A smile slowly crept across IU head coach Archie Miller’s face as he paused in the middle of his sentence during IU men’s basketball’s teleconference July 28. He waited for a second, looking around his home office, then back at the screen with the excited expression a young child has seeing its friends after summer break.
For Miller and IU basketball, there is plenty to look forward to regarding the upcoming season, even with the uncertainty surrounding college sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Miller’s fourth year as head coach, he appears to finally have his desired team composition.
This is Miller’s first season with a team that has his fingerprints on every aspect of the roster. There is only one player on IU’s roster that is leftover from the Tom Crean era, Al Durham, who despite not being recruited by Miller fits well into his system.
“I’m more excited right now than I’ve been in a while,” Miller said. “After finally getting a taste of the players, especially the new guys, when you get the chance to work with them for a couple of days you start to see how we are going to do it.”
Since arriving in Bloomington, Miller has emphasized strength on defense and speed on offense. In his first three seasons, IU showed fleeting glimpses of what the result could be if Miller’s vision came together but he was often at odds with the tools at his disposal.
The offense is built to revolve around multiple guards and wings that can space the floor while having a strong forward anchor the paint. Last season, having a three-forward lineup of Joey Brunk, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Justin Smith clogged the middle and greatly limited the Hoosiers’ ability to score from beyond 10 feet.
With the departure of Justin Smith — transferring to the University of Arkansas — and the additions of key freshman Khristian Lander, Anthony Leal and Jordan Geronimo, IU’s perimeter scoring threat is blooming.
In the six weeks since the men’s basketball team returned to campus, Miller has seen his vision come together.
“We’re going to be more of a guard-oriented team,” Miller said. “I don’t want to say half of the game or whatever, but we’re going to play three perimeter players around Trayce and Joey like we did a year ago, or we’ll play even some smaller stuff. I think with Jordan Geronimo and Jerome being more of a perimeter-oriented guy out there around one of those guys.”
A key piece in this guard-heavy lineup will be Lander. After reclassifying from the class of 2021, Lander isn’t old enough to buy a lottery ticket at only 17-years-old but has impressed during workouts.
Both Miller and players acknowledged the Evansville, Indiana, native will have a learning curve as a point guard in the Big Ten but also were not shy with their praise of the freshman.
“He’s only 17-years-old right now and he plays like a Division 1 college guard,” Jackson-Davis said. “He might not be physically there yet, but he will get there with Coach Cliff, but just how he plays the game. He’s smart, his basketball IQ is super high and he’s really going to help us out a lot.”
As the team moves forward into the unknown, early indications appear promising for the Hoosiers as Miller’s vision becomes clearer.
“We want to put one good day, and then another good day after that,” Brunk said. “Hopefully a few good days turns into a good week. Then a few good weeks turns into a good month. It just kind of builds from there and whenever our opportunity comes we’ll be ready.”
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