Hoosiers take on entirely new look in Miller’s second season

Juwan Morgan will serve as the veteran leader of a different-looking Hoosiers team.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports/Joseph Maiorana

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.— Archie Miller sees a whole different team when he watches Indiana’s practices these days.

The veterans understand the demands of Miller and his coaching staff as well as their normal routine. The new class of highly touted recruits provides an instant upgrade in talent and depth. And the potential upside of these new-look Hoosiers has fans whispering again about a sixth national championship banner.

It’s a welcome change in Miller’s second season in Bloomington.

“Really, it’s trial and error with you and your staff and your players,” Miller said when asked to compare last season to this one. “You never know, even when you get into December, January, February, everything is all new. Once you get to the end of your first year, you take inventory, you look back on what needs to be done, and you go right to work on it.”

The Hoosiers wasted no time figuring out what went wrong as they missed the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.

Miller encouraged the returnees to fine-tune specific skills in hopes of complementing all those newcomers. And when the final two pieces — graduate transfer Evan Fitzner and Romeo Langford, the state’s Mr. Basketball Award winner — announced they too would be coming to town in the spring, Miller appeared to have all the pieces in place.

Undersized post player Juwan Morgan bypassed the NBA draft after his breakout season. He’ll serve as the veteran leader. Forward Zach McRoberts, another in-state prep star, emerged as the Hoosiers’ defensive stopper, and junior center De’Ron Davis could provide a strong inside presence when he’s fully recovered from a torn Achilles tendon.

Then there are the freshmen.

“They’re not afraid to ask questions, and they’ll do things wrong, but they’ll do it going as hard as they can,” Morgan said. “Sometimes, just going hard will be the right play.”

Langford and Rob Phinisee were both 2,000-point scorers in high school. Forward Damezi Anderson, an all-state selection like Langford and Phinisee, broke the South Bend scoring record. Forward Jerome Hunter was a finalist for last year’s Mr. Basketball Award in Ohio, and forward Jake Forrester finished his prep career with 1,392 points.

Add Fitzner’s 3-point shooting skills at 6-foot-10 and the Hoosiers should be able to create matchup problems for just about anybody — just as Miller always envisioned.

“It has to be that way. When you don’t have it that way, you’re sort of strapped as a coach and you kind of live and die with the results,” he said, referring to the possibility of using up to 14 players. “When you have depth and you have the competition level that I think we can have, every day you’re going to have to earn it. That’s how teams really grow.”

DEFENSE FIRST

Miller continues to stress defense first, though. His philosophy helped keep last year’s undersized and sometimes undermanned Hoosiers competitive even against some of the nation’s top teams, and he’s not about to change it just because his offensive options have increased. Expect to see different defenses and more switching this season.

“I think when you’re aggressive and you can be the team you want to be and get away with it, that’s always the best,” he said. “But if you had to throw maybe a curveball in there every once in a while, it’s to provide a different way of doing it and I think switching is something that’s been talked about a lot.”

DEEP BENCH

The lineup for the Nov. 6 season opener against Chicago State remains a mystery. Regardless of who starts, though, Miller will have a much stronger bench. In addition to the three returning starters and six newcomers, the Hoosiers also can lean on guards Aljami Durham and Devonte Green and forward Justin Smith for key contributions this season. Each started games last year, and Green and Smith showed consistent improvement.

SHOOTING FOR 3

Indiana and Rutgers were the only Big Ten teams that didn’t make at least 200 3-pointers last season. The Hoosiers are unlikely to have a repeat this season. Langford, Phinisee and Fitzner should help turn those numbers around, and Morgan, Green and others could help by becoming more consistent from beyond the arc.

THE SCHEDULE

The Hoosiers face five notable nonconference matchups: Nov. 14 at Marquette, Nov. 18 at Arkansas, Nov. 27 at Duke, Dec. 8 against Louisville and Dec. 15 against Butler in Indianapolis. They also host Northwestern and visit Penn State in early December.