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OPINION: IU basketball head coach Archie Miller is a baker striving for the perfect apple pie


IU men's basketball head coach Archie Miller speaks Oct. 2, 2019, at Big Ten Basketball Media Day in Rosemont, Illinois. Rather than picking and choosing when they can act like normal students this season, Miller said the Hoosiers will have to sacrifice certain social comforts in order to play. Colin Kulpa

Nothing tastes better than an NCAA championship victory. Except for apple pie, perhaps. 

In the case of IU men’s basketball, that coveted dessert is a nostalgic memory decades in the past. Plenty of coaches have entered the kitchen in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, but none have replicated Bob Knight’s recipe. 

It’s just not quite like grandma used to make it, I suppose.  

Last season, it seemed head coach Archie Miller was rolling dough sturdy enough to withstand the heat of competition. Sure, there may have been some sour apples in his filling, but wins over ranked schools such as Michigan State and Iowa were serious sweet spots.

The Hoosiers were one of many squads starting to warm up when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States. The reliable NCAA oven that had perennially produced thrilling March Madness tournaments suddenly broke down, leaving the Hoosiers with what Miller said was a taste of disappointment in their mouths during the team’s media day Tuesday.

Miller said his players have to adhere to strict guidelines off the court to be able to play on it. If IU wants to cleanse its palate and satisfy its craving for tournament contention, it must remember how easily the season could crumble like an insufficiently moistened pie crust.

One of the protocols implemented is eliminating buffet-style dinners in favor of pre-packaged meals. This lack of selection and variety will follow Miller’s athletes every day. 

Rather than picking and choosing when they can act like normal students, Miller said the Hoosiers will have to sacrifice certain social comforts in order to play. If a single worm wriggles its way into one of IU’s granny smiths, the whole bushel could be compromised. 

Provided the Hoosiers can keep their countertops tidy and wash their hands regularly, their next concern will be the cuisine itself. 

Miller is a pieman by trade, so there’s no room for the turnovers IU regularly spun out last season, ranking 10th in the Big Ten with 12 per game.

Turnovers are a treat for those who actually get to eat them but are a nightmare for a kitchen that prioritizes speed and efficiency. If one of these triangular pastries receives an inadequate coating of egg wash or enters the oven with sloppily crimped edges, disaster could erupt. Steam builds up under the delicate dough, clumps of fruit seep through the exposed seam and your point guard ends up throwing the ball out of bounds during a crucial fourth-quarter possession. 

Missteps are only natural for inexperienced chefs, so Miller will need his underclassmen to ripen up in 2020. He said he expects sophomore Jerome Hunter to shoulder greater responsibility, entering the season “ready to take a bigger bite out of the apple.”

Earning a larger plateful means adding more to the mixing bowl. In his redshirt freshman campaign, Hunter sprinkled in promising shooting ability but occasionally seemed to be on an entirely different page of the cookbook. 

Fellow second-year players Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin join Hunter as exciting talents who ate their fair share of humble pie throughout 12 losses. This young core will have to ripen quickly if IU’s crust has any hope of rising to meet lofty expectations. 

Of course, the point of this diligent attention to detail is the promise of a piping hot slice of championship glory to savor with thousands of ravenous fans. 

“It’s about just preparing and getting ready and staying hungry for that one opportunity,” Miller said, praising his group's commitment despite its uncertain future. 

When making a pie, a baker might cook his dough in weighted-down aluminum foil so as to prevent an uneven bottom or droopy edges. Alas, this means the crust is essentially invisible in the oven. 

Thus, all the Hoosiers can do now is follow their recipe and stay hungry. After all, every delicious pie begins with a blind bake.

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