Two minutes to midnight.
The end is assuredly coming soon. The evidence is there, the bed is made, the ice caps are melting, and the nukes are loaded, whatever. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists isn’t projecting the time at which all this might happen come apart, and what your clock will show when the world comes apart in Hellfire. The two minutes may take two weeks, three months, five-hundred years, one million. The Doomsday Clock just knows it’s coming, and damn soon. We’ve breached the point of inevitability.
Indiana — a bad basketball team — won a game tonight. A good outcome! 12-3! Mind you not that this game was against a largely-dead 5-8 Northwestern, led by Miller Kopp, a lacrosse player, and seven Evan Seacats. Ignore the shooting woes, the stagnant offense, the general disinterest of half the roster, the existence of whatever it is that Tom Ostrom does. Squint hard enough and you can see Trayce Jackson-Davis, a good basketball player stuck in basketball purgatory, willing Indiana to just enough wins to sneak into a 20-point loss in the First Four. Indiana is 12-3, and the program is turning it around. Results are all that matter, baby.
You could do that, of course, if you didn’t know that Northwestern has lost this season to things called “Merrimack” and “Hartford.” You could do it if you didn’t watch Chris Collins’ band of Wildcat Internship Program graduates stretch a lead on Archie Miller’s ballclub out to to ten points. You could do that, say, if you had bled out your ears for the past two hours due to Seth Davis’ voice and failed to learn that vaunted pack-line defense was getting carved by a damned lacrosse player.
Just as you can do that, you can still imagine Archie Miller turning this Indiana basketball program in the right direction. It would, of course, require you to purge all memory of any given offensive possession over the past 24-plus months. It would also you require to have not heard this comment on Archie Miller’s Monday radio show:
Miller now says "it's complete BS" regarding the criticism that his team can't make shots.— Cameron Drummond (@cdrummond97) January 7, 2020
Miller says if the rest of the stuff (passing, spacing, etc.) falls into place, the shots will fall. #iubb https://t.co/dkmbH0UG8j
In Archie Miller’s tenure at Indiana, he’s yet to have a team finish in the TOP 300 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage or free throw percentage. His current team is 267th and 212th in those stats, respectively. You can explain this comment in one of two ways.
One: Archie Miller cannot diagnose the single most glaringly obvious thing wrong with his basketball team despite, well, math.
Two: Archie Miller has reached the point where any Indiana basketball tenure begins to unwind, damp & mad about the discourse, and it’s slowly going to eat away at his braincells until the eventuality comes, whether it’s three months from now or three years.
Indiana is a 12-3 basketball team, a fine record, and a fine result in a vacuum. If you have no desire to be forward-looking, setting the doomsday clock at this point seems foolish. This is where I remind you that Indiana is a basketball team that cannot shoot, cannot score, has no cogent offense, is mildly decent at defense when it cares to be, and the amount it seems to care dwindles more and more by the day.
Consider Indiana’s upcoming schedule. The Hoosiers will be a KenPom underdog in six of their next seven games. Win tonight or not, Indiana’s diseased offense and intermittent defense have been on full display plenty over the last month. Perhaps it doesn’t go this way, but we’re seemingly staring down the barrel of yet another 17-14ish season.
These are the end times of the Archie Miller, and it’s more now a story of how long it takes to cave in on its own weight. It won’t be now, it’ll be another season, or two, or three. Because Fred Glass isn’t going to fire his last impactful hire on the way out the door. It’ll be the new guy, who’ll want to come in and find his guy, with his spin on how to save Indiana’s most valuable yet distressed asset.
Here, the process of how the result was achieved is more important than the end result. The Archie Miller isn’t dead because Indiana is 12-3, or because Indiana lost to Northwestern.
The Archie Miller era is dead because every offensive possession recorded by a camera will eventually be a YouTube clip Chris Mack slides in front of a sought-after teenager. It’s dead because we threw Tim Buckley out with the bathwater. It’s dead because it’s been three years since any player in an Indiana uniform has been able to make a three-point field goal. It’s dead because Justin Smith is an NBA-caliber athlete being wildly misused in a high-school offense. It was very possibly dead the night it arrived with a 21-point loss at home to Indiana State. It’s assuredly dead because the play-defense-and-recruit-the-state way of thinking is an ass-backward way of thinking for the modern era of college basketball.
The Archie Miller era is dead because every premise it was built on was wrong. There’s no need to re-litigate the Crean era, it’s fine, it’s done, it had run its course. Whatever. But the premise behind moving on from Tom Crean was that it was time for Indiana to level up. To reach the level of the Kentuckies, the Louisvillles, the Michigan States, the Carolinas. Indiana fired Tom Crean because winning conference championships and high-tournament seeds, intermingled with NIT bids wasn’t good enough. It was time to compete for titles.
If anything that Indiana fans think matters about brand and tradition still does, the most direct path to that is simple: get players. Hire a splashy, big name coach to recruit elite-level talent. Understand college basketball’s role as an NBA proving ground. Show evidence of skill development and preparation to play at the next level. Space, pace, be fun, and be fun to watch. Fit your system to your talent. Recruit from everywhere. That’s modern college basketball.
Sure, yes, of course, you can win in the ways Archie Miller’s architected this Indiana program — with defense, plodding basketball, with four-star, four-year players and the like. The margin’s just slimmer, and the tactician has to be that much better. Tony Bennett squeezed a national title out of it, despite the analytics on playing at that pace being against him. It’s effectively worked at Purdue, perhaps if you don’t stack Matt Painter’s resume up with Tom Crean’s time at Indiana.
This is either what Archie Miller is, or what he’s adapted himself to be to play to the Indiana base. The Boomer White Dad wet-dream, fantasyland where Indiana rides back to national prominence off four-year, in-state players in a ridgid, defense-first system is false, fake, outdated. Save for a couple of programs, that’s not college basketball anymore. It should be a not-real, unserious thought for any program that desires to be considered among the nation’s elite, and should’ve been a non-starter that was attempting to level up from multiple conference championships in a four year span.
But instead, here we are. Two minutes to midnight.
There’s a rule in college sports: You can be bad, you can be boring, but don’t be both. In Indiana’s aspiration for something better within the Archie Miller era, it’s created something far worse: apathy manifesting as ironic detachment.
So, cool. Indiana’s 12-3, and knocked off Northwestern. But tonight’s win didn’t save Indiana’s season. And the Archie Miller era wasn’t doomed if they lost it.
That’s all be predetermined for awhile now.