BLOOMINGTON — Indiana coach Archie Miller has been through tough losing stretches in his coaching career, both at Dayton and with the Hoosiers.
Miller’s first team at Dayton endured a four-game losing streak, while last year’s IU team hit a slide in which it lost 12 of 13 games in conference play.
“I know what not to do right now, and what not to do is to point fingers,” Miller said on his radio show Monday.
“The bottom line is you have to be able to fix that within your own group. You have to be able to look each other in the eye and say are we doing everything within our power to make sure we’re getting better and at the end of the day we’re correcting some of our problems. If not, then you really can’t move forward past that day to figure it out.”
Miller is looking for more ownership from players, and more leadership, as IU (15-8, 5-7 Big Ten) looks to break a four-game slide against No. 21 Iowa (17-7, 8-5) on Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (8 p.m., Big Ten Network).
It won’t be easy. Iowa is the top scoring team in the Big Ten (79.1 ppg) led by junior 6-foot-11 center Luka Garza, who leads the conference with 23.2 points per game.
“If it ended today, and I had a vote, Luka Garza would be the National Player of the Year,” Miller said Wednesday. “To go through our league with how our league’s played this season, and to be averaging 26 (points) and whatever it is, 10-and-a-half (rebounds) in league play, you know, is about as impressive of a guy so far as we’ve seen.”
But Iowa has other players capable of stepping up and producing as well, led by sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp (15.4 ppg), who is coming off a 30-point game in Iowa’s 96-72 home win Sunday against Nebraska. Guard C.J. Fredrick (11.2 ppg) is shooting 47.2 percent from 3-point range.
“They are getting a lot of contributions from a lot of guys, and offensively, they are as lethal as any team that you’re going to play in a lot of different ways, inside-outside, transition and outside,” Miller said.
It presents another opportunity for the Hoosiers to knock off a ranked team and stay on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Miller has stressed this week in practice the importance of players staying together, getting out of their shells and holding one another accountable for their recent performances.
IU freshman guard Armaan Franklin thinks players are listening to their coach’s advice.
“There’s a sense of togetherness, for sure,” Franklin said. “You know, when you lose four straight, all you have is each other. You can’t listen to the outside sources. You have to be in the room with each other and progress every day with one another.”
Miller said it’s going to be important for Indiana to get back to what it did well earlier in the season – take care of the ball, outrebound opponents and get to the free-throw line. Indiana has been outrebounded in its last two games. The Hoosiers were at a rebound margin of plus-9.1 when they knocked off Michigan State on Jan. 23. That number has dropped to plus-7.3.
“If you’re going to be great getting to the foul line, if you’re going to be great running in transition and you’ve got to offensive rebound, if those things are not happening, well, that’s not really a talent level,” Miller said. “That’s a want to go do it, a will to do it and an emphasis that we have to continue to get better through, you know, adversity.”
Miller still believes there’s time for IU to make up ground after a disappointing loss to rival Purdue last Saturday. But it will need to start with a collective effort. Miller hinted again on his radio show he may shorten IU’s rotation, which currently stands at 10 players, if he doesn’t see buy-in from players in practice.
“There’s a lot of basketball to be played along the season, and sometimes you can lose your focus on the grind when things aren’t going your way,” Miller said. “For us, we have to recommit ourselves to one another.”