The last fleeting hope that Archie Miller’s time in Indiana could lead to greatness vanished into thin air Wednesday night. Piscataway is a great place to see a basketball team hit rock bottom, but that’s exactly what happened when Rutgers knocked the hapless Hoosiers off the court in a beating. Four years later, Miller’s time in Bloomington has been a long-lost opportunity and the school simply cannot justify keeping him on top of its treasured basketball program any longer.
Indiana opened Wednesday night’s competition in excellent fashion, with a 23-8 lead in the RAC midway through the first half. The Hoosiers were quick, decisive, hit some big shots and their defensive rotations were spot on. Then things went downhill faster than a Kendall Roy’s cocaine binge. The lead vanished as quickly as it came when Rutgers went 27-8 and led 35-31 at the break. That kind of implosion has become all too common under Miller’s direction. The second half was somehow even worse, as Rutgers increased their lead to 20 points with an 11-0 run midway through the second half. When the dust settled, the Hoosiers were flying home having lost three of four games in a critical stretch of the season.
During Miller’s four seasons on the job, Indiana hasn’t shown up when necessary. He never made it to the NCAA Tournament, even though the Hoosiers would have been in last year, and it would be a miracle to make it in 2021. As we entered the season, I said this was Miller’s “test” season, and the Hoosiers are currently 12-11 and 7-9 in the Big Ten. His team is 4-5 at home in conference this year. Losing in the Assembly Hall used to be an unforgivable sin, now it happens weekly. All Miller has shown this season is that whatever he’s doing isn’t working in Indiana.
Miller was the obvious hire in 2017. He was the next young, middle-aged coach ready to step up after a brilliant six-year career at Dayton. The hiring was widely praised as Indiana finally landed the right man after years of missteps following the tumultuous end of the Bob Knight Era. In four seasons in Indiana, Miller is 67-54 and a lousy 33-41 in the Big Ten. That’s just not good enough, and it’s increasingly clear that hiring him was another misstep by a university whose brand is directly tied to the success of its basketball program.
This season, Miller finally had a roster full of his own players. With an All-American-caliber forward at Trayce Jackson-Davis and three full draft classes under his belt, things were looking up. Throw in a three-year point guard starter in Rob Phinisee and a senior captain with four years in the system at Al Durham, and the Hoosiers looked ready to move on. Instead, they’ve limped all season with absolutely no consistency from the perimeter and no help for the brilliant Jackson-Davis on the inside.
Miller was supposed to bring defensive toughness and a smart offensive scheme. The Hoosiers currently rank ninth in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency and are eighth on the offensive side of the ball. Miller insisted he wanted the team to play faster and move up and down the court in transition this season, but Indiana is 283rd nationally in tempo. Each game is slow and endless work with long periods in which the team seems to have no idea what their identity is. The offense is constantly pushed into last-minute situations and regularly has to throw bad shots before the bell rings. Indiana fans have been watching the same show for four years with an occasional, ultimately unsatisfying plot twist, and absolutely no character development.
In an era that rewards efficiency and values three-point shooting, Miller’s system is laser-focused on feeding the post and is a hodgepodge of dribble handoffs, lazily sliding screens and lots of stopping. It’s an offense straight out of 1984 – the year, not the novel, though I’ve often felt like Winston Smith watching this team play and knowing something isn’t right. It’s an old, slow basketball that, for whatever reason, Miller hasn’t changed after it didn’t work for the past three seasons.
Perhaps most maddening is Miller’s inability to find players who can consistently throw the ball. Indiana is hitting 35 percent of its shots from 3-point range as a team this season, but is only shooting 6.3 per game, which is ranked 266th in the nation. Indiana also ranks 285th nationally in free throw percentage (66.5). Somehow recruiting out of the state of Indiana, where perfect shooting form is a prerequisite for graduating from elementary school, Miller hasn’t been able to load up on shooters. In fact, in several high-profile recruiting decisions, he has moved away from shooters and gone beyond the guys who defend first. Now he’s stuck on a roster of players who shoot like Carlton Banks.
What is alarming is that the shooting has been bad in each of Miller’s four years on campus. And every season he has claimed that his squad had guys who could take shots, but they just weren’t going to come in. That’s a good excuse for a bad game, but if your team can’t shoot consistently for four years, then it’s a systemic problem. trouble. Rather than change something or hire a shooting specialist to help make things better, Miller has simply followed his system, which, apparently, might not be the real problem.
Some high-profile recruiting failures, including several in the 2021 class, and a lack of impact transfers in recent years have created problems that will likely extend into the next season. With Jackson-Davis almost certainly on the next level, there’s little chance the Hoosiers will suddenly improve regardless of an impact player.
Miller is a smart basketball player. When you talk about X and O, you know what you are talking about. He’s brilliant, and at 42, he’s forgotten more about the game than many will learn. He comes from a deep coaching family and is highly respected by his teammates, but something is not working in Indiana. Maybe it’s his stubbornness, his inability to adapt to the roster he has and his inability to recognize how much basketball has changed. Whatever the problem, he is not fixing it and does not seem very interested in evolving.
While some things can be attributed to poor roster construction and certain players not living up to expectations, in the end Miller is the conductor of this orchestra. If you’ve been working with a cellist for three years and still can’t consistently play a middle C, the fourth-year drummer can’t keep time, the whole woodwind section can’t knock down 3 open, and the piper can’t keep an eye on the dribble, whose fault is it? Look, I don’t know anything about orchestras and that metaphor escaped me a bit, but I think you understand.
Miller came to Bloomington as the best-positioned coach to really change Indiana’s basketball program. Four years later, we are still waiting for a breakthrough that is unlikely to materialize. With the resources available to him, it is inexcusable for Miller to have a team in or out of the bubble every season. In Indiana, a season that ends like this qualifies as a major failure.
I’m not privy to Indiana finances and I know Miller has a strong buy, but how can athletic director Scott Dolson justify the status quo? Unless there is a miraculous change in the next two weeks, Indiana simply has to drop Archie Miller. There are no excuses. His tenure has been a disaster given the expectations.
The name, colors, and hometown of Indiana used to strike fear into opponents. Nobody wanted to see the Hoosiers on the schedule. Over the past two decades, that aura of invincibility has slowly faded, culminating in an embarrassing loss in New Jersey on Wednesday night. Something must be done to rescue the brand and the soul of the University.
Going from Miller would be the first step.