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Know Your Non-Conference Opponent: IUPUI

They can't all be Duke, but that doesn't mean they aren't all worth taking an in depth look at.

Dispensing Justus
Dispensing Justus
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The season, we're often told, is a marathon and not a sprint, and unless you have Sammy Wanjiru skills (God rest the dead), there are going to be times in a marathon where you're not going to be able to be putting it down at full capacity. Sometimes you just have to come down off the pace just a hair so you can grab that six-ounce cup of Gatorade some volunteer hands you so you can keep going for the full course. For Xavier this season, those six ounces of diluted electrolytes come in the form of the Jaguars of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

In that IUPUI is more a place where you begin than a place you set out to end up, it's perhaps not surprising that this is Coach Jason Gardner's first gig as a D1 head coach. Gardner is also at or near the front of what I'm sure will be an ever-increasing wave I guys I watched play that later become coaches, as he was a four-year All-American at Arizona.

Gardner has actually never been a head coach at any level, so it's difficult to discern what his style may be. He will no doubt be influenced by the philosophies of his own college coach, Lute Olsen, as well as Loyola's Porter Moser and Memphis's Josh Pastner, under whom he served as an assistant. His coaching career began just four seasons ago with a role as an assistant at a local high school; jumping from that to a division one head coach in that amount of time is no mean feat.

Losing your leading scorer is not a dream scenario for a coach, but the transfer of guard Ian Chiles to Tennessee might be a blessing in disguise for Gardner. Chiles put up 15.8/3.2/1.8, but did it on a gruesome .419/.314/.677 shooting line, posting an ORtg of 91.4 despite taking almost a third of the team's shots when he was on the floor. He was very good at avoiding turnovers, but his nightmarish inefficiency when he shot dragged his value down, and his departure opens up a lot of shots for the guys who came back.

Also on his way out - though via graduation - is bruising forward Mitch Patton, who was good for 12.4/5.6/0.6 on .497/.000/.714 shooting. That shooting percentage is low for a big man, but he was the team's best offensive rebounder and shot blocker. Six foot guard Ja'Rob McCallum struggled with injuries all season but averaged 8.8/1.9/1.2 on .439/.400/.941 shooting during his time on the floor, coming second on the team in made three-pointers despite only playing 17 games.

The final meaningful loss was 6'7" wing Donovan Gibbs, who contributed averages of 7.1/4.6/0.7 to the cause via a shooting line of .500/.354/.745. He was also third on the team in made three-point baskets, total rebounds, and blocked shots.

Despite losing their two leading scorers, IUPUI brings back something that's almost as important, and that is guys with awesome names.

First up is Khufu Najee, a 6'4" guard. The rising senior averaged 9.9/2.7/1.9 on .433/.291/.813 shooting last year. He averaged only 2.2 fouls per 40 minutes, which helped him stay on the floor for 84% of the team's minutes. He is joined by leading rebounder and assist man Marcellus Barksdale, who led the team in minutes last season. The 6'5" rising junior averaged 8.6/6.8/3.7 on .419/.179/.720 shooting and was 63rd in the nation in FT rate, which measures how often a player gets to the line. He led the team in both DReb% and assist rate by huge margins, which is a statistical anomaly I can't explain with the information I have on hand.

And that's pretty much it for returning contributors. Six-foot-eight rising sophomore Justus Stanback warrants mention for continuing the theme of awesome names and appearing in every game, but he averaged 3 and 2 and shot 37% from the floor. Elijah Ray is a husky 6'6" wing who played in only 18 games last year, but he came on strong at the end, averaging over 9 PPG in conference play and shooting .449/.292/.815 on the season.

Incoming players:
There are a lot of here, and the eligibility situations are not quite clear in all cases, so bear with me. In addition to the players mentioned below, IUPUI will be carrying five transfers who will not be eligible to participate this season (I think).

IUPUI has three incoming transfers who will be eligible to play this season. The most immediately notable of these is DavRon Williams, a well-travelled 6'7" forward. He played his freshman year at Wabash Valley JuCo, averaging 8.7 and 4.8 on 66.1% shooting. After sitting out a season due to injury, he played a year at NC Central, averaging 1.6 and 2.0 on 57.9% shooting and getting five starts. His transfer to Davidson cost him a year of eligibility, so he comes in as a senior with potential to be influential on the front line.

Mason Archie, II is a 6'5" guard who transferred in from Davidson after two unspectacular seasons there. He has 21 points to his name on a career shooting line of .272/.571(!)/.833. He was also a member of the National Honor Society in high school and made the Academic Advisor's list at IUPUI last year for having a GPA of 3.0 or better. P.J. Boutte is a 5'9" guard who played two years for Detroit before sitting out last season per transfer rules. He averaged 1.4/0.9/1.3 in 8.8 minutes per game off the bench as a sophomore and is the owner of a .226/.152/.543 career shooting line.

The two freshmen on scholarship will be Aaron Brennan and D.J McCall. Brennan is a 6'6" forward who averaged 16.4/8.1/2.1 as a senior in leading his team to the state title. McCall is a 6'5" wing who averaged 18.9/8.7/2.9 as a senior and was selected to the Indiana All-Star Team.

I hate writing things like this, because I harbor no ill will towards anyone associated with the IUPUI basketball program and I'm sure they're mostly great guys who are working hard for something they sincerely enjoy, but I don't see any way the Jaguars aren't bad this year. Coming off of a near disastrous 6-26 campaign and going through meaningful turnover on the roster and in the coaching staff is not usually a recipe for immediate success. Maybe Coach Gardner and his team will surprise me, but it seems more likely that they will suffer through some growing pains this year.