TOM DAVIS: Indiana coach Archie Miller needs to face reality and make next season start now

Indiana guard Devonte Green, right, goes up for a shot against Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate during the second half of a game in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday. Ohio State won 71-56. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana University men's basketball coach Archie Miller directs his team against Ohio State during the second half of a game in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday. Ohio State won 71-56. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana guard Aljami Durham, center, goes up for a shot between Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson, left, and guard Kam Williams during the first half of a game in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana forward Freddie McSwain Jr., left, goes up for a shot against Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson during the first half of a game in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday. (By The Associated Press)

There are a lot of traits to admire about Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter, but his brutal honesty has always been at the forefront of those in my eyes.

Painter will tell you how he really feels, regardless of whose toes ache afterwards.

Archie Miller could learn from his rival and counterpart, because now is the time for the first-year Indiana University coach to be forthright with himself and his program:

This season, in terms of achieving notable success in the next month-plus, is over. And because of that, in the best interest of the Hoosier program, certain decisions need to be made, centering on preparing for the 2018-19 season.

Now do I expect Miller to heed my advice? Absolutely not. Miller doesn’t even know that I cover his program, let alone would he consider the premise of this column. However, that doesn’t make my counsel any less valid.

The Hoosiers lost Tuesday for the fourth time in five games 71-56 at Ohio State in a game that wasn’t close over the final 36 minutes. With Michigan State coming to Bloomington Saturday (8:15 p.m., ESPN) any hopes of a streak-snap aren’t realistic.

Indiana (12-11, 5-6 Big Ten) not only has a game left with the Spartans (20-3, 8-2), but also a road game against an ever-improving Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) squad, followed by the Buckeyes (19-10, 10-1) one more time to close the regular season.

At best, the Hoosiers will finish with a 16-14 overall record and be .500 in league play (9-9), which given the injuries this season, ain’t half-bad. But make no mistake, there is virtually zero hope of this squad making the NCAA Tournament (its RPI currently is 116th and ranks behind Wagner, Towson and St. John’s, which hasn’t won a Big East game all season), so why not look to next year?

What I am proposing isn’t wholesale lineup alterations, but more in line of some personnel tweaks.

Miller needs to curb the minutes of final-year guards Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson and find more time for sophomore Devonte Green and freshman Al Durham.

He also needs to allow freshman center Clifton Moore to play anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes each game, which means a few less for senior Freddie McSwain Jr.

It isn’t personal with those older guys, it is business.

Those veterans have played really hard and represented the program and university well over the last month. But now it’s in the best interest of the program for them to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the program long term.

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Until Tuesday, Miller had little reason to consider playing Durham or Green anymore than absolutely necessary, because quite frankly, they haven’t been very good of late.

“We just keep trying to make them better and get guys to play their best ball at the right time,” Miller said of his inconsistent backcourt recently. “February is when you want to start to find guys in a rhythm.”

Or January 30 will suffice also.

In the case of Green, he had a breakout game against the Buckeyes. Now the curious part will be to see if he can perform to that level in consecutive games.

Prior to the Ohio State game, Green had made two or fewer shots in 10 of his last 13 games. However, he connected on 6 of his 10 shots (4 of 5 from 3-point range) and scored a team-best 20 points Tuesday.

No one saw that type of game from Green coming, and truth be told, that includes himself.

“Devonte has just got to stick with hit here,” Miller said recently. “Offensively, some of the decision making, some of the shots, obviously are questionable. But when he is out there for long stretches, we’re better.”

Green at least gave the impotent Indiana offense some semblance of a threat Tuesday.

As for Durham, I’m not being callous, just honest; he hasn’t played to his ability in almost two months. But he’s going to be in the program for another three-plus years, so let him gain through trials beginning Saturday with extended minutes.

For McSwain, he has provided a workman-like presence despite being terribly undersized as a frontcourt player in the Big Ten, and his effort is surely appreciated by the Indiana coaches and fans. But Moore needs experience, because this program may need him extensively next November.

When starting center De’Ron Davis went down with a season-ending injury to open this month, he took his enigmatic game with him to the bench. Miller doesn’t have any clue as to the level of consistency that Davis will play with next season any more than Davis does.

By giving Moore time now, the Hoosier coaches will have a better feel for what type of post presence they will have from him heading into next fall.

I understand Miller must feel pressure to perform in this, his first season with the Hoosiers, and on this big of a stage for the first time in his career. Most assuredly, he wants to win as many games and provide as positive of an experience for his graduating players as possible.

I respect that.

However, and now I am just being honest, he has six years remaining on his contract following this year, so take advantage of that luxury and do what is necessary to ensure that those seasons are as positive of an experience for the Hoosier Nation as can be.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.


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