Jaguars show they’re building despite two more losses

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IUPUI dropped two more Horizon League contests last week but there are reasons for optimism. Yes, real reasons, not the contrived rose-colored reasoning one might expect from a consumate homer.

The Jaguars have had a rough go of it since the beginning of the 2021-22 season. No one thought it would be a quick turnaround. Nobody said it would be easy. But there are signs of life in Indianapolis.

Head Coach Matt Crenshaw inherited a less than ideal situation at a less than ideal time. Last season, IUPUI defeated only one Division I opponent (Horizon League foe Robert Morris) and famously played the final eight games with only six men. Of those who played, only Boston Stanton III returned to this year’s squad.

This season, on the surface, things don’t look a whole lot better. The Jags are 3-18 overall and 0-10 in League play. They are currently ranked 361st (of 363) by both KenPom and NET Rankings. And their upcoming Horizon League schedule isn’t doing them any favors.

After getting blown out by Cleveland State on January 14th, IUPUI responded with two of its best efforts of the season. The Jaguars led Oakland 68-65 with 13 seconds remaining in regulation Thursday, but Indiana native Jalen Moore knocked down an improbable 30-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

Oakland ultimately prevailed, but the Golden Grizzlies certainly got more than they bargained for from IUPUI.

Saturday’s battle with Detroit Mercy was a back and forth affair most of the way. The Jags led the Titans 65-64 with eight minutes remaining before Detroit rattled off a decisive run, pulling away at the very end.

The main reason IUPUI was more competitive is they shot the ball better. The Jaguars came in to those two contests with a season field goal percentage of .436 but they shot a combined .491 from the field against Oakland and Detroit. The Jags were noticably better from three point range as well. Crenshaw’s crew came into last week shooting just .269 from deep and making just over 4 tripples per game. But they knocked down a combined 13 threes and shot .382 last week.

Two freshman guards were a big reason for the welcome turnaround. Vincent Brady II was 4-9 (.444) from deep against Oakland and 2-5 (.400) against Detroit. Meanwhile DJ Jackson knocked down 3 of 5 (.600) from range against the Titans.

Sometimes it’s not very complicated. Better shooting – especially from deep – goes a long way toward keeping a team in games.

Former Coach Bob Lovell and current color commentator for IUPUI on ESPN+ noted that the Jags’ defensive intensity has also improved. The final opponent point tallies (83 and 89) may not necessarily reflect this but IUPUI did do a better job of contesting shots and closing down space.

It is not a strech to say that the Jaguars have some nice pieces in place. Sophomore Jlynn Counter has been covering at point guard since the Bryce Monroe injury. Last week, he score 45 total points and added a combined 12 assists and 8 rebounds. But more importantly, the Jaguar offense simply flows better when Counter is out there.

Senior Forward Chris Osten is a consistent force in the middle. He brings energy and effort to the table and is good for 10 points, 6 rebounds and a block on any given night. He is usuallly spelled by fellow 6’9″ Senior Jonah Carrasco who does more than simply occupy space and buy time. Carrasco is the team’s best shot blocker (16) despite only playing 16 minutes per game.

In addition to being the team’s most consistent perimeter shooter, Vincent Brady II is second on the team in Steals (21) and Rebounds (3.9), and is third in Assists (28). He’s also a high flyer who plays above the rim.

Sophomore forward John Egbuta is averaging 13.7 ppg in his last three outings and is quickly becoming one of the Jaguars’ primary weapons.

Junior guard Daylan Hamilton has also showed that he can score in bunches although he is currently dealing with an injury and hasn’t played since January 12th.

The Jags have 12 guys who average at least 10 minutes per game. They seem to have established an offensive identity as slashers who can get to the rim. Counter and Jackson both have shown a mid-range game that is seen less and less in an era where the three is king.

The bottom line is that this is a fun team to watch and things do genuinely seem to be moving in the right direction. If IUPUI continues to play the way they did last week they will have more Ws in the win column before all is said and done.

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