It’s hard to believe that the Jaguars finished in the top half of the Summit League this season, especially if you can remember that this program won a total of 12 basketball games over the course of two seasons when the Mavericks were just joining the Summit League. They continue to get better season after season, and 2016-2017 should be much of the same. If you watched their Summit League tournament game against North Dakota State, and that was all you saw of them, you would think they were back to being the worst team in the league.
The Jaguars only lose two seniors going into 2016-2017, though those players were both significant contributors, but the team should be even better in next season, on paper. Jason Gardner’s teams won 6 Summit League games in 2015 and 9 in 2016, it is not inconceivable to imagine that they can win 12 conference games in 2017. This is assuming the whole team doesn’t just quit or something.
This season was somewhat of a transition season for the Jaguars as they introduced introduced 7 new players to the basketball court. They tried to introduce all of these new players to their system by only playing two non-conference home games. This just sounds like an uphill battle. You could tell by the end of their non-conference season that the team had run out of steam. The Jaguars lost their final 5 non-conference road games by an average of 25 points. One of those losses was a 35 point loss to Creighton. Good for you Creighton. I’m glad you could find those games in your schedule that can benefit you.
What was most impressive to me about the Jaguars was how mature their players were on the basketball court. They got the luxury of having almost every freaking game on ESPN3, so they actually had one of the biggest spotlights on their players so it was a little more visible to see their maturity as opposed to a team like Denver, who was hardly on anything for Mav fans to watch. Their players hardly ever argued with the officials, they just played. Their players didn’t try and do things they were incapable of doing, you hardly saw them taking 30 footers or driving into the lane with three dudes on them. Their players handled post game interviews well, and you could tell how important basketball was to them. Everyone on their team also appeared as if they were 30 years old.
The Jaguars are going to have the most coming back to their roster in 2016. They lose Marcellus Barksdale, so their defense may not be as scrappy next season, but their offense shouldn’t miss much of a beat. Their offense may actually be better adding Syracuse transfer Ron Patterson to the lineup. Patterson was seldom used at Syracuse, and he shot a rather low percentage of 31% from the field in 14 minutes a game in his sophomore season at Syracuse. But believe me, if the Mavericks had a Syracuse transfer, you would be pumped…no matter how terrible his stats were at Syracuse.
This season the Jaguars had 4 players that were transfers that finally got to play. Darell Combs was a transfer from Eastern Michigan, he averaged 7.4 points per game in his sophomore season at EMU and then 16.3 points for the Jaguars in his junior season – which was 6th in the Summit League and will be the 2nd highest for any players returning to the league next season. The team also introduced three players from Loyola, where Gardner used to be an assistant coach.
Matt O’Leary became one of the most consistent post players in the league, he averaged 10.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists a game in the Summit – after averaging 4.2 points and 2 rebounds his sophomore season at Loyola. Nick Osborne added 8 points and 6 rebounds per game after averaging 5 and 4 in his sophomore season at Loyola. Osborne and O’Leary really have the potential to be the best forward combo down low in the league next year. Sophomore Jordan Pickett was hardly ever used at Loyola in his freshman season because of injuries, but he was able to score 9.4 points per game primarily off the bench for the Jaguars this season.
With a bulk of their lineup coming back, the Jaguars have the most they can throw at teams. They seem to already have 8 guys that build up a solid rotation. In addition to this, they have three freshman that are committed, yet they all seem like they are redshirt candidates at this point. Having your starting lineup established in April is never a bad thing for a team. Unless you’re the Huskers apparently…
Their roster is set, as long as no one transfers, so there is no room for a wave of incoming transfers going into next season. Aside from the mentioned players, the Jaguars have a good core of young guys to fill in the rest of their team. Sophomore Aaron Brennan was used as a smaller power forward, and really was the last post player that they used, but he filled in well for injured players this season. He had 10 points and 6 rebounds in the Jaguars’ win against the Mavericks. Freshman Evan Hall showed some promise, but missed 9 games this season with injuries. Hall was able to pull off four double digit scoring performances in his first season with the Jaguars. TJ Henderson was another freshman who showed some promise with 5 double digit scoring performances, he scored 16 points against the Mavericks in the absence of Jordan Pickett. DJ McCall did not get to play this season, but he averaged nearly 5 points per game in his freshman season with the Jaguars. He will be back next season, and at 6’5″ he may be able to make up for the loss of Barksdale.
This team will have chemistry, versatility, speed, and they will be able to throw several different combinations of lineups at teams next season. They did have to deal with a number of injuries this season, so that can be an issue for them. The Jaguars may have to face another difficult non-conference season next year, but they should be the Summit League favorite in 2016-2017; even though I am sure IPFW will be the team that everyone just pencils in as the preseason number one. The Jaguars swept the Mastodons in 2016.