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COLUMN: IU's improvement under Archie Miller is extraordinary



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IU Coach Archie Miller screams across the court at the IU players during the Hoosiers' game against the Minnesota Gophers on Friday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers beat the Gophers, 80-56. Evan De Stefano Buy Photos

Surveying the court while bent over on one knee with an arm placed on the scorer’s table and one hand under his chin is IU Coach Archie Miller. He coaches his team from the same position every game. Every once in a while, he’ll pace the sidelines barking in his players’ ears.

The glare he gives, the passion he brings and the effort he expects are all examples of how he creates success.

It’s easy to see why he’s a perfect fit at Indiana University, a school with a basketball program which demands the absolute best from its team. It’s also easy to know what he demands from his Hoosiers, day-in and day-out.

It’s been a process to get to where the Hoosiers are at this point in the season, but the evidence of progress can be seen on the court. The adjustments Miller’s made have been even more impressive.

He didn’t arrive in Bloomington in the best situation, and he was left with the keys to a Honda Civic rather than a Chevrolet Corvette.

Yet his team sits at 14-12 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten, which puts them in seventh place in the conference after IU’s 80-59 blowout victory over Minnesota on Friday night.

The way the Hoosiers won the game was unpredictable if you had told someone what was going to happen at the beginning of the season. Sophomore Devonte Green replacing senior Josh Newkirk at point guard, junior forward Juwan Morgan leading the charge in every single game, and senior forward Freddie McSwain starting and thriving at the center position.

Morgan came into his own this season, regardless of who was going to be the head coach of the Hoosiers, but his improvement on defense is reflective of Miller's influence. Green and McSwain breaking out shows the development and trust that Miller has for his players.

Newkirk wasn’t getting the job done, and even though he had been the starting point guard for more than a year at IU, he was pulled for Green, who was impressing in practice and his improvement was reflecting when it was game time.

Miller has gotten more production and fight from his team this season than anyone could’ve expected, and that’s why the Hoosiers’ season is still relevant.

From far away, nothing about the Hoosiers’ record or position in the Big Ten conference pops out.

It’s what’s behind the curtain that still makes this season worthwhile to watch.

IU has come a long way since the beginning of the season, and most of the credit can be given to Miller and what he’s been able to get out of his roster. The adjustments he has made have been remarkable, and instead of being at the bottom of the barrel in the Big Ten, IU sits comfortably in the middle of the pack and has a chance to rise further near the top.

Last season, there wasn’t a significant source of leadership from anyone. Morgan and senior guard Robert Johnson have changed that this season, and Miller said he’s seen significant improvement from when he first met Johnson.

“I didn't know Rob a whole lot before I got here, very quiet and reserved,” Miller said. “I think most people will tell you he's going to do the right thing and do his job. He's way more vocal than he's ever been, just in terms of being able to talk to the players, being able to communicate in huddles, the practice reps that he gets, he's been a stud in that realm.”

That’s the difference between last season and Miller’s influence on this one. Johnson or Morgan didn't bring that kind of leadership last year, but Miller's influence is the reason why IU's season hasn't spiraled out of control after consecutive losses in the past. It's also the reason why upperclassmen are starting to have an influence in the locker room.

Tom Crean never got 16 rebounds out of McSwain, but Miller did and it was against Michigan State, one of the best frontcourts in the nation. The fact that McSwain is IU’s starting center and is thriving speaks volumes to his work ethic, and Miller’s ability to get it out of him.

Each week the Hoosiers get better and along with it comes adjustments made by Miller. Junior guard Zach McRoberts scored a career-high 10 points against Illinois, has become a starter and has thrived in nearly every asset including defense, hustle and grit. 

He, along with Green, Morgan, Johnson and McSwain have made a significant leap since last season, and are all playing the best basketball of their careers at the exact same time. Miller is a major reason why that is the case, and he said his main goal with his team is improvement.

That’s evident on the court.

“It's always as a coach, your quest is improvement,” Miller said. “Your quest is to find your team at the right time of the year playing the best. That's always been this time. We have a way of doing things every day where guys have to bring it, they have to get better. If you're not getting better, you're not going to get rewarded.”

His ethic and philosophy is known by other coaches, including Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino. He said he thinks Miller has changed the program at IU and only sees the program getting better the longer Miller is the Hoosiers’ coach.

“It’s just going to take time from a building stand point, from a recruiting standpoint,” Pitino said. “But there is zero doubt in my mind that he will get there. It’s just going to take time… But Archie is an awesome coach and they will get better and better.”

Miller has done the most with what he was left with. Just imagine the things he can do with his own recruits in due time.

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