Maybe IUPUI is better than we thought?

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Jaguars could play spoiler despite front court production lacking

After we released our Horizon League Preseason Poll and IUPUI season preview, we heard from Jaguars players who weren’t pleased with our ninth place prediction. 

While time will tell, we may eat crow on that pick. 

IUPUI defeated defending CBI champion South Florida 70-53 on Wednesday. Marcus Burk again demonstrated his go-to scoring ability, leading the team with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting. In what’s becoming a predictable theme for the Jaguars this year, Burk and last year’s Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year Jaylen Minnett led the way offensively. Minnett scored 17 points in the victory.

While Burk wound up shouldering the scoring load for the Jaguars, he got off to a slow start. Without 15 first half points from his running mate Minnett, the result of what wound up a convincing win could’ve been in doubt all-together. Minnett hit four first half three-pointers to bring the Jaguars into halftime with a 38-37 lead. Burk had five points with two minutes left in the first half before a pair of baskets got him to double digits just before the break. 

On paper, the victory is the Horizon League’s most impressive of the year. The Bulls entered the season number 76 on KenPom, though a preseason injury to last year’s leading rebounder and double-double machine Alexis Yetna left the Bulls’ preseason rankings poorly aligned with the team on the court. South Florida has dropped to over 50 spots to 126 already in Yetna’s absence. USF is currently two spots above Northern Kentucky on KenPom, but given that they’re one spot behind the Bradley team that beat IUPUI 90-56 on Saturday the Bulls might not be done falling in the rankings just yet.

One of the more interesting aspects of this year’s results is that both the positives and negatives for IUPUI are exactly what they appeared to be before the season, but the team has already punched well above it’s weight class. Minnett and Burk are standout scorers who can both take over games and give IUPUI a chance in games where the team is on the wrong end of a drastic talent mismatch. Their talent was clear, but it seemed like the team was lacking elsewhere in a way that would leave it vulnerable to getting run out of the gym by better teams in the league. 

On the flip side, the front court really hasn’t established itself. Zo Tyson has made some nice hustle plays — particularly during his eight point, five rebound outing against Butler last week — and could get a sneaky double-double on occasion, but so far he hasn’t delivered consistent production. Last night IUPUI’s front court players Tyson, Elyjah Goss and Taveion White combined for five points and six rebounds while shooting 2-for-6 from the field in a combined 33 minutes. The trio committed five fouls between them in that time, yet the Jaguars ran away with the victory. 

While IUPUI’s overall resume still doesn’t instill much hope that they’ll be contending for the top half of the league, Wednesday night’s result seems to indicate that they could be more than a hapless bottom feeder and could instead turn out how many view Detroit Mercy. Instead of getting run over by the top half of the league, hot nights from Burk and/or Minnett could result in upsets and a much more respectable league record. 

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