When Archie Miller revealed at last week’s IU basketball media day that he’s put 75 percent of his team’s focus on defense in preseason workouts, it didn’t come as a surprise.
While speaking as head coach of the Hoosiers for the first time in his introductory press conference in March, Miller said he wanted to establish a “tough, nasty” defense. Miller’s teams at Dayton in the last six seasons embodied that toughness and nastiness by consistently ranking among the NCAA leaders in defensive statistics. It’s clear which side of the ball the coach considers more important.
But transforming a program’s culture doesn’t happen overnight. So Miller knows that to transfer aggressive defensive tendencies to his new team, his group will need to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on defending.
“I don't expect one day one we're going to be the steel curtain — so to speak — but I think we're going to be a team that prides ourselves on that,” Miller said. “Our guys know that. We're spending an abnormal amount of time on it.”
If Miller is successful in his goal and IU does become a defense-oriented team during the upcoming season, it will be a stark departure from former coach Tom Crean’s days in charge. One look at IU's and Dayton’s defensive statistics from the 2016-17 season shows how much room there is for the Hoosiers to improve on defense.
Dayton ranked 27th in Division I in defensive efficiency last season, with .937 points allowed per possession. IU allowed 1.009 points per possession, good for just 163rd in the country. In other metrics, the gap between the schools was even wider. The Flyers allowed just 66.4 points per game (46th in the NCAA), while the Hoosiers allowed opponents to score 73.3 points per contest (207th in the NCAA).
In the facet of the game where IU was its worst – creating and allowing turnovers – Dayton was one of the best in the country. The Hoosiers gave up 4.1 more turnovers per game than they forced, the fourth-worst turnover margin in all of Division I. Meanwhile, the Flyers picked up 3.2 more turnovers per game than their opponents, the 15th-best margin in the country.
The list of divergent statistics goes on and on, but it’s all derived from a mindset, Miller says. It’ll be on IU’s best and oldest players to establish and maintain that mindset throughout the season.
“Defensively, I think we're going to have a philosophy that we build and we stick to no matter what,” senior guard Rob Johnson said. “I think that's going to be a big part of our identity, and that's one thing that Coach Miller has made clear.”
For now, that philosophy is simple, Miller said. He emphasized that playing hard is half the battle on defense, which hearkens back to the tough, nasty attitude he foreshadowed in March.
Miller said the base of the defensive strategy will be instituted throughout October, although the most learning and improvement will have to come through live action against real opponents.
“Sometimes it's going to take games,” Miller said. “These guys are going to have to experience it in a game, see it on film in a game. You develop defensively as a team just as well as you do offensively.”
The on-court leaders will need to buy in for IU to truly change its defensive attitude, but nearly every player spoke postitively about Miller’s coaching and the mindset he’s trying to instill, including junior forward Juwan Morgan, who was second on last year’s team in blocks and rebounds.
“Championships are won on defense,” Morgan said. “So, if we can get the stops all the time, then there would be no problems scoring.”