Hint: It’s gotten worse, not better
Through the first 24 games this season, the longest scoring drought that the Indiana men’s basketball team has endured each game, on average, has been 259 seconds — or four minutes and 19 seconds, which is roughly the span from the end of one media timeout to the start of the next.
While Indiana’s national ranking in terms of its adjusted offensive efficiency has slowly improved in each season under coach Archie Miller — from 92nd in 2018 to 82nd in 2019 to 65th in 2020 to 46th this season (through March 1), per kenpom.com – the Hoosiers’ offensive performance in conference play actually reached its high-water mark in Year One under Miller.
The Hoosiers posted a conference-only offensive rating of 102.1 against Big Ten competition in 2018, in large part due to a 63.4-percent team free throw percentage and 34.3-percent three-point shooting in conference play. For context, the national average in adjusted efficiency that season was 105.0, so Indiana’s mark in conference play was nearly three points per 100 possessions worse than the national average. In the three seasons since, Indiana’s conference-only offensive efficiency has been 98.7 points per 100 possessions in 2019 and 2020, and 101.4 this season, as the Hoosiers’ offense against Big Ten competition has ranked 10th, 11th, 12th and sixth, respectively, out of 14 teams.
Indiana’s offense has long been marked by long scoring droughts, which are often anecdotal. But those anecdotes so frequently feel repetitive, so in an effort to quantify them, Crimson Quarry analyzed available play-by-play data from ESPN for every game of Miller’s tenure at Indiana, plus the first four years of former Indiana coach Tom Crean’s tenure, and calculated the team’s longest scoring drought in each game.
Of the 122 games Miller has coached at Indiana, play-by-play data is available for 118 of them. Of the 130 games that Crean coached in his first four seasons at Indiana, play-by-play data is available for 84 of them, so the head-to-head comparison below is admittedly incomplete. Plus, given the circumstances of the program when each coach arrived in Bloomington, proper context is needed when comparing, say, Indiana’s 2018 season to its 2009 season, but such comparisons could still be instructive with the necessary context.
Based on the play-by-play data available for Miller’s tenure, Indiana’s longest scoring drought per game, on average, in the last four seasons has been four minutes and 11 seconds, compared to four minutes and 18 seconds for the first four years of Crean’s tenure.
However, play-by-play data is available for only nine of Indiana’s 36 games in Crean’s fourth season – the 2011-12 campaign, when the Hoosiers earned a No. 4 seed and made the Sweet 16, finishing the season ranked No. 9 on kenpom.com. In those nine games, Indiana’s longest scoring drought per game, on average, was just two minutes and 47 seconds, which suggests that the program’s average for Crean’s first four seasons could be significantly lower if the play-by-play data was available for more games from that season.
In Miller’s first four seasons, the average length of Indiana’s longest scoring drought per game has increased, or plateaued, each season:
2018: three minutes, 54 seconds (30 out of 31 games available)
2019: four minutes, 11 seconds (33 out of 35 games)
2020: four minutes, 19 seconds (all 32 games)
2021: four minutes, 19 seconds (23 out of 24 games)
For the sake of comparison, in the first four seasons of Crean’s tenure, here were the average lengths of Indiana’s longest scoring drought each game, based on available play-by-play data:
2009: four minutes, 28 seconds (26 out of 31 games)
2010: four minutes, 47 seconds (26 out of 31 games)
2011: four minutes, 10 seconds (23 out of 32 games)
2012: two minutes, 47 seconds (nine out of 36 games)
Below is a breakdown of the first four seasons of each coach’s tenure, with the average length of the longest scoring drought each game measured in seconds. The bottom row, containing the average of the first four seasons of each coach’s tenure, is based on the average of all of the games available, so an average of 118 games for Miller and 84 for Crean.
Since kenpom.com began tracking the average length of offensive and defensive possessions during the 2009-10 season, the average length of Indiana’s offensive possessions during Crean’s second, third and fourth seasons was 17.5 seconds – the same as the average through Miller’s first four seasons, so it’s unlikely that tempo can explain potential differences between the program’s offensive droughts during the two coaches’ tenures. Through the first four years of Miller’s tenure, Indiana has played an average of 66.9 possessions per game, compared to an average of 66.2 for Crean’s second, third and fourth seasons.
In 63 of the 118 games during Miller’s tenure at Indiana for which play-by-play data is available – just over 53 percent – the Hoosiers’ longest scoring drought in the game has been at least four minutes long. In 28 games – just shy of a quarter – the longest drought was at least five minutes.
The worst drought of Miller’s tenure at Indiana came against Rutgers in Year Two, on Jan. 30, 2019, when Indiana scored with 3:58 left in the first half on a layup from Al Durham, then the team didn’t score again until there was 14:29 remaining in the game, when Romeo Langford hit a three, which sandwiched a 22-0 Rutgers scoring run.
The Hoosiers’ worst drought this season came against Ohio State, when Al Durham hit a three with 17:26 left in the first half to give Indiana a 6-2 lead, but the Hoosiers didn’t score again until Trayce Jackson-Davis made a free throw with 10:04 left in the half.
Other notable droughts include last season’s Jimmy V Classic matchup against UConn, when Durham hit a jumper with 15:22 to play in the second half and Indiana didn’t score again until Jerome Hunter scored with 8:06 to play, and the Hoosiers’ game against Purdue last February, when Durham sank a pair of free throws with 1:01 to play in the first half, giving Indiana 20 points – a point total it held onto until there was 13:37 to play.
In Miller’s six seasons at Dayton, the Flyers ranked first or second in conference-only adjusted offensive efficiency in five of those seasons, and Miller’s first three teams at Dayton finished the season ranked No. 29, No. 28 and No. 37, respectively, in adjusted offensive efficiency – better than the 2021 Hoosiers, which currently have the best national ranking (46th) of any of Miller’s Indiana teams.
But Indiana’s offense hasn’t found a similar status in the Big Ten as Miller’s previous teams at Dayton held in the Atlantic 10, with this season’s squad projecting to be the first that will finish in the upper half of the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Hoosiers are currently sixth at 102.1 points per 100 possessions, ahead of Rutgers at No. 7 (100.2).
Despite Jackson-Davis, who’s the No. 8 player in kenpom.com’s national player of the year standings, and despite the Hoosiers making a marginal but meaningful improvement to their three-point shooting (34.7 percent this season, up from 31 and 32 percent in the last three seasons), Indiana’s longest scoring drought each game this season is, on average, longer than that of the 2018 and 2019 Hoosiers, and on par with the 2020 team.
As Miller’s fourth season at Indiana nears its conclusion, the available data suggests that the further into his tenure you examine, the longer the team’s worst scoring droughts each game, on average.