Brian Olmo | Sports Director
The FIU men’s basketball team heads to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to butt heads with their long-time rivals, the Blue Raiders, on Saturday, Feb. 18.
The Panthers had a nice week-long break to regroup after their disappointing loss to the Rice Owls, 85-78. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee took care of its bird problem, resulting in arguably the team’s most impressive win of the season, beating No. 25 FAU 74-70.
The last time these two squads faced off, FIU got the upper hand, outscoring Middle Tennessee 82-74. Four Panthers finished in double digits, with sophomore guard Denver Jones putting up his usual stat line: 21 points, 7 rebounds and a perfect 6-6 shooting from the free-throw line.
FIU’s record against Middle Tennessee when they travel to Murfreesboro is rancid. They are 4-14 when they play basketball in the Volunteer State. In general, saying the Panthers struggled on the road is a major understatement. This season has been no different than before, with FIU going 2-8 on away games.
The fact that the Panthers are sixth in Conference USA defies all conventional logic. Stats from across the conference show that FIU ranks sixth in offense and ninth in defense. They are the second-worst 3-point shooting team in terms of efficiency and allow the third-highest 3-point percentage to opposing teams. FIU is dead last in rebounding margin.
And yet, the Panthers are still in the middle of C-USA. How is that possible?
For all its weaknesses, FIU excels at what matters most: putting the ball through the hoop at a high rate. They shoot threes with the accuracy of a Stormtrooper in the original Star Wars trilogy, but they make up for it with some excellent play in the midrange area and the paint. FIU is second in field goal percentage and has Jones on their roster, the second-highest scorer in the conference.
Their defense may be near the bottom of the barrel, but the Panthers are fourth in blocked shots and second in steals. The team is excellent at forcing turnovers, which matters for winning basketball games.
Scouting Middle Tennessee, there’s a clear-cut one and two option here: junior guard Eli Lawrence and redshirt senior forward DeAndre Dishman. Lawrence and Dishman average 12.7 and 10.9 points per game respectively. Lawrence is the more offensive-minded of the two, hunting for free throws and hitting threes. Dishman is more defense-orientated, leading the team in boards with an average of 5.5 rebounds per game.
The team’s third scoring option, junior guard Camryn Weston, is the team’s primary playmaker, leading the team with 75 assists in total. Sophomore guard Teafale Lenard Jr. continues to be the team’s best defender; he leads the Blue Raiders in total blocks and steals.
As always, no team is without its weakness. Middle Tennessee has the second-highest opponent field goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot at an efficient 45.3%.
With the Blue Raiders coming off their best win of the season and FIU’s road record being what it is, the odds tip in Middle Tennessee’s favor. It’ll be a grueling matchup for the Panthers, and not one they’re the favorites in.
Follow Brian Olmo on Twitter at @Brian_Olmo11