Despite a win on Wednesday night, Archie Miller looked dead serious in Indiana's postgame press conference. The Hoosiers won their opener, ripping undermanned Tennessee Tech 89-59, and there's a lot to like about how they played. But with the Maui Invitational starting on Monday and a brutal Big Ten slate on the horizon, things are about to get real in Bloomington. Miller's entire regime may hinge on whether or not his team can rise to the challenge this season.
Indiana is in the fourth year of the Archie Miller Era and the results have been decidedly mixed so far. Miller was the hot name ready to move up when the school hired him in 2017 after a fantastic six-year run at Dayton and was the hire that made the most sense for the school. With a mixed bag of a roster when he arrived and a style that ran completely counter to what previous head coach Tom Crean preached, there was always going to be a transition period. But here we sit in 2020 and Miller's overall record at IU is 56-43 with a 26-32 mark in the Big Ten. That's not good enough.
There are signs this year could be different in Hoosierland. Miller's teams have made steady, incremental progress every season. In 2020 the Hoosiers were 20-12 and safely in the NCAA Tournament field when the season was shut down. In fact, Indiana played its most complete 40 minutes in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers thrashed Nebraska 89-64 and looked like a team poised to make a postseason run. Unfortunately, that was the final Big Ten game played, as the season was shut down the next day.
With three full recruiting cycles in his pocket, Miller has finally rid himself of the players who fit Crean's scheme but not his. Now he has his guys. It also helps that he has an All-American candidate in Trayce Jackson-Davis at the heart of everything the team does. The sophomore big man was third-team All-Big Ten as a freshman in 2020 and opened his sophomore campaign with 26 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday night. Miller will lean on his prized pupil a lot this year.
The 42-year-old head coach has a solid 11 players, 10 of whom fit his pack-line defense superbly -- the 11th is senior Joey Brunk, a traditional center who has issues in the defensive scheme but can contribute offensively and on the boards. On top of that, for the first time in his tenure, Miller has a freshman class that can actually come in and be freshmen. The four highly-touted kids don't have to contribute big numbers, they can play in spurts, provide energy and athleticism, then head back to the bench and learn by watching. The contributions they provide will be a bonus to what's being counted on from the veterans. That's a huge luxury Miller has never had at Indiana.
It's fair to say Miller has his most complete team this season and has built the kind of roster he probably wishes he had inherited from Crean. The roster is filled with players who are tough, smart, athletic and versatile. This is the best chance he's had for the program to make a significant jump.
All of college basketball praised Indiana when it brought in Miller. It was the smart hire on the surface, as he was the next guy in line to get a big shot. He came from a family of coaches and his pedigree and background suggested he was the man to finally set Indiana on a long-term path to success. Three seasons later and fans are right to wonder why that path has been so winding.
For Miller, it's now or never. He finally has the team he's wanted. Now he has to prove what he can do with it. Next week's Maui Invitational will be his first chance to show what he and his Hoosiers can really do.