My Two Cents: Was This Finally the Loss That Archie Miller Can't Survive?

Four years into the Archie Miller era at Indiana, another troublesome home loss as a big favorite is just further proof that this doesn't work anymore. It's time for a change.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Archie Miller was born and raised in a basketball family in Pennsylvania, played his college ball in North Carolina and cut his coaching teeth in Ohio. How does all that fit in Indiana?

It doesn't. Not anymore.

Archie Miller is Indiana's beleaguered basketball coach right now, but for how much longer? He hasn't had a shred of success in Bloomington, just a few moments here and there that get spun a certain way, but then disappear like a bubble floating in the soft wind.

This is clearly not working, and the four-year Archie Miller experiment took another major blow on Saturday when Indiana lost 78-71 to Michigan State's worst team of the century. Think about that for a minute. It's the fourth home game Indiana has lost this season as a big favorite. Think about that, too.

But it's how they lost that's the problem, because it crystalizes everything that's wrong with Indiana basketball right now. They can't shoot and they can't defend consistently. In Indiana!! Four years later, it was supposed to be different. 

It's not. 

This is 2017 all over again, and the ugly finish to the crumbling Tom Crean era that really showed a lot of promise at one time. 

This is 2009 all over again, and the we-told-you-so thrashing to the end of the out-of-control Kelvin Sampson era. (That small dash of Dan Dakich doesn't count. That was the poster-child for interim.) 

This is 2006 again, and the sad ending to the Mike Davis era, a nice man who was in over his head, his biggest fault being that he took a team to a national championship game when most people wanted him fired, and that made it hard to do.

And this is, dare I say, 2000 all over again. Yeah, I'll blaspheme and go there. The Bob Knight era needed to come to and end, and it did.

And doesn't this Archie Miller era need to come to an end now, too?

Indiana coach Archie Miller complains about a call during the Hoosiers' loss to Michigan State on Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana coach Archie Miller complains about a call during the Hoosiers' loss to Michigan State on Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

So how did we get to this point?

I will be the first to admit that I don't go down the "fire the coach'' road very often. Forty-something years of doing this, "hardly at all'' describes my thinking best, because it's completely counterproductive.

When I started covering Indiana again for Sports Illustrated two years ago, I would say the sky is blue and Indiana fans would comment with "fire Archie Miller.'' I would say Mother Bear's is my favorite pizza and you would say "fire Archie Miller.'' I wasn't going to join that rant, for many, many reasons. I just wanted to enjoy sunny days, eat my pizza and write about basketball.

And I haven't joined the rant. Until now.

I haven't ranted mostly because it's a waste of breath. Archie Miller wasn't going to be fired in August of 2019. And truth be told, he didn't get fired on Feb. 20, 2021 either, which was, you'd be happy to know, the five-year anniversary of the last time Indiana beat Purdue.

But it's become abundantly clear that the odds of him finishing out his seven-year contract at Indiana are skyrocketing. Now it seems it's just a matter of "when,'' not a matter of ''if.''

The loss Saturday dropped Indiana to 7-8 in the Big Ten and 12-10 overall. Sure, there are still games to be played – more on that in a minute – but in Miller's four years, he has never had a winning record in the Big Ten. Not once. When you coach at Indiana, you talk about winning Big Ten TITLES, not just Big Ten games. He's just 33-40 in conference regular season games, and done nothing in the Big Ten tournament, either.

There have been no NCAA Tournament games either, with that asterisk hanging over Miller that a bid was likely coming before COVID canceled the tournament. That's not Indiana basketball, either. And in the four remaining games this season – home against Michigan and on the road at Rutgers, Michigan State and Purdue – Indiana will be the underdog in each of them. 

Odds are that Indiana has already won its last game this year. Jeez, let that sink in, too.

But this is history that you already know. What you don't know is my reasoning for why we've reached this point today, and why it's finally time for me to say this isn't going to work. There is no way this can succeed. Long-term success for Archie Miller at Indiana is something I just can't picture anymore. That's become clear. 

Opinions that run counter to the norm

I have a lot of takes on Archie Miller that will differ from most. But the individual complaints never take away from the fact that he is the head coach at Indiana, and the buck absolutely stops with him. 

Let's look at three issues that get discussed the most – talent, scheme and player development. 

So let's start with this fallacy first, that Indiana has a ton of talent and Miller is destroying it. That's so not true. There's really not that much elite talent there. As I said, the buck stops with Miller, and he's the reason why the talent level is what it is. Recruiting is king in college basketball, and despite his enormous recruiting budget, he hasn't delivered. He's lost too many big-time recruiting fights. 

Trayce Jackson-Davis is the only true NBA prospect on this roster. If you gathered 14 guys to do an all-Big Ten fantasy league, you'd have to go several rounds before another IU player was picked after Trayce. Just about every night in the Big Ten, the other team has better guards, better wing players. I'd take Jackson-Davis over his matchup in the post most nights, but it literally stops there. And it's not even close, outside of Armaan Franklin on a few nights. Race Thompson plays hard, but does he start on many other Big Ten teams? No way.

A lot has been made about Miller recruiting three straight Indiana Mr. Basketball stars in Romeo Langford, Jackson-Davis and now Anthony Leal, and that's all good. It is good, because it's never been done before. But in each year, that's just one guy. Romeo was hurt and utilized in the wrong way, Jackson-Davis has been A-minus good with a few flaws still in his game and Leal is still very much an unknown. He was ranked No. 152 in the country as a recruit, not No 1 or No. 5 or No. 2. He was never supposed to provide an immediate impact, and he hasn't.

The biggest criticism of Miller is his scheme. Almost no one likes his offense, and hand is raised there, too. Big Ten defenses are so good that they all know the Hoosiers' base plays as well as they do. It's simplistic, and easy to cover. All those handoffs generate nothing.

It's also not enough most nights, clearly. But it gets us back to the players, too. What Indiana sorely lacks this year are perimeter guys who can knock down threes with regularity. That's on Miller and recruiting, true, but there needs to be blame on the players too for not getting the job done. There's a disconnect there between scheme, execution and results, and there really is plenty of blame to go around.

Fans make me laugh when they wonder why they don't practice shooting more, but the fact is that they do. A good backstory from this year is that practices have been better now than at any time in Miller's four years, because of the work ethic of this group of players and the bad apples and lazy practice players that are no longer in the locker room. 

You can question the talent level of this group, but you can't question their effort. Trust me on that. They work, especially while locked up in a COVID-infused bubble. It's just that they can work as hard as they want, but it's hard to run an offense where the defense already has you figured out and no one on the roster can create their own shot.

Lastly, player development has to be discussed. Right now, there are only three players on this roster who are getting better. Jackson-Davis was projected as a star, and he's been good, but he can be even better. There is, as Miller often says, another gear there. We saw that Saturday with his 34 points, but he needs to be coached even harder. 

Race Thompson has gotten better in his four years, and Armaan Franklin has made a nice jump this year. That's good, and admirable. But the rest of the roster is no better today than it was at the start of the season, and guards like Al Durham and Rob Phinisee have had so many bad nights that the Hoosiers literally have no chance of winning on the nights they play poorly.

And that brings us to this freshman class. Because three of the four are Indiana kids – Leal, Trey Galloway and Khristian Lander – we all already know them very well. We like them. They are great kids, from great families. We've seen play for years, and when you add the athletic Jordan Geromino to the mix, it's all good.

Or is it?

When it comes to player development, you have to wonder – where it is? We haven't see any improvement in them through the course of the season. Why is that? And doesn't that absolutely fall on Miller?

Of course it does. 

Against Michigan State, the freshman didn't score any points at all. Geronimo didn't play, Leal had a turnover as was yanked after two minutes, Lander shot another airball that missed by two feet and then had a bad pass turnover and was pulled. Galloway played nine minutes and missed both shots.

Purdue's freshmen, playing at Nebraska on the same day, outscored Indiana's rookies 36-0. A few weeks ago, they had 51 points in a game on the same day that Indiana's freshmen were shut out, too.

Player development is key when you don't bring in a bunch of stud recruits. Tom Crean's teams got good when 140-ish recruits like Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey became huge contributors along with the five-stars Cody Zeller and Yogi Ferrell.

Miller hasn't done that. Rob Phinisee is no better now than he was as a freshman. Al Durham is no better either, even though he has occasional moments. Indiana quite literally has no consistent perimeter shooters on this roster. It's Indiana, where shooters grow on trees.

And that all comes back to Miller and recruiting. Watch Miller's offense when Devonte Green was knocking down threes. Damn effective. Even Robert Johnson made it work in Miller's first year. But they are the only two guys to make 50 or more threes in a season. 

I still do think that Indiana's freshmen will develop into perimeter threats at some point, but they aren't there now. Imagine, for instance, if Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic, the junior from Crown Point, Ind., was on this team, or someone like him. That shooting threat would easily have led to two or three more wins this year. And last year, too. That's the common thread on what's been missing with this team – shooters.

Archie Miller never once tried to recruit Sasha Stefanovic. He's made 134 threes in his career so far. Indiana could have used that. Just one player like that probably saves Archie Miller's job.

Indiana coach Archie Miller shouts instructions to Indiana guard Al Durham (1) during the Hoosiers' 78-71 loss to Michigan State. (USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana coach Archie Miller shouts instructions to Indiana guard Al Durham (1) during the Hoosiers' 78-71 loss to Michigan State. (USA TODAY Sports)

So where do we go from here?

It's time for the Archie Miller era to end. It hasn't been good enough for four years now, and if Jackson-Davis leaves for the pros, the Hoosiers aren't even a top-10 team in the Big Ten next season. That's bottom four, folks. 

The present stinks, but the future looks even worse. He's losing far too many important recruiting battles, especially in-state now. Trey Kaufman and Caleb Furst are both going to Purdue. All of the top-10 players in the state are going elsewhere. 

Purdue is way ahead of Indiana right now, and that shouldn't be the case, not wit all of Miller's resources.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Miller's seven-year contract where the buyout is still VERY expensive after this fourth year. It's much more reasonable after year five, but can we really go through this for another year, especially with no light at the end of the tunnel?

Look around the Big Ten. Illinois and Ohio State hired coaches the same year Indiana did, and they are both top-five teams and national title contenders. Michigan hired Juwan Howard two years ago, and they are No. 1 seed, a title contender and have the highest-ranked recruiting class in 2021. (Indiana is No. 78, dead last in the Big Ten.) Rutgers is on the rise, Michigan State will be back strong, of course.

In title talk, Indiana is a non-factor.

So the question is, do the high-roller boosters of this program really want to pony up for Miller's buyout now, plus the cash it would take to hire a top-level coach after Miller is gone? Or do they give him another year, even though we're pretty sure what that 2022 result is going to be, too.

In any case, we've reached that time for new Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson to make a decision. This hasn't worked and it's time for a change. Pandemic or no, this isn't Indiana basketball. Just trying to be .500 in the Big Ten isn't enough. Just hoping and praying for an NCAA Tournament bid isn't enough.

Scott Dolson knows that too, because he wears an Indiana national championship ring himself.

Archie Miller has had time. His past hasn't been great, the present isn't good enough and the future looks kind of scary.

It's time – somehow and some way on some kind of time frame – to move on from the Archie Miller era.

Indiana coach Archie Miller buries his head in his hands after a turnover. (USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana coach Archie Miller buries his head in his hands after a turnover. (USA TODAY Sports)

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