Indiana basketball can rest now, but work will resume soon
There is good news and bad news for the Indiana men’s basketball players this weekend.
The positive is that the Hoosier players have been given a few days off to rest mentally and physically by first-year coach Archie Miller. However, the bad news is, come Tuesday, Miller has promised that his recently ratcheted-up practices will resume.
“Christmas break,” Miller said recently, “our guys deserve a little bit of a break here (but) we’ll be back on (Tuesday) ready to practice.”
“And those practices all the way leading into Youngstown State will be similar to the practices we had this week,” Miller continued. “We have to go to work.”
In wake of Indiana’s dismantling by Fort Wayne Monday, Miller and his coaching staff coached the Hoosier players hard over the next three days, which culminated with a comfortable win Thursday over Tennessee Tech in Assembly Hall. However, one solid outing does not cure what ails this team as it prepares for Youngstown State on Friday (8 p.m., BTN).
“We’ve got to keep pushing through,” Miller said. “And after you get through Youngstown State, at that point, you have another window before you start Big Ten play.”
The Hoosiers will have a few days of practice leading up to Youngstown State and then three days in between that game and a road game at Wisconsin (Jan. 2), but after that, it is hard to get extended days of practice once the Big Ten season resumes.
“You’re not going to have a lot of practice time due to how the Big Ten schedule is,” Miller explained. “So this is an important time period to recover, an important time period when we can get back to how we have to practice leading into the Big Ten.”
Miller said with no classes over the break, it lends itself to players being able to focus on their individual games.
“If you are a college player,” Miller said, “you really enjoy Christmas Break. Your coaches, they can spend 15 to 20 minutes a day with you on your individual game and see if you can’t raise the confidence level of your group individually, that collectively will help you.”
In terms of shooting the basketball from the perimeter, this Indiana team needs all the work and confidence building that it can receive over the next week.
The Hoosiers are connecting at an anemic 31.4 percent from 3-point range and included among those struggling is senior guard Robert Johnson.
“He’s a prideful kid,” Miller said following a recent win over Notre Dame in which Johnson shot very well. “He’s worked extremely hard in the off-season to put himself in this situation as a senior.”
Miller went on to explain that Johnson has done a ton of things very well this year, but the numbers show that shooting isn’t among them.
After making nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers through the first three seasons, Johnson has shot just 33.8 percent this year. He has been particularly ineffective of late, however.
Aside from the Notre Dame game (5 of 10), he has a stretch of six of the last seven games in which he hasn’t made more than two of the long shots.
However, Miller said it hasn’t been due to a lack of work.
“He was almost going three-a-days,” Miller said of Johnson during the university’s recent finals week. “You saw him every morning shooting, then practice, then you saw him after practice shooting.”
Miller said that Johnson “has led great” this season and he loves his effort at the defensive end of the court.
“He’s playing tremendous defense for us,” Miller said. “He’s giving everything that he has.”
Offensively, however, Johnson struggled mightily in the rout by Fort Wayne.
He made 7 of 18 shots (2 of 7 from 3), but he turned the ball over six times, which was the second straight game in which he’s done that.
Miller explained that his older players, such as Johnson, have to be the ones that carry this program not only through the next week or two, but throughout the rest of the season.
“Your best players,” Miller said, “at the end of the day, have to be your oldest players. What I mean by best players (are) guys that get it done through tough moments, guys that are requiring the other guys on the team to follow their lead.”
“There’s got to be a much more sort of like an alpha-dog approach to the upperclassmen.”
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