Brian Olmo | Sports Director
Every basketball fan’s favorite time of year is finally here: playoff time.
The FIU men’s and women’s basketball teams are slated to go against No. 10 LA Tech and No. 9 Charlotte respectively in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament, starting on March 8 in Frisco, Texas.
All 11 teams in each conference are set to compete in the tournament.
Both FIU teams come into this one as lower seeds, with the men as the No. 7 seed and the women as the No. 8 seed. Neither team managed to finish this season above .500.
Sophomore and senior guards Denver Jones and Kaliah Henderson finish the season as the top scorers for the men and women, averaging 20.0 and 15.2 points per game respectively.
Jones is the first Panther in program history to be named to the All-C-USA First Team and Henderson received an All-Second team nod.
Freshman guard Arturo Dean received the C-USA Freshman of the Year award behind his stellar season, averaging 11.6 PPG and 4.1 rebounds per game. Dean also made the All-Defensive team, averaging 2.5 steals per game.
Dean is FIU’s first Freshman of the Year since 2009, when center Freddy Asprilla earned the honor.
Here’s a look at both teams’ prospects in the tournament and a breakdown of their matchups.
The men start their tournament against a familiar foe: the LA Tech Bulldogs, who they just played against on March 2, dropping that game in a heartbreaking 77-76 loss.
FIU split the regular season with LA Tech, 1-1. This is the first time these two teams ever meet in the C-USA Tournament.
Junior forward and guard Isiah Crawford and Keaston Willis are who the Panthers should be looking out for in this one.
In LA Tech’s last game against FIU, Crawford put up a well-rounded stat line of 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists on a solid 5-9 shooting from the field. Willis was lights out from deep, swishing four threes and leading the team in points with 18.
Every time these teams face one another, it’s always close. No game between these squads this season has been decided by a margin wider than four points. All time, the series is 6-5 in the Bulldogs’ favor.
In program history, FIU is 2-5 all-time in the C-USA Tournament. Their last appearance in the tournament was last season when they fell out in the first round to Marshall, 74-62.
Winner of this game will move on to face No. 2 North Texas, who boasts a 25-6 overall record and a 16-4 conference record. The Mean Green is the undisputed No. 1 defense in the conference, holding opponents to 55.4 PPG.
First round action starts on Wednesday, March 8 at 9 p.m. ET. Catch the game on ESPN+.
The women find themselves with a more favorable matchup in the Charlotte 49ers.
Like the men’s team, the women find themselves in new territory, as this is the first time they’ve played Charlotte in the tournament.
FIU went 2-0 against the 49ers this season, winning both games by six or more points.
Charlotte’s ace up its sleeve is redshirt sophomore guard Dazia Lawrence. She’s C-USA’s fourth-highest scorer, averaging 16.8 PPG on 44.5% shooting from the field and 38.2% from three.
The biggest concern for the Panthers heading into this one is their defense. They give up the most points to opposing teams, 71.3 PPG, ranking them in last place.
Since FIU doesn’t pride itself on lockdown defense, it should play to its strengths: efficient 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding.
The Panthers are fifth in both 3-point percentage, shooting 31.2% from deep, and in 3-point field goals made, averaging 6.3 a game.
Charlotte makes the least amount of threes a game in C-USA, giving FIU a distinct advantage from beyond the arc.
Crashing the glass is another edge the Panthers possess, as they are first in offensive rebounding with 14.9 per game and rank second in combined team rebounds.
If the Panthers stick to their strengths and play this team like they have all season long, then they should have a fair shot of advancing.
Winner of this game will face the No. 1 team, the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders. They own the best offense and defense in C-USA and finished with an overall record of 25-4 and a conference record of 18-2.
First round action starts on Wednesday, March 8 at 12 p.m. ET. Catch the game on ESPN+.
Follow Brian Olmo on Twitter at @Brian_Olmo11
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