At Hoosier Hysteria last Saturday night, first-year IU men’s basketball coach Archie Miller expressed his joy in seeing Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall filled with fans for the first time in his tenure.
For six months, Miller said he walked into Assembly Hall each day and saw thousands of empty seats. He couldn’t wait for fans to fill “this palace,” as he called it, for Hoosier Hysteria and the rest of the season.
This Saturday night, that palace will fill with fans again as IU plays its first exhibition game of the season at 8 p.m. against Marian University, an NAIA school in Indianapolis with an enrollment of 3,348 students.
Marian went 14-16 last season as a member of the Crossroads League and returns its leading scorer from last season in junior guard Wes Stowers, who averaged nearly 20 points per game. But Miller and the Hoosiers will be more focused on themselves than their opponent on Saturday night, as it typically goes with exhibition contests.
“The big thing for tomorrow is it’s the first time for this group where there’s only going to be five guys on the court,” Miller said. “You got some guys sitting on the bench for the first time.”
Miller said the minutes rotation for his players in the first half will largely be scripted, but second half playing time will depend more on performance.
In his short time as head coach of the Hoosiers, Miller has already created a competitive atmosphere within his team, setting up practices to be competitive and awarding a gold jersey to one player each week based on his production.
Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis said those high-intensity practices should translate well to in-game performances. When it comes to the battle for playing time, Davis said he and his teammates are used to pushing each other to make everyone better, thanks to their practice style.
“Practice is set up to compete regardless," Davis said. "So I feel like if we just take practice — approach the game how we approach practice, that stuff will sort out itself."
Davis is one of several Hoosiers expected to make a big leap individually this season, and will likely start on Saturday after coming off the bench in 30 of 34 games last year.
Another probable frontcourt starter for IU will likely miss Saturday’s game, as Miler said he expects senior forward Collin Hartman to be held out as Hartman recovers from an ankle sprain. Freshman guard Al Durham will also miss the exhibition while dealing with his second hamstring injury of the offseason and preseason, Miller said.
Miller said it’ll be worth resting both Hartman and Durham to ensure they’re fully recovered in time for the regular season, but they will miss out on an important opportunity to continue learning their new coach’s offensive and defensive systems.
“We have some ways to go offensively,” Miller said. “Defensively, I think our base is in, we just have to be able to be a little bit more complex playing against different styles.”
Not much can be gleaned from exhibition games in terms of results, so the “eye test” may be the best way to evaluate the Hoosiers in their first action of the year against an actual opponent.
Defense and turnovers, IU’s two biggest weaknesses last season – and not coincidentally, two of Miller’s biggest talking points thus far – will be among the general areas to keep an eye out for.
“I’m not as concerned about the scouting element of things in this first one,” Miller said. “It’s more about what we’re going to be trying to accomplish and executing our system on the fly against somebody else.”
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