Marcus Burk a potential star at IUPUI

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Could the Campbell transfer be an All-League talent?

Mid-Major basketball can be brutal.

Less than six months ago, the IUPUI Jaguars looked to be positioned for an entertaining season, even if the team didn’t have the look of a Horizon League contender. All-League Defensive Team pick D.J. McCall graduated, but Campbell transfer Marcus Burk was set to enter IUPUI’s rotation in his place. Burk is a sharpshooting transfer who averaged 14.8 points per game as a sophomore at Campbell, largely due to his 40.8% volume shooting from beyond the arc.

Losing front court starters Evan Hall and Ahmed Ismail to graduation wasn’t going to make the Jaguars a better team, but it definitely would’ve put the team in a position to run and gun. The entertainment value possible with an IUPUI roster featuring Burk, floor general Grant Weatherford, All-League scoring guard Camron Justice and 2019 Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year Jaylen Minnett would’ve been off the charts even if the team struggled to hit .500.

Then Justice had to go and transfer.

That decision and the mess of an offseason that followed for IUPUI has changed everything for the Jaguars. The biggest season-altering news occurred just over a month ago when head coach Jason Gardner resigned following an OWI arrest. Promising recruit Calvin Temple left in the wake of Gardner’s resignation. Reserve guard Nick Rogers opted to transfer in July, seemingly due to incoming talent like Temple taking away his minutes.

While Gardner’s departure is obviously the biggest issue, otherwise seemingly small moves by backup guards became a major problem for the Jaguars without Justice. Both Minnett and Burk now seem destined for the starting lineup and the guard depth is severely depleted. It’s not an ideal situation for a team that only has one semi-established front court player returning next year.

But one of the two players who stands to gain the most from Justice’s departure is Burk. Despite boasting one of the nation’s top scorers — current Houston Rockets guard Chris Clemons — Campbell actually played with a pretty deliberate pace while Burk was there. The Camels finished the 2018 season ranked 254 in the nation in possessions per game. Campbell was also about the same quality of team in 2018 as IUPUI was last year. It seems Burk could put up numbers similar to — if not better than — what he did for Campbell in 2018 on the Jaguars this season.

Determining how impactful Burk will be for the Jaguars is a little difficult, as the translation of his success will largely depend on whether Clemons was helping or hurting his stats at Campbell. Obviously, an NBA talent on a Big South roster attracted a lot of defensive attention. Are Burk’s shooting numbers inflated by having regular open looks as the result of playing next to an NBA talent? Or did he lose opportunities next to a guy who attempted almost 17 shots per night?

Burk’s 14.8 points per game would have left him tied for twelfth in the Horizon League with UIC guards Marcus Ottey and Godwin Boahen, and those numbers were produced next to a score-first point guard Clemons in an offense that was comfortably in the bottom third for pace of play in the NCAA. IUPUI finished last year ranked 101 in pace of play, so it’s easy to see Burk’s numbers improving on a much faster paced team and without a 25+ point per game scorer next to him.

While Justice would’ve taken opportunities from Burk, it’s even easier to see the Campbell transfer putting up ridiculous numbers on a team that’s so perimeter-oriented that it its best strategy is likely to give Green Bay — ranked sixth in the nation in possessions per game last year — a run for its money in terms of tempo.

The other side of the argument is that having Chris Clemons next to him allowed Burk to make open looks he wouldn’t get if he weren’t playing next to the best player on the court almost every night. Jaylen Minnett is a very good player, but he’s not even in the same stratosphere as Clemons. Tighter defense could cause Burk’s efficiency to decline, potentially offsetting the differences in pace and turning him into an inefficient player with pretty impressive counting stats.

Ultimately, the difference in pace of play and the likelihood that IUPUI will take a step back from where it’s been the last two years indicate that Burk will have the opportunity to finish much higher in the Horizon League scoring rankings than the 12th place tie he would’ve finished in by replicating his Campbell numbers. He may not be as efficient as he was with the Camels, but he shot 40% on three-pointers both years there. There’s a lot of room for his shooting to fall off while still being an efficient three-point shooter.

That’s where Camron Justice’s transfer could become a blessing and a curse for Burk. Justice leaving could open up a lot of scoring opportunities, possibly even allowing him to post better numbers than Justice had when he earned Second Team All-Horizon League last year. It will also severely limit the upside of the Jaguars. Only two HoriZone Roundtable pollsters picked IUPUI to finish higher than 9th place in the Preseason Poll. For a player on a bottom-feeder team to earn All-League honors, his numbers have to jump off the page. While Burk Should be an excellent scorer for IUPUI, he probably won’t be scoring 20 or 25 points on a nightly basis. As a result, he probably won’t make the team unless IUPUI can shock everyone and stick closer to .500 in Horizon League play.

Whether he makes it or not, Marcus Burk does have the look of a player who will garner All-League votes that is likely being overlooked now. Like Milwaukee’s Te’Jon Lucas, Burk’s resume indicates he’ll put up the necessary numbers. Like Lucas, because he hasn’t done it in front of league coaches and administrators yet he probably won’t even get votes in the preseason.

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