Kevin Castaneda/Staff Writer
The FIU men’s basketball team needs to take some road safety courses if they want to survive the highway of wins and losses. Road wins in the Sun Belt Conference have been elusive for the Panthers, as they are 2-6 in conference games away from the U.S. Century Bank Arena. It is a stark difference when compared to their home conference record of 7-2.
Head Coach Richard Pitino has revitalized an program that was in complete disarray last year. But even with the abysmal 8-21 season Isaiah Thomas’s team put together last season, they were at least an even 4-4 in SBC road games.
Pitino has managed a 3-3 non-conference road record, which is much better than last season’s 1-5. However, conference games have the most meaning, since they are what sets up the seeding for SBC tournament play.
One primary reason for the team’s woes on the road might just be lack of rest. In the first month of play, the Panthers had to endure a six-game road trip, never having more than five days to recover. After going 2-4 during that 20-day span in December, the Panthers came back to the U.S. Century Bank Arena to rattle off three consecutive wins, and then pick one more on the road at Arkansas State on Jan. 10.
But on one day of rest, the Panthers lost to Arkansas-Little Rock. The same trend continued as they came back to Miami. and won two consecutive home games, then one on the road at Louisiana-Lafayette. This time, with only two days of rest on the road, the Panthers fell to South Alabama on Jan. 27.
Pitino has not completely bought into the notion that the losses are solely based on rest.
“I think if you look at it, you are playing Little Rock which is one of the best teams in the league at home. So you lose to a very good team, on the road,” Pitino said. “Then you go and lose to South Alabama in the last possession, on the road, to one of the better teams in the league.”
After nearly three months of play, the tendency to lose after short rest has not stopped. The Panthers demolished the Florida Atlantic Owls on Feb. 7, but with one day rest they lost by 10 on the road to North Texas.
“It’s hard to do what we did last game. Where we played at home on a Thursday, travel on a Friday and then you’ve got to play the next day, that’s hard to do,” Pitino said.
Pitino is certainly aware of the burden that traveling puts on his team when trying to prepare for games.
“We’ve got to try and watch more film and not practice as hard when you have one day prep,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to do more things in the film room to work mentally, instead of physically, but it’s very difficult.”
Even with four days of rest after the North Texas loss, the Panthers lost again on the road to the Troy Trojans on Feb. 14.
FIU traveled back home after the Thursday loss to face a tough Western Kentucky squad on Saturday. The one day rest could have been a problem for FIU, but playing at home has always been a boost for them. The Panthers pulled out an 87-82 win against the Hilltoppers.
Pitino has credited the fans as a factor for how teams perform.
“There is a difference of playing in front of a couple thousand people calling you every name in the book and booing you every time you make a shot, as opposed to when you have your family and friends supporting you,” Pitino said. “Certainly we are more comfortable playing at home.”
The significance of looking at FIU’s road record is that of the remaining three games the Panthers have to play, two are on the road. The final one will be against their instate rival, FAU. The Owls are just below the Panthers in the SBC standings, and they will be gunning for the number five seed that FIU is currently maintaining with their 9-8 conference record.