Panthers head back to the building blocks

Columnist Patrick Chalvire

Now many people probably wrote off the men’s basketball team since they weren’t going to be playing in the postseason, but despite a turbulent season, the Panthers did have some high moments and leave some hope for the future.

Granted, the team did finish a game under .500 with a 15-16 overall record and 7-9 in their first year in Conference USA, but when you account a new head coach and the loss of a point guard seven games into the season, you have to cut them some slack.

As my man Jay-Z would say, sort of, allow me to reintroduce to you what took place.

April 16 and in comes Brooklyn’s own, Anthony Evans. A no-name for those who only watch a basketball game to catch the Miami Heat, but a pretty good catch for the avid basketball fan.

Having taken Norfolk State through an undefeated season in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and being named the MEAC Coach of the Year in 2012-13, his move to FIU was one the program needed, after previous coach Richard Pitino took to the high road to Minnesota.

So starts the regular season. New coach, new players and the uncertainty of what to expect and honestly, there weren’t many expectations from anyone, even the players.

It was a slow start for the Panthers going 0-2 against Eastern Kentucky and Youngstown State, granted EKU is now dancing and a 16 seed in the tournament.

But low and behold, the team strikes gold early and here comes the winning streak. The Panthers went on a tear, winning six-straight games, three of them led by redshirt senior Rakeem Buckles, another newcomer to the squad having sat out last season and going through three season-ending injuries with Louisville.

Now their luck reached its end and they lose by 12 to South Carolina but the Gamecocks are not your pushover team with FIU alumnus Frank Martin at the helm, but the biggest loss for the week was to point guard Raymond Taylor.

A crazy and unique situation but one that would cause an effect even to the greatest of teams.

Now its been said that the point guard position is the head of the team. It controls the flow and tempo and frankly from what I saw prior to his abrupt exit, Taylor was also the heart. For the time being though.

Not your tallest guards but surely your loudest and at times showboating type of player. There’s even a YouTube video of him showing off his ball handling skills against guys who probably spend more time on a video game then they do on the court, but I’m just saying.

But a loss to a player, especially a starter, can be hurtful and at times it showed throughout the season.

In just six games as a Panther, Taylor averaged 12 points and just over six assists a game.  Not too shabby for the redshirt senior out of Florida Atlantic.

Forget about the blowout losses to Georgetown and Old Dominion, add in a few close losses that the Panthers could have won and this 15-16 team begins to look more like a 19-12 team; I added a few games the average “fan” may have missed for whatever reason, games they should have won minus mental mistakes and questionable shot selections.

Whether this same team would have been able to sneak their way into the conference tournament like their women counterparts? Well that’s the million-dollar question but this would have been their best year to do so.

Look ahead to next season and you lose more than you gain. Yes, they will be back in the hunt for a conference title and a chance at the end of the year prom, but they will be minus some stars.

First off, senior Tymell Murphy. The Brooklyn native will now be trying his hand at the NBA Draft. Murphy led the team in points, assists, steals and blocks per game. He also ended his career at FIU seventh all-time in scoring with 984 points and the leader in shooting percentage with 57.9 percent, better than former NBA stars Raja Bell and Carlos Arroyo.

Murphy also capped off the season earning Second-Team All-Conference USA honors. Last season, he earned First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference honors.

The Panthers will also lose Buckles, who started the season hot but seemed to struggle down the stretch. When asked earlier in the season if it was fatigue, Evans did allude to his injuries and time off the court being a possibility to his struggles.

Unless the NCAA decides to become the kind-hearted soul it isn’t, I don’t see them giving the Miami kid a medical year of eligibility. Had he sat out most of the season, then we might have something but I just don’t see it.

As for the bright spots for the future, I would say to look towards guards Dennis Mavin and Ray Rodriguez.

Rodriguez sat out this season after transferring from North Florida but word through the grapevine is he’s a consistent shooter from behind the arc.

As for Mavin, a year under his belt and averaging just less than 12 points per game in his first year will be beneficial. Curious to see how Evans sets his lineup. Freshmen Cody Mann and Jason Boswell saw playing time at the point guard position, a spot Rodriguez would also fit well in.

I would also expect to see Evans search for height in his recruiting. Adrian Diaz, a 6-10 transfer from Kansas State is expected to be in uniform next season but its been said that when it comes to recruiting, Evans is closed shut like Fort Knox.

Buckles’ 8.8 and Murphy’s 7.4 rebounds per game also ranked third and eighth respectively in the conference. No other Panther ranked in the top 20.

It seems as if every year is a new or rebuilding year and next season doesn’t seem be any different, but as long as grades stay in order, it could be the beginning to bigger and better things.


About the Author

Patrick Chalvire
: Radio Host for Panther Sports Talk Live. Assistant Sports Director for The Beacon. Majoring in Communication Arts. Sports fan and aspiring anchor.

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