IU Head Coach Archie Miller hasn’t gone into specifics, and likely never will, about the recent attitude adjustments that have breathed life into the IU men’s basketball team.
A player-led transformation took place during IU’s practice sessions, in particular after a 21-point road loss Feb. 16 at Minnesota.
While the wins didn’t immediately follow for the Hoosiers, narrow losses to ranked Purdue and Iowa teams showed signs of progress, despite a lack of late-game execution.
But the past week brought payoff for Miller and his players — a pair of wins at home against opponents ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll, and a potential new life in terms of making the NCAA Tournament.
“Our everyday approach really drastically needed to change,” Miller said after Saturday’s upset win against Michigan State. “It really did. And it has, and it’s led to good things just in terms of how hard we’re playing.”
During a 1-12 run in conference games from early January to late February, effort level was one of the most cited problems with the way the Hoosiers were playing. That woeful period of play for IU featured five losses by double digits, as well as five straight losses at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Miller said while confidence was shaken for his players due to the losses, the past week was huge for the team in terms of earning that confidence back.
“They’ve gotten away from the worrying and feeling sorry for themselves,” Miller said. “They’ve gotten back to work, and it’s good to see.”
The victory over Michigan State featured surprise performances from IU’s supporting cast of players. Sophomore forward Justin Smith did not play after halftime of IU’s loss at Iowa, had lost most of his game minutes and even his starting spot to junior forward De’Ron Davis.
Similar struggles plagued junior guard Devonte Green, who never got to establish his place in the starting five for IU this season because of consistent play from freshman guard Rob Phinisee.
Both of these players gained a form of redemption in the Michigan State win — Smith by scoring a career-best 24 points and Green with one of his better games from a ball handling and scoring perspective.
These performances were bred from the same practice changes alluded to in past weeks by Miller and senior forward Juwan Morgan.
“I kind of changed my mindset, just trying to go out there and put myself more in game situations,” Smith said. “Really trying to mimic a game in practice, and that’s really what I would say has prepared me so well.”
The challenge now for IU is sustaining this on-court turnaround against Illinois and Rutgers, two teams IU will likely be favored against as it continues its push toward the postseason.
“Just can’t change who we are,” Miller said. “That’s the killer. We can’t change.”
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