PantherU is taking every weekday to break down a different opponent of the Milwaukee Panthers. We’re going in chronological order. Up next, IUPUI.
Opponent #1: IUPUI Jaguars, November 18th, US Cellular Arena
Ron Hunter spent a very large portion of the past two decades as head coach of the Summit League’s IUPUI Jaguars. So it was a bit of a surprise when the noted good samaritan took his feet down to Georgia State of the CAA last spring. His replacement, Todd Howard, spent 16 years at IUPUI as an assistant and associate head coach, so the Jaguars have been prepared for this for awhile, but it’s still a surprising move outside of Indy. The Jaguars are set at most positions and, unlike the Huskies who also went through a coaching transition, aren’t expected to fall off.
– Key player: Alex Young. The senior wingman does it all for IUPUI. At 6’6” and 200 lbs., Alex Young is an iron man for the Jags. Young rarely comes off the court, averaging 31.6 minutes last season as a junior. The hometown wing was first on the team with 19.7 ppg in 2010-11, and no player in the country comes into this season having scored as many points as Alex Young, who has 1,633 to his name already. Head coach Todd Howard had this to say to IUPUIJags.com. “He’s worked tremendously on his perimeter game and is one the premier slashers in the nation. Plus, he’s really focused on all the other ways to score, whether it be putbacks, getting to the (free throw) line and finishing in transition. In the jump from his freshman to sophomore year, we talked a lot about finding extra opportunities to score.”
– Wanted: dimes. Starting point guard John Ashworth, who led the team with 96 assists last season, has departed. That leaves a hole to fill in the starting lineup. Stephen Thomas could move from shooting guard over to the point, but that just moves the hole over to shooting guard. That role could be filled by Sean Esposito, the junior who scored the most amount of points outside the starting lineup. Sophomore Donovan Gibbs could also be that guy for the Jaguars if they wanted to go big, moving Young down to shooting guard.
– Sophomore Surge. IUPUI players in the past have blossomed as sophomores. Alex Young did it, now San Antonio Spurs George Hill did it, and so did a slew of others. Among the crop of sophomores-to-be, Donovan Gibbs looks to be the one to make the jump. With an opening on the wing, Gibbs has the opportunity to move himself into major playing time this season.
– Long, athletic, fast. They definitely have big bodies – Cameron Loepker, a junior center who started at IUPUI, left, and came back, is 6’9” and 275 – but their real strength is long, quick athletes. Christian Siakam led the team with 6.9 rpg but was extremely athletic in the paint doing so, grabbing 108 offensive rebounds on the season. P.J. Hubert, Marcellus Barksdale, Nick Kitcoff, Gibbs, and Lyonnell Gaines provide Howard with a lot of long bodies to throw at Milwaukee’s taller players. IUPUI has a lot more height than the average Horizon League team.
– Prediction. IUPUI was 19-14, dropping off from the previous 25-11 campaign and finished out of the postseason. They lost second-leading scorer Leroy Nobles and while they seem to just plug someone in as needed, they don’t scream depth with only five returnees averaging at least 10 minutes per game played. The Jags slapped around Green Bay last season, but that was their only D-I victory prior to the start of the conference season. I expect they will put up a fight – perhaps Young will score 20-plus – but I also expect we will win.
Panthers 76, Jaguars 70