“Style of play for me is always on the run offensively. I think the more we’re on the run in the full court and the half court, which means a lot of movement and a lot of pace. I think our teams at Dayton were known for great ball movement, unselfishness. But I told these guys, it’s going to be pace, it’s going to be player movement, flow, and it’s going to be an attacking, aggressive style.”
We have to become a tough-minded group because to win at the level that we want to win at, you have to be able to beat different styles. You can’t be one-dimensional. You have to have some versatility, not only on offense, but you have to have some versatility on your defense. We’re aggressive; we’re going to be very physical; and we’re going to try like crazy to be very disciplined. It’s not going to be very frantic.”
These were some of the first words spoken by Archie Miller when he became the head coach at Indiana University.
‘Always on the run.’
‘A lot of movement and a lot of pace.’
‘Attacking, aggressive style.’
‘Can’t be one-dimensional.’
‘Not going to be very frantic.’
Again, his words, not mine. Something that I believe, and Archie probably believed at the time, he should be held accountable to. This was the style he talked about, but over his four years as the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, is this really the style they’ve portrayed? Short answer: no. Long answer: keep reading.
What Has Gone Wrong in Bloomington?
I think back to the beginning of the Archie Miller era and the bad omen of a 90-69 defeat at the hands of Indiana State in Miller’s debut. It was the first time an Indiana coach lost their debut since 1924.
“We’re a soft team,” Archie said after the defeat. “It’s a reality check.”
Those are words from a 2017 press conference, but let’s do a reality check of the Archie Miller era. Some of his first words were that the team’s identity was running an offense with a good pace and tough on defense. Let’s do a reality check.
Offensive Scoring Droughts
This has truly been the identity on offense during the Archie Miller era. The team goes minutes at a time (sometimes multiple times per game) without scoring. The folks over at Crimson Quarry have a great piece that dissects the scoring droughts in great detail. In summation, Archie’s teams have averaged at least one four-minute field goal drought in every game he’s coached.
They go 10% of the game, every game (on average) without scoring a field goal. That’s the identity. Not pace. Not flow. Scoring droughts. But why?
The easiest points you can score are in transition and they can help take the lid off of the basket when your team is struggling to score in the half court. Teams that play fast can keep the defense on their heels when they’re actively looking to push the ball in transition and score.
But Indiana’s transition offense has typically been very bad, with a mediocre season thrown in. In the current season, the Hoosiers are in the 27th percentile in the country for points garnered from transition. Last season they were mediocre in the 52nd percentile, and the season before that they were in the 22nd percentile.
If you’re struggling to score in your transition opportunities, those scoring droughts can really compound themselves, which we’ve obviously seen come to fruition in the Archie era.
This is one of the more mind-boggling stats I’m about to recite, given Archie’s introductory press conference about always being on the run.
Using only conference statistics, Indiana’s tempo (possessions per game) was 4th in the conference in Miller’s first year. In his second season, they were 10th, 3rd season 6th, and this year their tempo is 11th in the conference.
That doesn’t sound like a team that is ‘always on the run’ to me. When you’re a team that slows it down (like Indiana is), it’s tough to get your team easy baskets. Grinding it out in the half court has never been something Indiana has been good at under Miller, yet their pace would make you think that wasn’t the case.
Another staple under Archie, the team has been poor from beyond the arc, and that’s putting it nicely. When it comes to conference only, Archie’s teams have never finished in the top half of the Big Ten when it comes to three point percentage.
The numbers follow:
- 2017-18: 34.3% (10th in the conference)
- 2018-19: 27.5% (Last in the conference)
- 2019-20: 32% (7th in the conference)
- 2020-21: 32.9% (9th in the conference)
When your team struggles to shoot, the scoring droughts make a lot of sense.
Turnover percentage is another area Archie’s teams have never finished in the top half of the Big Ten in. When the team struggles to take care of the ball and not even getting shot attempts up, scoring droughts become a ‘thing.’ Archie’s teams’ turnover percentages over the years:
- 2017-18: 17.7% (8th in the conference)
- 2018-19: 17% (7th in the conference)
- 2019-20: 18.1% (13th in the conference)
- 2020-21: 16.9% (8th in the conference)
Combining bad transition offense, a slow pace, bad shooting, and turning the ball over, suddenly it doesn’t seem so crazy that Indiana averages a 4 minute scoring drought every game under Miller.
Flawed Offensive System
Having a flawed offensive system is obviously a subjective point of view, but there are some numbers to back that theory up.
The biggest positive from Archie’s system and team identity is that his teams have always done well getting to the line. In fact, in his four seasons in conference play, Indiana has been fifth (17-18), fourth (18-19), first (19-20), and first (20-21) at free throw attempts compared to field goal attempts.
But with that positive comes a negative. Although the Hoosiers have been good at getting to the line, they’ve been really bad once they’re there. In conference play under Miller, the Hoosiers free throw numbers look like this:
- 2017-18: 63.4% (Last in the conference)
- 2018-19: 67.9% (11th in the conference)
- 2019-20: 67.3% (12th in the conference)
- 2020-21: 67.6% (12th in the conference)
A system that focuses on getting to the line isn’t a bad thing, but when your team hovers around worst in the league in free throw percentage, it would at least bring up some questions about if that system works, how to improve team free throw percentage, etc.
Nonetheless, while getting to the line has been a positive under Miller, there’s not been much else that’s trended positively with his teams on the offensive end.
For instance, let’s take a look at offensive sets from each of Archie’s four years.
None of the images above constitute good spacing. It’s been my biggest pain point with Archie’s offense. Spacing seems to be an afterthought. Rick Majerus said it best, “Spacing is offense. Offense is spacing.”
Like it or not, modern basketball has shifted to a ‘positionless’ approach that places an emphasis on the three point shot. Archie has failed to prioritize shooting (which is another story), but his offensive system is behind the times.
In his four years, Archie’s Indiana teams point distribution from the 3-point line have ranked 12th (17-18), 13th (18-19), 14th (19-20), and 13th (20-21) in the conference.
I mentioned not placing an emphasis on shooters in recruiting, but if you’re known as a shooter, what about those numbers makes you want to go play for Miller?
I’m not going to say guys like Juwon Morgan, Armaan Franklin, and Race Thompson haven’t gotten better in Miller’s tenure as head coach. However, there are a lot of head-scratchers that make you wonder what the development program looks like.
Players like Damezi Anderson, Rob Phinisee, and even Jerome Hunter were all coveted recruits across the country, but none really saw (or have seen) consistent improvement throughout their Indiana tenures. I’ll give the development of Hunter the benefit of the doubt with his leg injury, but it doesn’t just stop at these players and their level of consistent improvement.
I mentioned earlier that basketball has gone to a ‘positionless’ game where often times players on the floor 1 through 5 can shoot the basketball. This helps to keep the defense honest, stretch the floor, and ultimately create good spacing opportunities for the offense.
However, I can’t help but think Archie and his staff don’t subscribe to the ‘positionless’ game. Look no farther than Trayce Jackson-Davis, a player who obviously has NBA aspirations. Nothing could have made his stock rise more than expanding his game and showing NBA teams he was able to knock down an outside shot. He has not attempted a three-pointer the entire season.
Not only does that not help Indiana create better spacing, or help Trayce increase his draft stock, but it also hurts Indiana when they’re recruiting others in similar positions as TJD.
Recruiting pitches for McDonalds All-Americans typically entail how you can get those players to the next level. Any school vying for the same recruits as Archie (if he has a future at Indiana), will use TJD as the blueprint for why that player shouldn’t even consider IU.
Look at guys like Justin Smith and even Race Thompson (who has improved his game), and it becomes pretty obvious that shooting development for ‘big men’ hasn’t been a priority under Miller.
Defense was supposed to be the staple of the Archie tenure. Fred Glass even mentioned it in his introductory press conference. Glass was asked what the ‘light bulb’ moment was for hiring Archie. In his answer, he noted “The defense-first mentality, defense travels, defense wins championships. So all that stuff I think propelled him high on my initial list.”
Archie brought over a packline defense, which has grown in popularity over the past decade or more, and fans were excited (so they thought) to see a team that placed a heavy emphasis on defense, something they felt lacked in the Crean era.
And in Archie’s first year, he gave a lot of reason for optimism. He took a team that was last the previous year in the conference in defensive efficiency and made them 4th in the conference. His ‘defense-first mentality’ seemed to be legitimate.
But in the conference, it has been downhill ever since. The numbers are:
- 2018-19: 9th in the conference
- 2019-20: 8th in the conference
- 2020-21: 12th in the conference
When you employ the packline defense, everybody has to be all-in. You have to be phenomenal at rotations, guarding pick-and-rolls, and getting out to shooters.
And that latter point is something Indiana has struggled with tremendously. Quite frankly, I truly believe teams can’t wait to play IU because they know they’re going to get easy looks from the perimeter.
In the Miller era, opponent three-point field goal percentage in the conference is:
- 2017-18: 35.5% (9th in the conference)
- 2018-19: 34.3% (11th in the conference)
- 2019-20: 33.3% (10th in the conference)
- 2020-21: 36% (13th in the conference)
As I stated, teams get comfortable, and once you let shooters get comfortable, the wheels can fall off quickly and momentum can change in one possession.
It’s Time to Move On From Archie Miller
I wanted to be fair in my assessment of the Archie Miller era. I looked at the situation he inherited, where the team has been, where they’re currently at, and what the future might look like.
With four years of data on Miller’s teams, things are no longer anomalies, they are trends. The trends I see are:
- Slow-paced offense
- Long scoring droughts
- Bad shooting
- Bad spacing
- Not valuing the basketball
- Lack of development in key areas
- Regression on the defensive end
- Letting shooters get comfortable
Again, these are trends. They are not one-year data points. That is extremely concerning and why I think it’s time to move on.
I understand the financials behind it, I get the optics of canning a coach only after four years, but this is not what Fred Glass promised, and it certainly isn’t what Archie Miller himself promised.
It’s time to move on.