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OPINION: Tempered expectations may lead to success for IU men’s basketball



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IU head basketball coach Archie Miller speaks Oct. 2 at Big Ten Basketball Media Day in Rosemont, Illinois. Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

This is supposed to be a year that IU fans will want to forget. 

A season that IU misses the tournament for the fourth straight year, that gets head coach Archie Miller fired and that lets all the haters yell about how IU basketball is dead.

But what if that’s exactly what IU needs to succeed?

Last year, the Hoosiers entered the season with high expectations with the arrival of 5-star guard Romeo Langford and the emergence of senior forward Juwan Morgan as both possibly making All-Big Ten teams. 

Even though IU entered last season unranked, the Hoosiers were projected to finish fourth in the Big Ten and were thought to be a practical lock for the NCAA Tournament.

With all the talent on last year's IU team, the expectations were much higher than the quality of the product put together. This year’s Hoosier squad might be the exact opposite.

It’s almost impossible for the Hoosiers to go under the radar in a state that waits all year for basketball season, but the tempered expectations may be exactly what they need to play with a sense of freedom and finally break into the field-of-64 for the first time in the Miller era.

It was obvious from the moment the Hoosiers stepped onto the court that they felt the pressure that was thrust onto their shoulders, and nobody had as much pressure as Langford.

“Very few people in the history of college basketball can come in with, number one, the hype, the reputation and the amount of responsibility that he was going to be handed,” Miller said following IU’s 55-52 loss to Ohio State.

It’s fitting that with this year's lowered expectations, Miller seems to be going in the opposite direction as the rest of basketball.

Miller took a small ball lineup last year that had the look of the modern game of basketball but not the skill set. Now, the third-year IU head coach is rewinding the clock as the Hoosiers are going back to a big and intimidating lineup that should cause matchup problems for their opponents.

IU has two true big men that are expected to anchor the blocks in junior Joey Brunk and senior De’Ron Davis. Couple them with freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis, junior Justin Smith or junior Al Durham on the wing, sophomore Rob Phinisee as the point guard and senior Devonte Green at the two-guard position, and IU seems to have an identity that actually suits its skill set.

IU is not going to be a three-point shooting team, and it knows it. The Hoosiers seem to be going back to “Bobby Ball,” as their offense will revolve around its big men. While Davis, Brunk, Smith and Jackson-Davis aren’t the most flashy names in the NCAA, they are four players who know what their skill sets are and can all execute at a high level.

Flash rarely wins in college basketball. Yes, the high-profile teams that take up the spotlight often win a lot of games during the regular season, but it’s the teams that are fundamentally sound and have a bunch of role players that know their limitations and can execute that consistently do well down the stretch.

Look at Purdue. Outside of Carson Edwards, the Boilermakers were largely a team made up of role players who knew what they were expected to do and executed a very high level and ended up winning the Big Ten.

Green is a poor-man's Edwards. They both shoot a lot of threes, and Green will be expected to shoulder a large portion of IU’s offense this season. Brunk hopefully could take on the role of junior Matt Haarms as a consistent player in the paint for IU. Durham could to take a step forward like junior Nojel Eastern did last season for the Boilermakers and IU has a very similar look to Purdue.

This IU team is not a national championship contender, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make the tournament.

High expectations are great for media coverage and playing with some extra swagger while on the court, but flying under the radar should allow IU the freedom it never experienced last season to make a strong push for the big dance.

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