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IU’s performance from deep needs to improve

The 3-point shot is becoming increasingly important in the basketball world, but IU has gotten increasingly worse at it

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Indiana
Indiana Hoosiers coach Archie Miller wants a shot counted as a three pointer against the Purdue Boilermakers during the first half at Assembly Hall.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On Feb. 16, 2019 the IU men’s basketball team got off its bus and walked into Williams Arena in Minneapolis for a matchup with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It started well enough with the Hoosiers winning the tip. On the first offensive possession of the game senior forward Juwan Morgan rose up and released a jumper from beyond the arc. It didn’t go in.

That was the beginning of what would be an absolutely brutal afternoon for IU as the team would combine to hit just two of the 17 three-pointers it would attempt on the evening.

Over the past two seasons, IU’s first and second under head coach Archie Miller, poor shooting has become a regularity. The Hoosiers have played 66 games with Miller on the bench. They’ve shot under 20 percent from downtown in 10 of those games. They’ve shot 30 percent or worse in 32 of those games.

If it isn’t clear enough at this point, IU has shown an ineptitude from beyond the arc since Miller took over in Bloomington and in a game that’s becoming more and more focused on the 3-pointer it’s a problem.

Long gone are the years when the Hoosiers were referred to as “the Golden State Warriors of college basketball.” Under Tom Crean IU took a bombs away approach, playing fast and lighting up opponents from deep. Of course there were detriments to that style of play, but it also worked out pretty well at times, considering that Crean won two Big Ten titles in four years. If you look at the three-point shooting numbers for the Hoosiers over the last five years you can tell when the coaching change was made pretty easily.

The problem isn’t that the Hoosiers are taking fewer threes and subsequently making fewer threes. In fact, the Hoosiers absolutely shouldn’t take more threes because they can’t hit them at an efficient rate. The problem lies in IU’s inability to convert on the shots they do take, which has also dropped considerably since the Crean years.

In the final three seasons under Crean the Hoosiers finished first, second and second respectively in the Big Ten in three-point percentage. In the last two seasons they’ve finished 13th and 12th out of the 14 teams, respectively. That’s the difference between hitting shots at roughly a 40 percent clip and at a 30 percent clip.

There could be several explanations for this, and each of those several explanations probably has something to do with the decrease in three-point shooting production.

One possible reason is that shooting simply isn’t something that’s emphasized in practice because it doesn’t seem to be something that’s emphasized in games and something that the team has shown little improvement in over the course of Miller’s tenure. The cliched phrase “practice makes perfect” might not be correct all the time, but when it comes to shooting the more a person does it, particularly while working on perfecting their mechanics, the better they get at it.

In the same vein it could simply be that the current IU coaching staff doesn’t teach the skill as well as Crean’s staff did or that the system the new staff has implemented doesn’t allow as many open threes as Crean’s system did. Former IU assistant Tim Buckley in particular was known to help players develop their shots throughout their time in Bloomington.

The problem with this is that at Dayton Miller’s teams shot the ball pretty well. Those teams averaged about 625 3-point attempts per season, which is in the neighborhood of where IU has been, but they also averaged a 36.8 percent 3-point percentage which IU has been nowhere near. The difference between Dayton’s average percentage under Miller and IU’s might not seem so big when you look at it as 36.8 percent compared to 31.7 percent, but when his teams are shooting at a volume between 600 and 700 3-pointers that’s between 30 and 35 extra threes made a season which is no small margin.

Lastly, and this is a big one, perhaps IU simply ran out of shooting talent. Gone are the Yogi Ferrells and Nick Zeislofts. There aren’t any more Collin Hartmans or Thomas Bryants. In the final three seasons of the Crean era a player shot over 35 percent from 3-point land while attempting over 1.5 shots from there per game 16 times. In the two seasons of the Miller era it’s happened twice, once each season.

In the scatter plot, seasons under Tom Crean are shown in red while seasons under Archie Miller are shown in black.

The most interesting players in this discussion are the ones who played for both Crean and Miller. Robert Johnson was an above average shooter as a junior and he remained an above average shooter as a senior, his lone season under Miller. As a junior Josh Newkirk shot the ball pretty well from downtown, hitting 38 percent of his shots. As a senior, in his lone season under Miller, he barely scraped above 30 percent. Collin Hartman, who placed himself in the above graphic two years in a row under Tom Crean, came back for one final year under Miller after suffering an injury and his 3-point production dropped dramatically, falling to 24.2 percent rate. Perhaps the most interesting player of all is Devonte Green. As a freshman in Crean’s final season he was one of the better players on the team in terms of 3-point percentage, hitting nearly 44 percent of his threes. The next year, the first of the Miller era, Green’s percentage fell nearly 10 points which isn’t good. Last season he rebounded nicely to lead the Hoosiers by hitting 42.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and trailed only Romeo Langford in attempts.

These are just a few of the players who help provide some perspective on how the new staff has affected IU’s shooting ability. Another possible thing to look at is The Curious Case of Evan Fitzner™️. Fitzner was a well-regarded shooter during his three years at St. Mary’s, shooting over 40 percent from downtown each season. He came to IU as a grad transfer and hit just 30.9 percent of his threes. Perhaps he couldn’t play in the Big Ten, maybe his fit in Miller’s system wasn’t what they both thought it would be, or perhaps he just had a bad year.

Furthermore, Miller hasn’t done a great job of recruiting players to help fix what is arguably his team’s most obvious need. If you look at his first recruiting class as IU’s head coach he brought in Langford, who was a “good get” as they say in the business but there were questions about his jumper, Rob Phinisee, who once again was a good prospect but wasn’t projected to be a deep threat despite having the potential to develop into one and Damezi Anderson, who did shoot well in high school but was also considered a raw talent and didn’t really end up playing much as a true freshman. That class also included Jake Forrester, a big man who transferred after one season in Bloomington, Jerome Hunter, who might end up being the best shooter of the bunch if he ever gets on the floor after missing all of last season with an injury and receiving a redshirt and of course Fitzner, who once again was advertised as a sharpshooter but panned out poorly.

Miller’s second recruiting class doesn’t provide many solutions either. Trayce Jackson-Davis won Indiana Mr. Basketball in 2019 and is by all accounts a good player with a lot of potential, but he’s also a big man who won’t space the floor. The same goes for Butler transfer Joey Brunk—he’ll provide frontcourt depth, but no floor spacing. The third incoming player for IU is the only one who could have a chance to help out on the perimeter next season. Armaan Franklin shot 39 percent from downtown as a senior at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis and he should see some playing time next season considering the only other players listed as guards on the roster are Green, Phinisee and Aljami Durham.

If there’s a bright spot in all of this, it probably consists of the culprits who actually hit a three in that Minnesota game—Green and Durham. They should be the two best shooters for IU next season, but just the two of them won’t suffice if the Hoosiers want to space the floor and run an efficient offense. IU needs guys like Phinisee, Franklin, Hunter, Anderson or perhaps even Justin Smith to step up and start hitting shots at a rate that will make opposing defenses respect them on the perimeter rather than allowing them to clog the paint, which has been a factor in making IU’s offense particularly brutal to watch over the past two seasons.

Being able to hit 3-pointers has become increasingly important in the game over the last handful of years, not just in the NBA, but in college as well. Last season nine of the teams that made it to the Sweet 16 ranked in the top 100 teams nationally in 3-point percentage. Only four Sweet 16 teams shot under 35 percent from beyond the arc as a group. Just one (1) team that made it that far in the NCAA Tournament shot worse than IU did and it was Duke, the team that had Zion Williamson.

There’s another possible answer to IU’s offensive woes. Just go find the next Zion Williamson. If you can’t do that, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to work on putting the ball in the hoop from distance.