Miller provides silver lining with mindset on ‘O’
Despite its fourth straight loss and dropping again into the bottom third of the Big East, the Rutgers men’s basketball team likely saw a moment for optimism Wednesday from Dane Miller.
The senior wing, long known to defer to teammates for scoring, took eight shots at Cincinnati — only the third time Miller has done so in Big East play.
Head coach Mike Rice laments the Scarlet Knights’ lack of consistent scorers outside of his top-two options, and Miller likely took heed. Rice told The Home News Tribune earlier in the week that he planned to make Miller more of a ball-handler as the conference season reaches its midway point.
Miller showed more glimpses as a point forward against Cincinnati, pushing the Knights away from their typical perimeter-heavy offense.
Few in the Big East possess Miller’s size at 6-foot-6 and ball-handling ability. Miller grew up idolizing LeBron James’ passing habits, according to Syracuse guard Brandon Triche, a former AAU teammate of Miller’s.
But lately Miller has gotten lost in Rutgers’ offense.
It is an inescapable quality for Miller, who is susceptible for long stretches on offense without making his mark. But he was active against Cincinnati, helping lead the Knights to a 30-22 halftime lead.
His numbers — 2-for-8 shooting, two assists and three turnovers — were not impressive, but his willingness to become more aggressive shows he is more self-aware.
Rice prodded Miller throughout last season, looking for any way to spark the Rochester, N.Y., native.
But Miller’s motivation is likely internal.
He revealed Oct. 17 during Big East Media Day that he struggled with confidence issues during the last two seasons, when he averaged 9.2 and 7.9 points, respectively.
That number is down to 7.4 points per game this season, a career low.
Several factors likely lead to Miller’s slim offensive production.
Rutgers’ trio of sophomore guards account for most of its ball-handling. Outside of second-chance points, Miller usually scores by creating his own shots.
A lack of low-post scoring means defenders can ride the Knights’ perimeter, slacking off from defending the rim. Junior forward Wally Judge’s 7.4 points per game are the lowest from a post player during Miller’s four-year career.
And four-game losing streaks usually have an effect on offensive fluidity.
Rutgers has not scored more than 66 points during its four-game slide, losing by an average of 8.75 points.
Miller’s revival could have an impact on Rice’s job security, which Athletic Director Tim Pernetti put to rest when he announced Rice’s three-game suspension Dec. 13.
Rice understands he needs production from Miller — or any third or fourth scorer — for Rutgers to have a legitimate opportunity at a postseason tournament. Rice has had eight of his own scholarship players for nearly two seasons.
While Rice arrived at Rutgers in 2010 as a defensive-minded coach — Rutgers ranks 14th in the Big East in scoring defense — his offense has slowed from its blistering nonconference pace.
He would likely want to charge Miller with the offense’s return, but recent history should caution him.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.