Positive Steps…Except In The Win Column

Despite the losses continuing to pile up for the Indiana Hoosiers, more and more positives can be seen during those losses. Although I’m sure there are a lot of fans that will disagree, that’s my opinion anyway.

After stunning Michigan State on February 2nd in East Lansing, the Hoosiers have dropped five more games in a row. Where are the positives in that you may ask. Well, sometimes positives have to show up in other ways first before they can be transferred into the win column. For a new coach, when trying to establish a culture on how you play the game there are usually some growing pains, and the Hoosiers have definitely had their fair share of them.

Count me in the group that believe head coach Archie Miller will win, and win big, at Indiana University. But also count me in the group that he also has suffered some growing pains as well. Due to being somewhat hamstrung by the APR left from the previous staff, Miller chose to try and get the holdovers from the previous staff to buy into his vision and his philosophy. Some have, some have not. When you couple that with the injuries this team has had to deal with, well, you get what we’re seeing this season.

Roster building wasn’t a strong suit of the previous staff, therefore the new staff started out behind the proverbial “8 Ball.” Shooting, or maybe I should say, consistent shooting, wasn’t at a premium on the roster. In fact, it was pretty much non existent. Now, if you’re a new coach and the majority of your roster is inherited from a coach that has a completely different style and philosophy than you do, do you adjust your style to fit their strengths, or do you hold strong in developing the culture you’re trying to establish, and instill for years to come? Coach Miller chose to do the latter.

It’s always easy to second guess any decision. It’s especially easy to do it from in front of a TV. I’m not here to defend, nor criticize any new coach that has to make the decision between winning now, or winning for a long time. But I am trying to show some of the reasons that a once positive start to this season has turned into somewhat of a disappointment. You don’t have to agree, and most won’t. Because despite some facts, a lot of what I say, or anyone else for that matter, is just what we’re witnessing, and/or believe.

The mere fact that the coach Miller has stayed the course, kept true to what he’s trying to build, and managed to get the players to buy into that for the second time this year, tells me all I need to know. Prior to the MSU win it appeared he had “lost” the team. The grit and toughness that the team had shown in the 2018 portion of the season was gone. The togetherness they had in running their record to 12-2 was gone. As the wheels started coming off and disbelief and disappointment set in amongst both fans and players, he never wavered. At least not publicly.

Since the resurgence of that toughness and fight, the defense has started picking back up. The ability to keep fighting despite the situation or the circumstances is there again. Players don’t suddenly become good shooters. They don’t all of a sudden become turnover free. Some times their confidence gets shook and getting it back can be the biggest obstacle that any player or coach faces. This group, led by and including Miller, seem to have been able to do that.

What have we been left with? Unfortunately not wins. But what we have been left with is what we started out with. A team primarily made up of players that came to play another style for another coach. Indiana has started getting healthy, or at least healthier. Despite not positive results in the win column, they’ve been in games with a chance to win at the end. And during their dismal 2019 portion of the schedule thus far, that wasn’t always the case.

They lost two games this week, one to 15th ranked instate rival Purdue, 48-46. The same Purdue team that beat them by 15 (it wasn’t that close) one month earlier. They also lost to 21st ranked Iowa on the road, 76-70 in overtime. Indiana did enough in those games to win. They also did enough to not win. As it has been virtually all year, free throw shooting was dismal in both games. Against Purdue IU was 11-18 (61%) from the line. Three more made free throws and the Hoosiers win. THREE. MADE. FREE. THROWS. and the Hoosiers win. Against the Hawkeyes IU was 12-22 (54%). One more made free throw in regulation wins the game for the Hoosiers.

Listen, there are some things you can’t control sometimes. A non-call after blocking out EXACTLY how your supposed to and it allowing Matt Haarms to tip-in the game winner for Purdue is an example. Jordan Bohannon hitting deep, contested three pointer after three pointer helping Iowa win is another. But make four more free throws over a span of 80 game minutes is all that put to “L’s” in the loss column instead of two “W’s” in the win column. Against two ranked teams I might add. I’m 50yrs. old and haven’t picked up a basketball in a couple of years, yet I am extremely confident that given fifteen minutes to warm up I could hit 7 out of 10 all day, everyday. So I think it’s a confidence and repetition issue. In other words, it’s fixable.

I’m not pleased with everything I’ve seen, nor every decision that Coach Miller has made. But I have seen enough to know that given the time to instill his system and his culture into a couple of cycles of HIS players to feel like it’s all going to be alright in the long run. Some will look back on this year and wonder what could’ve been. Some will look back and say that this adversity was when it all began. I fall into the latter category.