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TOM DAVIS: Indiana playing its ‘best basketball’ and it is impressive

Indiana guard Devonte Green (11) passes around Minnesota forward Michael Hurt (42) during the second half of a game in Bloomington Friday. Indiana won 80-56. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana forward Juwan Morgan (13) scores in front of Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy (3) during the second half of a game in Bloomington Friday. Indiana won 80-56. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana men's basketball coach Archie Miller walks to the bench area as his team plays Minnesota during the first half of a game in Bloomington Friday. Indiana won 80-56. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana guard Zach McRoberts (15) shoots over Minnesota guard Jamir Harris (4) during the second half of a game in Bloomington Friday. Indiana won 80-56. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana guard Aljami Durham (1) shoots in front of Minnesota forward Michael Hurt (42) during the second half of a game in Bloomington Friday. Indiana won 80-56. (By The Associated Press)

If Indiana’s 10-point loss at Wisconsin in early January was a geographical location, it could serve as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

If how the Hoosiers performed Friday in walloping Minnesota 80-56 was viewed in the same way, first-year coach Archie Miller would soon be preparing for touchdown upon the moon. That is how far this program has come in the past six weeks.

Miller said that his program was playing its “best basketball” right now and he is correct. The Hoosiers (14-12, 7-7 Big Ten) are working hard defensively, playing smart at both ends, and in true Indiana tradition, sharing the basketball.

Norman Dale would love this team right now.

“This team gets better through losses and through ups and downs,” Miller said following the win. “I think the last couple games in particular; we’re playing our best basketball. We’re sharing it more than we have before. From an effort standpoint, we’re really good.”

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In that aforementioned loss to the Badgers, the Hoosiers turned the ball over 12 times, while passing for just nine assists on 24 made baskets. Any offensive success that they had that night was on an individual basis.

There is no “I” in this Indiana team any longer.

Against the Gophers (14-13, 3-11), once again, Indiana threw the ball away a dozen times, but the difference in this game was that its players passed for assists 21 times on the Hoosiers’ 30 makes.

That was by far the highest total reached within Big Ten play for Miller’s guys.

“Sharing the ball was something we talked a lot about,” Miller said, “especially after our Michigan State game, having so many shots at the rim blocked. To go into the paint starting here now, I think you’re starting to see some guys really look for one another. That was a really positive thing on offense with sharing the ball.”

No player is distributing the ball better right now than sophomore guard Devonte Green.

Green passed for seven assists, while only turning it over three times in his 31 minutes of action Friday.

“That’s the biggest deal,” Miller said of Green. “It’s not always a home run. You can go for the single every once in a while, and I think he started to go for the singles.

“He’s starting to make some really good decisions on pick and roll situations. He’s starting to be a guy that has his head up and is looking for people, and then every once in a while, you’re going to see him make a couple plays that a lot of people can’t make because he’s really talented.”

Green sat for 36 minutes in a recent loss to Purdue, but Miller liked the way he handled himself post-discipline and that positivity has translated into success on the court.

Green was not only effective in finding other players Friday, he found himself a lot, as well, as he sank 5 of 7 shots and scored 19 points.

It was just one point shy of his career best, while the assist total was his career mark.

“For him to be playing the way he is right now is a really good step for our team,” Miller said. “We’re getting quality play-making ability, if you look at his last four games, maybe five, I’m not sure, his assist totals on those. He’s a guy that can really start to make things better for us, and lo and behold, that’s giving him confidence in other areas.”

The Hoosiers play with spirit at both ends and their execution has been impressive, even in losses, which is a testament to the coaches AND the players.

“I think you start to see a group that’s really committed to playing a certain way right now,” Miller said. “We caught Minnesota at a rough time for them with their injuries, but I thought our guys were locked in ready to play. They continue to establish the intensity level that we like. I think that we’ve established, especially at home, an energy level that we have to play with, and tonight was a really good job by our guys all the way around.”

Let’s be honest, Indiana is not making the NCAA Tournament next month. However, this undermanned squad is working really hard to be the best that it can be, and Miller’s program is operating in a way that the Hoosier Nation can really embrace.

“The fight they’re playing with – win, lose, or draw – hasn’t changed,” Miller said. “I think they understand what we have to do to be competitive, how hard we have to play in those games.

“You’re playing against a Purdue. You’re playing against Michigan State. You’re right there. You don’t get it done. I’ve never seen these guys quit. I’ve never seen it fracture. The locker room has never fractured. They’re coachable.”

They are also appreciated.

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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