Can Interim Head Coach Byron Rimm II keep the Jaguars on track?
When IUPUI finished its 2019 season, there was reason for optimism. Despite front court starters Evan Hall and Ahmad Ismail and Horizon League All-Defensive team guard D.J. McCall running out of eligibility, it seemed the team could move up the league standings thanks to some strong transfers and the return of All-Horizon League guard Camron Justice. Over the course of the offseason, that outlook changed dramatically.
While the Jaguars offseason isn’t going as badly as Horizon League foe Cleveland State’s, a consistent stream of noteworthy events is making it feel even more chaotic. First, Justice announced his intent to transfer to Western Kentucky. He led the Jaguars with 18.6 points and 2.9 assists per game, chipping in 3.4 rebounds per game. His departure leaves an unexpected 32.7 extra minutes per game open in the IUPUI backcourt and dramatically alters the Jaguars’ expectations this season.
Nick Rogers joined Justice in the Transfer Portal, eventually deciding to stay close and commit to NAIA school Marian University in Indianapolis. Normally losing a player to the NAIA wouldn’t seem like a major blow, but the graduation of McCall and the transfer of Justice complicated things. The rising senior Rogers, who averaged 4.5 points per game as a junior after starting 25 games as a sophomore, seemed likely to see a nice increase in minutes as a senior. The timing of this transfer — announced in July — did seem to indicate that newcomers Mike DePersia, Calvin Temple and Jamil Jackson might be taking more of the backcourt minutes than Rogers would’ve liked heading into his senior year.
Nearing the end of August, IUPUI looked to be in the middle of a pretty standard offseason for a mid-major school. Losing an All-League talent to graduate transfer is a tough blow, but it’s not an abnormal occurrence in a league like the Horizon. Things took a turn away from standard when head coach Jason Gardner announced he was resigning his position following an OWI arrest in late August.
Cleveland State tested the limits for how late you could replace your coach when it fired Dennis Felton in late July, and IUPUI apparently determined that heading into September was too late for a staff overhaul. Associate Head Coach Byron Rimm II was named the school’s interim head coach for the upcoming season. With a decade of Division I head coaching experience, Rimm has the the head of the Jaguars’ bench in a surprisingly good spot given how late the change occurred. The fact that one of the two remaining assistants at IUPUI has only been on the job a few months could be difficult to overcome, but not many mid-majors can rely on someone with so much experience to be ready to step in for a situation like this.
Finally, as is common with any coaching change the fallout of Gardner’s departure wasn’t complete when he left his post. Promising incoming freshman Calvin Temple — who cited his relationship with Gardner as a reason for committing to the Jaguars when he signed his Letter of Intent — announced his transfer a week after Gardner’s resignation. One of the players who appeared to push Rogers out is now leaving as well, and IUPUI enters the season with a much thinner backcourt than anticipated.
Marcus Burk – Burk spent two seasons knocking down three-pointers next to Big South Player of the Year Chris Clemons at Campbell before transferring to play for the Jaguars. The Indianapolis native seems like a strong candidate to lead IUPUI in scoring; he finished his sophomore year at Campbell averaging 14.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while hitting over 40% of his 226 three-pointers on the year.
Alonzo Tyson – Tyson joins IUPUI after spending the last two years at Colorado State. He initially joined the Rams as a member of their 2017 recruiting class, but suffered a season-ending injury during the summer and was forced to redshirt. Last year, he played in 13 games as a redshirt junior. Prior to his stint at Colorado State, Tyson spent two seasons at Cape Fear Community College.
Isaiah Williams – After initially enrolling at Akron, Isaiah Williams transferred to Liberty. He averaged 4.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14 minutes per game as a freshman before transferring again, this time to IUPUI. As a proven contributor at this level, the 6-foot-8 forward should be a productive player for a Jaguar team replacing so much talent.
Jamil Jackson – While Southern Utah transfer Jamil Jackson isn’t likely going to start for IUPUI, his versatility will make him a welcome addition to the Jaguars’ roster. Jackson averaged 2.8 points in 14.2 minutes through five games as a sophomore in 2017 before he suffered a season ending injury. While the IUPUI’s top talent is mostly made up of guards that hover around 6 feet tall, the 6-foot-6 Jackson gives Byron Rimm an option off the bench if an opponents’ size is getting the best of the smaller lineup.
Mike DePersia – Nobody seems to stand to gain more from the transfers of Justice, Temple and Rogers than incoming freshman DePersia. What was once a crowded backcourt with 8 players vying for minutes is now down to 5. With Weatherford, Minnett and Burk likely to start – and with two of them already playing significant minutes last year – there may be backcourt opportunities open for the 5-foot-10 point guard from New Jersey this season.
Grant Weatherford – IUPUI’s point guard played more minutes than any returning player. He finished second on the team behind Justice with 2.5 assists per game, but his 1.67 assist:turnover ratio was by far the best in IUPUI’s lineup. While Minnett and Burk will do plenty of ball handling this year, Weatherford should end up the team’s undisputed floor general.
Jalen Minnett – Although Minnett was a hugely impactful player for the Jaguars last season; he was providing his punch off the bench while spelling Weatherford, Justice and D.J. McCall. This year, he’s a dark horse to keep IUPUI represented on the All-Horizon League team. The loss of so much production from last year could generate a big bump to Minnett’s stats. The biggest factors in determining if Minnett can earn All-League honors seem to be IUPUI’s final standings and an incoming transfer with a proven track record. If the Jaguars finish in the league’s basement, Minnett’s best shot at All-League honors would involve him being among the league’s top scorers. His ability to get there may depend on fellow scoring guard Marcus Burk.
Marcus Burk – Burk joins IUPUI as one of the highest profile transfers in the conference. As a proven scorer for a team on-par with IUPUI, Burk should be able to produce similar numbers with the Jaguars as long as his shooting stats weren’t the result of the NBA talent Clemons giving him open looks that he won’t have this year. If Minnett and Burk aren’t able to lead IUPUI to another year in the middle of the Horizon League standings, Burk’s scoring will likely limit Minnett’s statistical improvement and could keep both from earning All-League honors.
Alonzo Tyson – While Tyson’s numbers at Colorado State don’t jump off the page, the same can be said for IUPUI’s returning front court talent that is competing for this spot. It’s also not likely that the North Carolina native would’ve opted to spend his last year in Indianapolis unless major minutes were in play. Isaiah Williams could also be in the running for this spot, but with IUPUI’s undersized starting backcourt and Williams’ perimeter-oriented skillset the Jaguars may be better suited letting him split time between both forward roles.
Elyjah Goss – Goss began last season as a starter for the Jaguars before the emergence of Ahmed Ismail caused his minutes to drop as the season went on. Still, Goss finished the year as the Jaguars’ leading rebounder. He averaged 6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year. With Ismail and Ethan Hall out of eligibility, Goss is by far the most established big man remaining on the Jaguars’ roster and seems like an obvious pick to start this year.
The offseason wasn’t kind to IUPUI. While the Jaguars needed to replace several key players due to graduation, avoiding unexpected departures would have dramatically changed the team’s outlook this year. A backcourt rotation featuring Weatherford, Burk, Minnett and Camron Justice would have been a nightmare for Horizon League foes. The team would still need to figure out its front court, but that’s true for most other teams in the league who don’t have the same firepower. While Justice’s departure was the most “normal” part of IUPUI’s offseason, it completely altered expectations for this year and things only went downhill from there.
The last-minute shakeup to the coaching staff may be the final nail in the coffin for IUPUI’s chances to contend this year. While coach Rimm has a wealth of experience, his elevation to Interim Head Coach leaves the rest of the bench without much at all. Matt Dunn spent six seasons as an assistant at Northern Arizona before joining the IUPUI staff last year, but de-facto second assistant Isaac Loechle was just promoted less than a month before Gardner’s departure after a single season as the Jaguars’ Director of Operations. New Director of Operations Aaron Evans was added to the staff from NAIA school Marian College just days before Gardner resigned.
The end result of the offseason upheaval at IUPUI is a roster full of new faces that will need to become cohesive with the help of a shorthanded and inexperience staff. A season that was already looking like an uphill battle with Jason Gardner running the show now looks like one that could go off the rails in an instant.
Prediction: Ninth Place
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