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After Indiana basketball falters, Archie Miller targets Lunardi, ‘Sesame Street’



BLOOMINGTON, Ind.  — If the Indiana basketball team played the final 10 minutes against Wisconsin on Saturday with the sizzle Archie Miller showed in his postgame news conference, there would be no broiling discussion about the Hoosiers’ NCAA Tournament credentials.

Indiana faltered — and lost to the Badgers, 60-56.

Miller did not falter — and showed more gusto than he has shown in three years.

Miller took on Joe Lunardi of ESPN, “Sesame Street,” critics of his players and bracketologists everywhere. He tried to squash the grumbling about Indiana’s NCAA Tournament resume after the Hoosiers lost a winnable game (for at least the third time this season in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall) on Saturday afternoon.

Usually, Miller is a man of few words and little emotion. Saturday, when Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star asked about IU’s NCAA Tournament chances, Miller attacked like he was going to the rim.

His eyes narrowed. His stare penetrated. His tone toughened.

This is the longest continuous quote I have used in a column, but I believe you will agree that it’s worth the extra word count.

Archie Miller, unplugged, after his team was outscored 23-10 when it mattered:

“If you watch ‘Sesame Street,’ and you listen to all the characters on ‘Sesame Street’ talk, and everyone gets all, ‘uh-uh-uh’ — it’s like when you watch ‘Sesame Street’ and you listen to the guys on ‘Sesame Street;’ it’s a children’s show,” he said. “Every bracketology is a children’s show.

“Bottom line, what our resume is, its strength of record, and that’s undeniable it’s a top-25 strength of record. If you don’t put in a top-25-strength-of-record team with the wins that we have, you know, somebody is going to have to answer some questions.

“You know, maybe we didn’t win on the road. All right. There’s about 15 teams that didn’t do that. Well, maybe they didn’t beat enough that — well, there’s some teams that have maybe half the amount of quad one and two games that we had.

“And when you look at our wins, I think we had three wins against the top 10 in the quad. No. 2-seed Florida State, you beat this team.

“Since Dec. 3rd, we have not played one team that’s not a high major team. No one’s done it. But when you start to go through the bracketology and you listen to the ‘Sesame Street’ cartoon guys on TV, who need people to click and do all this stuff, the bottom line is strength of record: Who did you play? what did you beat?

“If you look at our wins, there’s very few teams in the country that can say they have beaten the Florida States, Michigan States, Iowas, the Penn States, who are clearly in the field. So if you are beating six, seven teams in the field, you should be in the field.

“Everyone is going to say, you don’t have a .500 record in the league (IU is 9-11 in the Big Ten). They have already stated that a .500 record in the league doesn’t matter. It’s your body of work. Because there’s certain teams that played the 330th non-conference strength of schedule, which we didn’t do.

“So, if you add it all up, we scheduled to make the tournament. We got a lot of good wins. Played in an unprecedented season in the Big Ten in terms of the depth, and when you have that many teams competing for the tournament, 12, most of the year, and you beat each other up, my hope is that they just don’t take it for granted how hard it is to win in the league.

“I think today was our 24th or 25th straight Power Five game. I mean, who does that? You know, we did. Everyone wanted to bust our chops to start the season on our non-conference schedule.

“It worked out. Princeton is going to be in the Final Four (of the Ivy League) — the old Conference USA’s champion, or at least has a chance, is Louisiana Tech. South Dakota State won their league.

“End up playing UConn and Notre Dame, but some of those games are a crapshoot sometimes. Both teams have had pretty good years. I mean, beat them away from home. In league play, it is what it is. Who did you play? Who did you beat?

“So, when I look at the stuff that really matters, the NET is considerably different than any other number that stacks us, and that’s because the NET now goes into margins (of victory).

“So they don’t really care if you win a great game on the road by 1 or did you beat a really good team on the road by 4. Now, there’s some efficiency, and things that go into the mini-margin of the game and some efficiencies that go into the NET that don’t add up.

“You look at KPI, BPI, Sagarin — you look at all of the metrics — Ken (Pomeroy) and the top 35, (IU’s) strength of schedule is like 14 on all of them. Who did you play? Who did you beat? At the end of the day, our record is like 26 coming into the game.

“If you have a strength of record of top-25, you had a good schedule and you beat good teams, you should be in the tournament.

“I don’t know if that answered it. It was a lot, but I needed to get something out.

“You know when I was in the Atlantic 10, Joe Lunardi (of ESPN) was my best friend. He used to help me all the time.

“When I went to Indiana, he needed to crap on Indiana the other day, just so people would watch ‘Sesame Street’ the other, you know what I’m saying?”

I believe I do know what Miller is saying: Indiana belongs in the field.

Here is what I’m saying: If the 68-team was picked on Saturday, Indiana would qualify.

But it isn’t. And it won’t be until March 15.

So the Hoosiers are not in — yet.

They’ll certainly need to win their opening-round game in the Big Ten Tournament, which will likely be against Nebraska on Wednesday night at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse.

They might have to add a 21st victory the following night in the second round. Excluding or including Indiana eight days from Selection Sunday is silly. It’s impossible to forecast how many at-large spots will be available until it’s determined how many out-of-the-field teams steal bids by winning conference tournaments.

Until then, all Indiana can do is have Miller argue the Hoosiers’ case.

They can hope that Devonte Green does not have a serious problem with his tender left ankle. Against Wisconsin, Green came out determined to hang an exclamation point next to his Senior Day performance.

Starting for the first time in nearly two months, Green scored 13 points in the first eight minutes, making a pair of 3-point shots.

Green scored three more points the rest of the game, none in the second half.

When Indiana wobbled through a 9:09 stretch by missing 12 straight shots, Green was was 0 for 3. So was Rob Phinisee. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson each missed a pair of shots  Jerome Hunter missed one. So did Justin Smith.

As the Hoosiers have shown most of the season, they lack a guy who can deliver a basket when their world is on TILT. Seven of those shots were recorded a layups on the official play-by-play, which means they came from 5 feet or less.

“I mean, I don’t know what you guys want me to tell you inside,” Miller said. “There’s no magic wand to score on 6-10 or 6-11. You have to score the ball a couple times.”

Indiana did not score the ball a couple of times when it mattered Saturday. For nine minutes, they did not score at all.

Now, Archie Miller and his team must wait — and argue their cases.

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