William Duval | Contributing Writer
FIU men’s basketball prepares for their final home game of the season, where they will be hosting the UTSA Roadrunners on Feb. 25, 2023, at Ocean Bank Convocation Center.
The Panthers are looking to bounce back from their 87-82 loss to the UTEP Miners on Thursday night, where their effort for a comeback fell just short after trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half.
In their most recent matchup on Jan. 21, 2023, FIU defeated UTSA at home 77-72, led by sophomore guard Denver Jones, who scored 27 points and shot 9-9 from the free throw line.
Historically, the Panthers have a 7-8 all-time record against the Roadrunners, making this matchup a potentially series tying one. If the Panthers want to win this game, they’re going to have to play fast and physically.
The Roadrunners have the worst record in Conference USA, sitting at 8-21 on the season and 2-16 when playing other teams in the conference.They are last in the conference in field goal percentage, shooting the ball at a 40.5% clip.
In addition to their shooting struggles, the Roadrunners are last in assists, averaging 10.3 assists per game and turning the ball over 13.8 times per game on average.
Despite having all of the telltale signs of a sloppy offense, the Roadrunners have still found a way to win eight games. Even though they shoot the third-worst 3-point percentage in the conference, they shoot 22.4 threes per game, giving them the fourth highest volume.
They also have the second-best free throw percentage, shooting 74% on the season with the third most attempts in the conference.
If it wasn’t for their pace, the Roadrunners would be in a much worse situation than they are, as their defense has been outright atrocious all season. UTSA allows 76.3 points per game, the most allowed in C-USA.They are tied with Rice for the most field goals allowed per game, and allow the second most free throws per game.
The Roadrunners are also last in steals and blocks, averaging 3.9 steals and 2.4 blocks per game. In total, they’re only able to force 10.7 turnovers per game, which would also be the worst in the conference.
While statistics say that UTSA averages the fourth most rebounds per game, this is not reflective of their defensive capabilities. The Roadrunners grab 11.5 offensive rebounds per game, which is second in the conference. In reality, they are a middle of the pack defensive rebounding team, grabbing 23.6 per game.
Due to their low field goal percentage and high volume of shots, the Roadrunners find themselves with more opportunities to grab offensive rebounds, which explains their large average.
Considering the Roadrunners’ offensive and defensive shortcomings, the Panthers should look to expose their weaknesses.
In their previous matchup, senior forward Jacob Germany went to work against FIU, finishing the game with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman guard DJ Richards also provided support for the Roadrunners, finishing the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 5-11 from 3-point territory. If it wasn’t for both of their efforts, the game would not have ended with nearly as close of a score.
In order to win this game, the Panthers will need to keep pace with the Roadrunners. Keeping the ball moving and pounding the paint should be the Panthers’ first order of business.
Despite allowing 23 3-pointers per game, the third most in the conference, opponents only shoot 34% from deep against the Roadrunners. Their defensive strategy is to force opponents into taking threes, most likely due to their weak rim protection.
Freshman guard Arturo Dean can play a key role in this game, as he leads C-USA in steals, averaging 2.5 per game. With a team that naturally turns the ball over so much, having such a threat in the passing lanes can prove to be substantial for FIU.
Regardless of UTSA’s rankings, FIU has to play with energy and speed or this game could end much more closely than expected. Defensive discipline is going to be the deciding factor for the Panthers.