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IUPUI Jaguars guard B.J. Maxwell talks with head coach Matt Crenshaw. Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

True grit is defined as having passion and perseverance. True grit is also now defined in the NCAA as being the 2021-22 IUPUI men’s basketball team.

Wait, who? Well, that would be the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars, who lost their Horizon League Tournament opener to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies 70-58. Now, you’re probably wondering how this shows any grit. Well, you need to know more about the team before you can appreciate why losing to Oakland by 12 points is gritty.

The Nightmare of A Year for IUPUI

IUPUI Jaguars guard B.J. Maxwell (00) is introduced before the game against the Milwaukee Panthers
Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

IUPUI was the worst team in all men’s college basketball during the 2021-22 season.

Before their conference tournament, IUPUI finished 3-25. Only one of those wins was against a Division I program. With only six players, they beat Robert Morris on February 17. The other two wins were against Spalding University, a Division-III school with an enrollment of just over 1300 students, and East-West University, a school part of the USCAA that has an enrollment under 1000 students.

Throughout the year, IUPUI began to shrink in size. By the beginning of February, IUPUI went from 13 players to six players. Injuries, amongst other unforeseen circumstances, plagued the team. It became so dire, that IUPUI had scheduled open tryouts the first week of February so any student could help them finish out the year. They ultimately decided to stick it out with the six remaining players they had on the team. And then six became five.

In their regular-season finale against Green Bay, IUPUI lost their sixth man to an injury just three minutes into the game. They were forced to complete the game with only five players, meaning no one got a breather.

Now that alone is impressive. And yes, Matt Crenshaw‘s Jaguars got crushed in that game, but they still played until the buzzer. What they did on that Tuesday, took true grit.

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IUPUI Jaguars player BJ Maxwell plays in 2022.
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As if going into a game with only five players wasn’t a challenge enough — they were the first D-I college hoops team to do so since 2000 –, IUPUI also had some travel problems to their game against Oakland.

Auburn Hills, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where Oakland University is located, is almost five hours north of Indianapolis. After three hours into the trip to the game, the bus was in Columbus, Ohio, almost three hours due east of Indianapolis. Apparently, the bus company got the wrong itinerary and went in the wrong direction.

Stir crazy and undermanned, IUPUI went into the game as severe underdogs. And this is where the true grit comes in. IUPUI actually made a game of it and even was in contention for most of it. Without any substitutes, IUPUI was only down five after the first half. They even scored more than their D-I worst 52.4 PPG.

Success Is Not Defined By The Win-Loss Column

The IUPUI Men's Basketball Team takes a breather during their 2022 season.
Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Jaguars ultimately lost by 12 points. But if a moral victory were ever to exist, IUPUI had one on in that game. After the tumultuous season IUPUI had, they had every legitimate reason to call it a year. No one would have blamed them. Yet, instead of just bowing down to the awful circumstances out of their control, IUPUI didn’t back down. With the NCAA Tournament out of reach, they fought against the odds and, despite still coming up short, fought until the very end.

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Rankings may show us how a team plays against stiff competition, and how they stack up against the rest of the pack. But standings and rankings don’t measure grit and heart. How IUPUI ended their season, with passion and perseverance, is what true grit and heart are all about in the game of college basketball.

MORE: College Basketball Referees Don’t Make Anywhere Near Enough

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Joseph Dalfonso is an unconventional triple-threat. Joseph grew up in the great beautiful state of Maine and now resides in New York City. Joseph is an avid New England sports fan who loves a good flannel every now and again.
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