The last fleeting hope that Archie Miller's time at Indiana could lead to greatness vanished into thin air Wednesday night. Piscataway is a hell of a place to watch a basketball team hit rock bottom, but that's exactly what happened as Rutgers ran the hapless Hoosiers off the floor in a rout. Four years in, Miller's time in Bloomington has been one long missed opportunity and the school simply can't justify keeping him atop its cherished basketball program any longer.
Indiana opened Wednesday night's contest in fine fashion, racing to a 23-8 lead at the RAC midway through the first half. The Hoosiers were quick, decisive, hit some big shots and their defensive rotations were on point. Then things went downhill faster than a Kendall Roy cocaine binge. The lead vanished as quickly as it arrived as Rutgers went on a 27-8 run and led 35-31 at the break. That sort of implosion has become far too common under Miller's watch. The second half was, somehow, even worse as Rutgers increased its lead to 20 points with an 11-0 run midway through the second half. When the dust settled, the Hoosiers were flying home having lost three of four games in a critical stretch of the season.
During Miller's four seasons on the job, Indiana has failed to show up when it needed to. He's never made the NCAA Tournament -- though the Hoosiers would have been in last year -- and it would take a miracle to make it in 2021. Entering the season I said this was Miller's "prove-it" season, and the Hoosiers are currently 12-11 and 7-9 in the Big Ten. His team is 4-5 at home in conference this year. Losing at Assembly Hall used to be an unpardonable sin, now it happens weekly. All Miller has proven this season is that whatever he's doing isn't working at Indiana.
Miller was the obvious hire back in 2017. He was the next young mid-major coach ready for a step up after a brilliant six-year run at Dayton. The hire was widely praised as Indiana finally getting the right guy following years of missteps after the tumultuous end to the Bob Knight Era. In four seasons at Indiana, Miller is 67-54 and a dismal 33-41 in the Big Ten. That's simply not good enough and it's increasingly clear hiring him was yet another false step from a university whose brand is directly tied to the success of its basketball program.
This season, Miller finally had a roster filled with his own players. With an All-American-caliber forward in Trayce Jackson-Davis and three full recruiting classes under his belt, things were looking up. Throw in a three-year starter at point guard in Rob Phinisee and a senior captain with four years in the system in Al Durham, and the Hoosiers looked poised to break out. Instead they've limped along all season with absolutely no consistency from the perimeter and no help for the brilliant Jackson-Davis on the interior.
Miller was supposed to bring defensive toughness and a smart offensive scheme. The Hoosiers currently rank ninth in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency and are eighth on the offensive side of the ball. Miller was adamant he wanted the team to play with more tempo and get up and down the floor in transition this season, yet Indiana is 283rd nationally in tempo. Every game is a slow, unending slog with long periods where the team seems to have no idea what its identity is. The offense is constantly thrust into late-clock situations and regularly has to hoist bad shots before the buzzer. Indiana fans have been watching the same show for four years with an occasional, ultimately unsatisfying plot twist and absolutely no character development.
In an era that prizes efficiency and values the 3-point shot, Miller's system is laser-focused on feeding the post and is a mishmash of dribble handoffs, lazily slipped screens and a lot of standing around. It's an offense straight out of 1984 -- the year, not the novel, though I've often felt like Winston Smith watching this team play and knowing something isn't right. It's slow, ancient basketball that, for some reason, Miller hasn't altered after it didn't work over the past three seasons.
Perhaps most maddening is Miller's inability to find players who can shoot the ball consistently. Indiana is hitting 35 percent of its shots from 3-point range as a team this season but is only making 6.3 per game, which ranks 266th in the nation. Indiana also ranks 285th nationally in free-throw percentage (66.5). Somehow, recruiting out of the state of Indiana -- where perfect shooting form is a prerequisite for elementary school graduation -- Miller hasn't been able to load up on shooters. In fact, in several high-profile recruiting decisions, he's leaned away from shooters and gone hard after defense-first guys. Now he's stuck with a roster of players who shoot like Carlton Banks.
What's alarming is that the shooting has been bad in each of Miller's four years on campus. And in every season he's claimed his roster had guys who could make shots, but they just weren't going in. That's a fine excuse for one bad game, but if your team can't shoot consistently for four years, then it's a systemic problem. Rather than change anything or hire a shooting specialist to help improve things, Miller has simply chugged along with his system which, apparently, couldn't possibly be the real problem.
Some high-profile recruiting misses -- including several in the 2021 class -- and a failure to bring in impact transfers over the last few years have created issues that will likely extend to next season. With Jackson-Davis almost certainly off to the next level, there's little chance the Hoosiers suddenly improve without importing an impact player.
Miller is a smart basketball guy. When discussing Xs and Os, he knows what he's talking about. He's bright and at 42 has forgotten more about the game than many will ever learn. He comes from a deep coaching family and is well-respected by his peers, but something isn't working at Indiana. Perhaps it's his stubbornness, inability to adjust to the roster he has and a failure to recognize how much basketball has changed. Whatever the problem is, he's not fixing it and doesn't seem all that interested in evolving.
While some things can be blamed on poor roster construction and certain players not living up to expectations, in the end Miller is the conductor of this orchestra. If you've been working with a cellist for three years and he still can't consistently play a middle C, the fourth-year bass drummer can't keep time, the entire woodwind section can't knock down open 3s and the prized flautist can't guard the dribble, whose fault is that? Look, I don't know anything about orchestras and that metaphor got away from me a bit, but I think you get the point.
Miller arrived in Bloomington as the coach best positioned to actually turn around Indiana's basketball program. Four years later, we're still waiting for a breakthrough that is unlikely to materialize. With the resources available to him, it's inexcusable for Miller to have a team sitting on or just off the bubble every season. At Indiana, a season that ends like that qualifies as a massive failure.
I'm not privy to Indiana's finances and know Miller has a hefty buyout, but how can athletic director Scott Dolson justify the status quo? Unless there's a miraculous turnaround over the next two weeks, Indiana simply has to move on from Archie Miller. There are no excuses left. His tenure has been a disaster given the expectations.
Indiana's name, colors and home court used to strike fear into opponents. No one wanted to see the Hoosiers coming up on the schedule. Over the last two decades that aura of invincibility has slowly melted away, culminating in an embarrassing loss in New Jersey Wednesday night. Something has to be done to rescue the brand and the soul of the University.
Moving on from Miller would be the first step.