Ahead of IU men’s basketball’s loss to Michigan State on Feb. 20, the end of the team’s season looked promising. ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi was projecting IU to make the NCAA Tournament as a 10 seed.
But that was less than two weeks ago. Now, IU’s tournament hopes are gone.
Since that loss, the Hoosiers have lost four straight games, capped off by a 64-58 loss Tuesday night to Michigan State.
What looked like it might’ve been IU head coach Archie Miller’s first trip to the tournament with the Hoosiers quickly took a turn over the last two weeks. Now, the Hoosiers will finish under .500 in conference play — which marks the fifth season in a row where they won’t have a winning record in the Big Ten.
On Tuesday night, the Hoosiers remained relatively even with the Spartans in the must-win game. The teams entered halftime tied at 26, with 19 rebounds, eight made field goals and nine made free throws apiece.
IU led for four more minutes than Michigan State, but couldn’t hang on to the lead when it needed to most. This has been a common theme for the Hoosiers — they have struggled to close out games.
Michigan State turned a 1-point lead into a 9-point lead in the last three minutes by scoring 8 unanswered points.
“We didn't convert in the last three minutes, from an offensive standpoint, especially,” Miller said.
The Hoosiers didn’t have an answer for shutting down junior forward Aaron Henry either, who scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half.
“Aaron Henry made some really crucial plays late — we didn't have a great matchup,” Miller said.
It didn’t help that IU couldn’t get much going on the offensive end. Junior guard Rob Phinisee was the only Hoosier to score in double figures with 16 points. Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis sat for 13 minutes of the game with foul trouble, contributing just 9 points and making only one field goal.
IU had 20 shot attempts from 3-point range, and the team made two of them.
“You're gonna have a hard time winning on the road when you go to 2-20 from three,” Miller said. “Things aren't going to open up inside the paint very much if you can't bring them out.”
Although it was a physical game that resulted in 45 total foul calls and 30 trips to the free throw between both teams, IU couldn’t figure out a way to finish the game. And now that the Hoosiers have failed to close out so many games — falling to 12-13 on the season — they are failing to finish the regular season, too.
In his four years with the Hoosiers, Miller has yet to lead them to the NCAA Tournament. Now, yet again, IU will be left out of March Madness for the third time under Miller.
When asked postgame Tuesday if he thought his team was pressing to make the NCAA Tournament, he said, “No, not at all.”
Miller was then asked why his team has struggled so much to win lately, he answered:
“We’re playing very good teams.”
Miller has preached that the Big Ten is the best conference in the country all season long, but he hasn’t found an answer for how to come out of conference play with a winning record in four years.
Now as fans call for IU to fire Miller on Twitter, it’s going to come down to what IU can afford — keep him or fire him and pay his $10 million buyout.
The Hoosiers have one final test before heading into the Big Ten Tournament in their rivalry game against Purdue on Saturday.
“Just bounce back versus Purdue,” Phinisee said. “It’s really big for Al and Race really, they haven’t beat them yet in their career.”
But it’s not just big for the players. Miller hasn’t beaten Purdue since he took over at IU in 2017. And if IU falls to Purdue, it will be the first time the Hoosiers will finish with a losing record during Miller’s tenure.