
People are asking whether it might be a good idea for IU’s new athletic director, whomever it is, to seek a new architect for the basketball program. Here are five great reasons he or she should stay the course with Archie Miller:
5 – Crean. It might have been quicker to pivot the program by cleaning house when Miller took over from Tom Crean, but Miller is halfway through executing a slow cultural turn class by class. Winning with a group of players recruited by the previous regime can be tough, and it has been with Miller. It’s hardly Crean’s fault that Miller is coaching his recruits, but those guys either haven’t adjusted to Miller, or Miller has not adjusted to them.
4 – Season isn’t over yet. It appears Indiana has wobbled into entrenched lethargy, but fans thought the same thing last season when the Hoosiers lost 12-of-13 games. The Hoosiers bounced back after that horror show by winning four of their last five. Let’s wait until the season ends before embracing our renowned irrationality.
3 – Buyout. Miller’s buyout is 100% of the remaining money through the expiration of his deal in 2024. That buyout lapses after the 2021-2022 season. Indiana is not historically eager to spend a bunch of money on a coach no longer employed by the university. There is a reason Miller wanted five guaranteed years, and it’s the same reason Indiana agreed to it. It’s fair to wait until a coach has a roster filled with his recruits before he’s finally judged.
2 – Recruiting. I’m all about Miller recruiting the best players in Indiana and Ohio who fit his culture (although we aren’t sure of the cultural definition yet). Getting Romeo Langford, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, Jeremy Hunter, Joey Brunk as a grad-eligible transfer, and Damezi Anderson helped IU re-establish a local base that it could draw on for talent. Crean’s relationships in Indiana weren’t strong when he left. Miller has recruited Indiana well, and that will pay off eventually.
1 – Impatience. Miller was hired less than three years ago. If Miller is canned, how many really good coaches would want to talk to IU after seeing the lack of patience that cost Miller? Although Indiana is going to commit $30-$40 million to whomever coaches the Hoosiers through the 2020s, money can’t buy happiness, wins or administration patience (if they fire Miller).
There is a reason I wrote this 48 hours after the loss to Purdue. It took me that long to get over the anger and frustration of watching a fractured team wilt at a place where that never used to happen. Recalibrating my brain to its logical and judicious center took this long.