Team preview: IUPUI Jaguars

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


Todd Howard knew the transition from long-time assistant to head coach would be a significant one, but he still embraced the idea of being promoted from within a program rather than hired from outside of one, because it made it that much easier to hit the ground running.

The administrative workload was bigger than he was used to, but he at least had a general idea of whom to speak to about what issues. He didn't have to wonder whether the players on his team fit his system, because his system and previous coach Ron Hunter's system were one in the same.

"I had such a great relationship with the players through the recruiting process and through coaching them," Howard said. "It wasn't like I was coming in and meeting the team in the first meeting, and wondering if these guys can play the way I want to play. I had a pretty good feel for the pieces."

But Howard did admit that having a good feel for the pieces made him believe that those pieces were better than they actually were, and most notably, that he had more experience than he actually did.

IUPUI Jaguars

At first glance, Howard appeared to have everything in place for a team that could at least challenge for a Summit League title. He had a senior post man (Christian Siakam) a senior point guard (Stephen Thomas) and a senior wing who was one of the most prolific scorers in Alex Young, who finished 13th in the nation with his average of 20.4 points per game.

But what Howard didn't recognize at first glance is that he didn't have much experience after those three. Of the other six players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game, only one was a junior, and he had joined the program as a walk-on. Three were sophomores who either hadn't played much as freshmen or transferred from other programs. The rest were freshmen.

"One thing that struck me that I didn't recognize right away was our youthfulness," Howard said. "I didn't realize that we did not have a recruited scholarship junior on our roster."

He realized it once the Jaguars started losing close games, and they lost many. Of the 18 they dropped during the 2011-12 season, nine were by fewer than 10 points and six were by five points or fewer. Oral Roberts and Western Illinois both beat the Jaguars with shots at or close to the buzzer.

"We had some tough stretches where it was not that we played poorly," Howard said. "Some games we lost literally at the buzzer. We played well enough to win and we were winning most of the game. One game we led wire-to-wire and the only lead they had was at the buzzer. That's tough to stomach, because I knew how hard we worked and how well we played. We were better than our record indicated. I'm a believer that usually the bounces even out over the year, but we lost that by a landslide. Our bounces did not even out at all. I look over our games and the box scores, and I'm still looking for the first break we got."

Howard believes he now has a team better built for those situations even though he lost those three critical cogs from last year's group. He has three seniors and a much more significant core of juniors that saw extended playing time last year, and believes all of that makes this team stronger top to bottom.

A year ago, 6-1 junior Ian Chiles (10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg) was one of those players who had not been through the wars. The Louisville, Ky., native played at Wabash Valley Junior College as a freshman, where he was a second-team all-conference pick. He started 28 of 32 games last season. Though Young was carrying most of the load, Chiles was perhaps the Jaguars' most efficient perimeter scorer, shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 41.5 percent (34 of 82) from beyond the 3-point arc while also being one of the Jaguars' best options on the other side of the floor.

"About 99 percent of the time, he defended the other team's best player," Howard said. "He can defend any position from one through three and he did a great job of that as a sophomore. He has a chance to be one of the best on-ball defenders we've had in a long time if not the best. He has great hands, he's great at positioning. He's extremely athletic, and he can even handle some of the rigors of playing in the paint down low. He's a very versatile player."

Even though Young is gone, the Jaguars made sure Chiles will still be paired with another talented wing by adding 6-2 Purdue transfer John Hart, who took advantage of the option to transfer after earning his degree. Hart, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection averaged just 2.6 points per game in 63 games at Purdue, but six times in his career he came off the bench to score double-digits, and he proved to be a solid defender. Dropping down to the mid-major level will certainly mean more minutes and more of an opportunity to prove himself.

"He can shoot the ball," Howard said. "And he played at Purdue, so you know he understands defending. I think this is going to be a great situation for him. He was beset by a few injuries, and there was a numbers crunch. It was not a situation where he wasn't ready when called upon. As a staff and a program, we're tickled to death to have him."

The Jaguars don't have quite as much experience at the point guard position, but Howard is still pleased with what he has. Greg Rice (2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a 5-11 junior, and 6-0 sophomore Jordan Shanklin (0.9 ppg, 0.2 rpg) both saw some floor time last year but not much. Rice, more of a combo guard, had to start four games at the point when Shanklin and starter Stephen Thomas were injured. Shanklin broke his hand in October. He still played in 16 games and started one, but he missed most of October and November and it was clear the lost time cost him. He had a total of 14 points and 10 assists in 16 games.

Howard was pleased with the progress of both point guards in the ofseason, however, and that he also likes the depth that 6-2 freshman Cortell Busby brings. Busby was the best defender at Fishburne Military School in Virginia, a prep academy that sent 13 players to Division I in 2011-12.

Howard also likes his depth at the rest of the guard spots. Sean Esposito (4.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg), a 6-3 senior, is a former walk-on but also a reliable spot-up shooter. He hit on 28 of his 70 3-point attempts (.400).

Sophomore swingman Marcellus Barksdale (3.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg), 6-5, came off the bench to play every position from point guard to power forward last season. Freshman Linwood Ross, Jr., 6-5, was an all-state pick at Westminster Academy in Florida, and Howard believes he has a chance to be an elite scorer.

Like most teams at their level, the Jaguars don't have a lot of pure post men. There are only two players on the roster who stand taller than 6-7 and none taller than 6-9. Mitchell Patton (3.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg), a 6-9, 245-pound junior, at least gives them a center with some experience, but the emphasis is on the word "some." He averaged 10.3 minutes per game last season.

The only other 6-9 player is junior Cameron Loepker, (6-9, 275) who initially enrolled at IUPUI in 2008 but transferred to Indiana's South Bend branch campus before eventually ending up back at IUPUI. He's played just one college season in all that time.

The Jaguars have a few players who can fit in at small or power forward.

Lyonell Gaines (6.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), a 6-6 sophomore, returns after 27 games as a freshman. Junior Donovan Gibbs (3.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg), a 6-7 junior, also got some experience; he played in 31 games and started five times.

Add to that group 6-6, 230-pound freshman Elijah Ray, who starred on two Bowman Academy teams that reached the Class A finals in Indiana.

"Donovan has great range and he can be a great pick-and-pop guy," Howard said. "And Lyonell is a little different, but he's just relentless on the glass."






The Jaguars find out quickly if they will be a better team without Young and with a more balanced approach. They play in the Michigan regional of the Preseason NIT and have a difficult slate of in-state non-conference games before conference play starts with cross-city foe Butler, Indiana State, Valparaiso and Ball State all on the schedule for the first time ever. They will also play a guarantee game at Maryland -- facing an ACC foe for just the second time ever -- and will host Bradley in an ESPNU BracketBuster rematch.

But with more juniors and players who have been through the wars, Howard thinks this team is more ready than his first.

"At this level you count on juniors and seniors and the freshmen and sophomores wait their turn," Howard said. "We didn't have as much of that last season. This year we do."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.