William Duval | Staff Writer
After a disappointing 14-18 season in 2022-2023, FIU men’s basketball has many things they need to address heading into next season.
On April 8, 2023, sophomore guard Denver Jones announced his transfer to Auburn, leaving the Panthers with more questions than answers on both offense and defense.
Jones was FIU’s leading scorer, averaging 20.1 points per game with ease as he shot 37.1% from beyond the arc on a relatively high volume of attempts – 5.7 per game.
Not only did Jones lead the way on offense, he proved to be a two-way force for the Panthers, contributing 1.8 steals per game.
Despite what their record may suggest, FIU was an elite defensive team last year, ranking first in Conference USA in steals per game (9.1) and fourth in blocks per game (4.0).
While those numbers are impressive, there was still one glaring discrepancy defensively. The Panthers ranked 10th in C-USA in both rebounds (31.5) and defensive rebounds (22.9) per game.
This can be attributed to their lack of size as they would constantly operate in small-ball lineups all year long.
The size discrepancy sometimes allowed FIU to play to their strengths defensively, as freshman guard Arturo Dean would constantly swarm opposing teams’ passing lanes and come up with steals.
Heading into next season, Dean has the opportunity to blossom into a star player for the Panthers. Last season, he averaged 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Dean’s efforts were rewarded, being named C-USA’s Freshman of the Year in March of 2023.
Between his speed, verticality, defensive prowess and high-motor, FIU should look to lean on Dean next season as he can create many fastbreak offense opportunities through his defense alone.
However, Dean can’t be the only contributor to FIU’s offense next season.
Last season, the Panthers ranked 10th in 3-point percentage (32.6) on the eighth-lowest volume of attempts (21.0) per game.
Fortunately for FIU, the answer to their three-point problem has been right in front of them this whole entire time.
Incoming junior guard Petar Krivokapic is entering his fourth season with the Panthers and has shot 40.4 percent from three over 80 games played.
While his point-per-game averages have never been something that jumps off the stat sheet, he should be a focal point offensively next year, working in dribble-handoff actions with big men.
Most recently, FIU landed both Okechukwu Okeke and Jonathan Aybar via the NCAA transfer portal, reinforcing their front line of big men.
Okeke, the 6-9 forward/center, spent his last season with the Tallahassee Community College Eagles, averaging 8.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
While those statistics may not be exactly illustrious, they are impressive considering that he led the league in field goal percentage (64.5) and averaged fewer fouls (1.5) than blocks (1.7).
Aybar, the 6-9 forward, had his strongest season last year with the Ospreys, averaging 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.5 steals per game.
In a similar fashion to Okeke, Aybar’s numbers don’t immediately jump out, but they should considering the fact that he only started one out of 30 games played this year.
Adding two big men was FIU’s answer to their rebounding problem last year. Not only did they just get rebounders, but they found two more high-motor players to add to the mix.
But FIU did more than just add big men to the roster. Recently, the team earned a commitment from Mohawk Valley CC guard Travis Gray, who averaged 22.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and six assists per game in 24 games.
While Jones leaving will definitely impact the Panthers offensively, they’re still moving in the right direction, building an identity as a team.
Even if the 3-point shooting suffers next season, FIU has a speedy, athletic, high-intensity team that should look to create offense from their defense.
Follow William Duval on Twitter at @WillDuval40