The two locker rooms couldn’t have been been more different.
IU’s lasting image from the 2016 season was the jubilation of the postgame scene following a victory at Iowa to clinch the Big Ten Conference regular season title.
Then contrast that happiness with IU's locker room just one season later after the Hoosiers lost to Wisconsin in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament.
IU’s NCAA Tournament hopes were extinguished with that loss, and it was clear by the look on the players' faces. The Hoosiers looked shell-shocked and despondent, and there appeared to have been tears shed.
Heading into IU's regular season opener against Indiana State on Nov. 10, this Hoosier team said they are motivated by the failures of last season.
“Last year was not fun for anybody,” senior forward Collin Hartman said. “It’s just fuel, learn from our mistakes and help everybody grow.”
Last season started with wins over eventual national champion North Carolina and Kansas, yet flamed out in January and February. There would be no tournament run for a team that reached No. 3 in the rankings early in the year.
Senior guard Rob Johnson said that he, Hartman and senior guard Josh Newkirk have talked about what went wrong last season. Instead of getting a chance to get past the Sweet Sixteen, IU bowed out in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament against Georgia Tech.
“It definitely motivated us sitting at home watching the other teams in March Madness,” Newkirk said. “It definitely hurt us. We’re definitely going to have that chip on our shoulder coming into this year.”
After winning the Big Ten regular season championship the year before, IU finished 11th in the Big Ten, and Tom Crean was fired after nine seasons.
Archie Miller replaced Crean and brought a new approach with him to Bloomington.
“I think, No. 1, I'd love for our teams to be identified as hard playing,” Miller said. “We have to be a team that plays hard. Learning how to play hard through wins and losses is something that's very difficult to do. One thing that great teams do, regardless, they're never out of the game.”
Miller brings a new philosophy and intensity with him from Dayton. When the team takes the court this season, Johnson said the fans are going to be surprised by their new mentality.
“All I can say is this team is going to be tough,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a team that gives a consistent effort game in and game out. The fans are going to come in and know what to expect from us.”
Back from the 2016 Big Ten championship season are Johnson, Hartman and junior forward Juwan Morgan, along with Newkirk who sat out that season due to transfer rules. Those four players are the leaders for the Hoosiers this season, and they said they want to get that championship feeling back.
Newkirk and Hartman are both in their fifth year of college, and Miller said he's impressed by what's he's seen from them so far.
“I think that Collin Hartman and Josh Newkirk, two guys that have really brought a spirit when I'm around,” Miller said. “The way that they communicate with each other and their teammates brings such a positive vibe, even when they're not doing well personally, and I think that's been a big step.”
As much experience as those four players have, a lot has changed since Miller has taken over.
O.G. Anunoby, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr. all left for the NBA, and IU added three talented freshmen in forwards Clifton Moore and Justin Smith and guard Al Durham, who could all see significant minutes this season.
Not only is Miller instituting a new mindset, he’s changing IU’s philosophies on both ends of the court. When the Hoosiers take the court this season, Hartman said that the fans are going to be surprised by what is different about this team.
“Just kind of our defensive scheme and how we talk,” Hartman said. “Having more of a leadership on the floor throughout the games. Just because one guy comes out, you’re not going to lose anything.”
The past drives this team, but the players said they are looking for a bright future.
“I think it motivates us a lot,” Johnson said. “Us three guys, me, Josh and Collin, we talk about it a lot, wanting to be a team that goes out with a bang as a group of seniors on this team. That’s something that we really want to be able to accomplish.”
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