How Will Archie Miller Fix Indiana’s Defense?

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 8th, 2017

It’s no surprise that the Indiana faithful have been less than satisfied with the Hoosiers’ defense over the past few seasons. It’s well-documented. Indiana finished last year’s regular season giving up 75 points or more in four of its final five games, gave up more than 90 points over the course of the season a conference-worst five times, and gave up 79.6 points per game — second-worst in the Big Ten, behind only Iowa. However, there is some good news coming for folks in Bloomington. Give him some time and Archie Miller can fix that.

Archie Miller has his work cut out for him on the defensive end, but he has a track record that says he will. (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Crean experienced a number of extremes during his tenure at Indiana, and KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings illustrate this perfectly. More often than not, his Hoosier defenses were below average. In the KenPom era (since 2002) Crean coached three top-30 defenses and eight sub-100 defenses. Archie Miller’s Dayton teams, on the other hand, have been both better defensive units as well as more consistent. In the last three seasons, the Flyers finished among the top 50 , as the table below shows. This is a significant metric because no National Championship team nor runner-up has finished outside that top 50. In most cases, the Final Four has also met that threshold. To put it a little simpler: Teams that make deep NCAA Tournament runs generally have strong defensive efficiency numbers to justify those runs. Miller has shown he can coach such units, while Crean rarely did.

Ken Pom’s Final Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Rankings

                        Archie Miller        Tom Crean

2014                72nd                      38th

   2015                30th                       200th

2016                15th                        59th

  2017                43rd                       104th

Average            40th                   100th

A deeper dive into Indiana’s defensive problems last year reveals even more detail. Of 351 Division I teams in college basketball, the Hoosiers finished a miserable 291st nationally in percentage of shots given up at the rim (39.6%). That’s 291st — only 60 spots from the very bottom. Astonishingly, Indiana was even worse the year before — 300th — and worse still — 324th — the year before that. Miller will install his simple yet effective man-to-man defense at Indiana this season. Sometimes zone will be mixed in; sometimes it won’t. The core premise is for the on-ball defender to stay in front of his man, with help-side defense reserved for forays around the rim. “It’s repetition after repetition,” Miller explained during an offseason press conference. “It’s technique after technique. It’s film after film from this point forward, but I think we’ll be a team that hopefully can continue to really improve.”

Rim protection was clearly the biggest issue with Indiana’s defense under Crean, but it is also something that can be quickly improved. It’s difficult to envision a scenario where Miller doesn’t fix this problem. His numbers at Dayton back it up and so does the film below.


Iowa does a good job spacing Dayton out to get Steve McElevne (#5) away from the basket. His assignment is simple enough — to keep the rim behind him and his opponent in front of him. He eventually finds himself out of position, but because the Flyers’ defense is so anticipatory, two of his teammates have their eyes on the rim. One of those players sees the back-door opportunity for the Hawkeyes and quickly offers weak-side help to prevent the score. In the below clip against Florida, Dayton is again spread out but in more man than zone.


The Flyers actually aren’t too out of position here, effectively bumping the pick and roll up top. But as soon as the Florida guard looks at the basket, a Dayton big man retreats to the rim. In many of these same scenarios across college basketball — including Indiana under Crean — the big man often steps up to face the guard. Usually, the offensive player blows by the defender and creates a problem in the gut of the defense. Even though Florida didn’t get a bad look at the basket, it became a much more difficult conversion. This example perfectly illustrates the fundamentally sound defensive scheme that Miller will implement. On average, Miller’s teams give up a full seven percent fewer shots at the rim than those of Crean. While that may not seem like a huge disparity on paper, it can equate to roughly 5-7 points per game over the course of the season. Indiana lost seven games last season by five points or fewer or in overtime, meaning a mediocre 18-16 overall record could have been as good as 25-9. Miller’s implementation will certainly take time, as most defensive schemes usually do. But Indiana fans can rest easy knowing that the right guy is in place to heal what ails them.

Chris Hatfield (9 Posts)

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