The non-conference portion of the regular season is over for the FIU Panthers (6-2), and they’ll ride a winning record into 2021.
Once picked to finish 11th in the Conference USA, the Panthers are currently tied for fourth place in the conference. And if not for FIU losing by three points on the road and falling in double OT without their best player, they’d be undefeated.
Heading into the second half of the season, I’ll answer questions from Panther fans in my first ever mailbag.
What has impressed you the most with our basketball team? What needs to improve heading into conference play? – @FIUJM.
There’s a whole lot to be impressed with, but let me start off with the most eye-grabbing information.
FIU currently ranks third in the NCAA in three-point field goals made with 110 through eight games. Above the Panthers are San Francisco — 117 makes in 10 games — and Liberty — 116 makes in 10 games.
The Panthers are making threes at a high rate, shooting 38.5 percent from deep on 110-286 total shots. Their 18 drained threes versus Central Michigan came up one shy of the program record. And their 20 made threes versus Carver College broke the record.
Antonio Daye, a junior, has been exceptional in his first year as FIU’s primary scorer. He’s averaging 19.4 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 55.8 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from beyond the arc. Daye is without a doubt playing at an All-Conference level, and his ability to get to the rim with ease is making his teammate’s jobs easier and creating open shots.
FIU ranks No. 19 in the country in team effective field goal percentage. Redshirt junior Tevin Brewer and seniors Eric Lovett and Radshad Davis are all scoring over 10 points per contest and shooting over 35 percent from three.
Improvement wise, I’d love to see the Panthers not have to overcome so many late-game deficits. It’s easier said than done, but it’s something that must be addressed. In FIU’s 80-77 loss to North Florida, the Panthers trailed by 11 with 6:50 remaining in the match. They cut their deficit to as little as one with 1:29 to go, but were unable to close out the game.
The same occurred in FIU’s 103-99 2OT loss to Georgia Southern, as the Panthers shot 6-18 (33.3%) and trailed 35-24 in the first half. FIU had to play the rest of the game on edge and it took 14-23 (60.9%) shooting in the second period to just force overtime. Late game foul trouble for Daye, Lovett and Anthony Mason led to an ultimate defeat.
Even in wins versus Flagler and Jacksonville State, FIU played on their heels throughout the whole second half. But who knows, maybe the Panthers are just a better team in late-game situations.
Our men’s team is fun to watch, however struggle with big teams, especially when the 3’s aren’t falling. Can our style of up-tempo hoops work with us having bigs at the 3 & 4 spot? — @Eddie_FIU.
You’re absolutely right, Eddie. FIU is struggling to contain taller teams, and the main reason is because the Panthers aren’t very tall themselves.
FIU’s most used starting five, which consists of Antonio Daye, Tevin Brewer, Eric Lovett, Radshad Davis and Dimon Carrigan, consists of an average height of 6-foot-3. Carrigan, 6-foot-9, is averaging over 20 minutes for the first time in his collegiate career. He’s already missed two games this season, which serves as a setback as coach Jeremy Ballard looks to work out a consistent rotation.
With Carrigan out, FIU has turned to junior transfer Anthony Mason. At 6-foot-10, Mason provides length but is still raw in his first year with the Panthers.
FIU’s problems against taller teams could come to an end with the addition of mid-season transfer Bernie Andre. Andre, 6-foot-6, is the Panthers’ third-tallest player and make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. He averaged 11.2 points and 6.6 rebounds last season.
As for your question on FIU’s up-tempo offense working with bigs at the three and four spot, the Panthers are forced to make up for the height of Brewer, who’s 5-foot-8. Even then, I don’t think they’re going with a big at the three/SF or four/PF.
Lovett, 6-foot-5, has the height to play forward and is scoring very efficiently. Davis, 6-foot-4, has the size of a big at 205-pounds, but is realistically overmatched by other team’s forwards and centers. The good part about having Davis play PF is that he’s able to beat big men off the dribble and get to the rim.
The ideal situation would be for Carrigan to mirror what Osasumwen Osaghae did last season. Defensively, Osaghae’s 3.8 blocks per game led FIU to be the top shot-blocking team in the country. Offensively, Osaghae’s average of 13.0 points made opposing defenders worry about him at all times. Carrigan is currently averaging 8.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
If there was one home game in January that you wouldn’t want to miss, which one would it be and why? -Alex S.
FIU’s schedule in January includes C-USA teams with a combined record of 18-13 in non-conference play — Old Dominion 3-3, Middle Tennessee 2-4, FAU 5-3, Marshall 5-1 and Charlotte 3-3.
The Panthers have proved to be a dominant team at home, having finished 11-3 last season and are 5-1 this year at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center. With that said, their first real test at home will come against Marshall on Jan. 22 and Jan 23. Marshall has the best win percentage amongst teams that FIU will face in January, and also came into Miami and defeated the Panthers, 84-74, last season.
Not only will there be revenge on the mind of the Panthers, but a back-to-back at home against Marshall, the team that was projected to finish third in the C-USA, could help FIU.
The Panthers’ first series of 2021 against Old Dominion on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 is also must watch. FIU will be 11 days removed from their last game and will host Old Dominion, which is projected to finish fifth in the conference.
What new addition has excited you the most? – Michael Y.
One thing I love about Ballard’s style of coaching is that he gives every one of his players a chance to prove themselves. Usually, other D-1 coaches don’t clear their benches regularly, but Ballard does.
In doing so, I’ve come across some gems. The one that has stood out the most to me: true freshman Petar Krivokapic. Krivokapic was crucial in FIU’s late-game rally versus GSU, as he scored 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc in 32 minutes. He also knocked down five threes and notched 17 points in Monday’s win over Carver College.
At 6-foot-4, Krivokapic is listed as a guard, but could very well play a forward role in FIU’s up-tempo offense. He’s doing what he’s best at, which is hitting shots, as he’s converted 12-28 (42.9%) of his triples this season. Come conference tournament play, he could be a key rotational player if he commits fewer turnovers –also referred to as freshman mistakes.
Junior College transfer DJ Mitchell has also been an impact, as he’s averaging 8.3 points on 40.0 percent shooting from deep in six games and one start.