A new identity for a new season: men’s basketball’s season approaches

Sophomore guard Arturo Dean driving the ball. Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics.

Pablo Hernandez | Assistant Sports Director

The FIU men’s basketball team is set to make their season debut against the UCF Knights on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 at the Addition FInancial Arena in Orlando, Florida.

Going through a significant overhaul, the Panthers had six players either graduate or transfer in the off-season. After a 14-18 campaign in their 2022-2023 season, they look to find a new identity on both sides of the ball this season.

Last season, sophomore guard Denver Jones averaged 20 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game. Leading the team in scoring last season, he effectively operated as FIU’s top offensive option.

On April 8, 2023, he announced his decision to transfer to Auburn on X and left the Panthers with a sizable offensive hole without his scoring abilities.

Jones’ departure leaves FIU searching for a new leader on offense and sophomore guard Arturo Dean looks to fill that hole.

Returning players:

Coming off his CUSA Freshman of the Year campaign, Dean had a breakout freshman season and earned an all-conference team honorable mention.

Providing the Panthers with a two-way impact, he led the team in steals and was their second leading scorer last season. He averaged 11.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 2.4 steals per game, only starting 23 out of his 31 games played.

Dean showed flashes of his floor general skills last season, still reaching 3.8 APG while being the secondary ball-handler of the team. With a bigger role on offense this season, he has the opportunity to increase his numbers across the board. 

Junior guard Petar Krivokapic also has the opportunity to build upon his strong 2022 campaign. 

Krivokapic, the 6-4, 210-pound sharpshooter led the team in three-point percentage last year, as he shot 40.5% from deep and made 51 of his 126 attempts. In his three years at FIU, he had his highest scoring totals last season, averaging 6.9 PPG.

While his number points per game don’t jump off the statsheet, Krivokapic has shown the ability to be easily ignitable, as he scored a career-high 25-points against the LA Tech Bulldogs on March 2, 2023.

Despite what their record may imply, the Panthers averaged 73.1 PPG as a team last season, which was the fourth highest in Conference USA. This came at the expense of ball security, as they averaged 14.8 turnovers per game, the second most in the conference.

Looking to translate their high rate of scoring into this season, they brought in six new players to supplement the loss of their departures.

New additions:

After a breakout season with Mohawk Valley CC, junior guard Travis Gray announced his commitment to FIU on May 19, 2023 on X.

Standing at 6-5, 180-pounds, Gray was an all around threat for his team last season, as he averaged 22.9 PPG, 10.3 rebounds and six assists per game in 24 games played.

Operating as his team’s primary ball-handler last season, his scoring, length and potential defensive switchability can provide the Panthers with a new dimension to their gameplan on both ends of the floor.

Adding another high-scorer, junior guard Jaidon Lipscomb committed to FIU on June 2, 2023, as first announced by JucoRecruiting on X.

With a similar frame to Gray, Lipscomb stands at 6-5, 175-pounds and was the definitive offensive leader for Lakeland CC. Last season he averaged 23.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 3.8 APG on a 52% field goal percentage.

Proving to be a consistent and reliable shooter, he shot 39% from three on nearly 6.8 attempts per game. 

Lipscomb could potentially help FIU improve their three-point shooting percentage, as they shot 32.6% from deep last season, the second lowest in CUSA last season.

Perimeter shooting was clearly a priority for the Panthers in the off-season, as they also added junior guard George Pridgett Jr. 

Pridgett, measuring in at 5-11, 160 pounds, spent his previous season at Polk State College where he served as one of their premier two-way forces.

He averaged 19.6 PPG, 2.9 APG and 1.8 steals per game while making 41.1% of his three-point shots. After showing his prowess on both ends last season, Pridgett can potentially be a key piece for FIU this season.

Shooting was not the only concern FIU had entering the offseason, as they struggled to rebound the ball last season. They allowed 38 RPG to opponents, the most in CUSA, while grabbing 31.5 RPG themselves, the second least in the conference.

Addressing their rebounding problem, they brought in the 6-9, 225 pound big-man, junior forward Okechukwu Okeke

Acting as the defensive stalwart for Tallahassee CC last season, he averaged 8.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 1.7 blocks per game. While not averaging a high total of points, he averaged fewer fouls (1.5) than blocks (1.7), and proved to be a disciplined defensive player.

But the Panthers’ search for rebounding didn’t end there, as they brought in junior forward Jonathan Aybar.

Aybar, coming in at 6-9, 200 pounds, spent his past three seasons with the North Florida Ospreys. In a comparatively reduced role last season, he still managed to average career-highs in points (8.3 PPG) and three-point percentage (34.5%).

Adding two new big-men to the team, the Panthers addressed their rebounding struggles from the previous season.

New season:

On Oct. 10, FIU released their 32-game season schedule and allowed fans to take an early look into their upcoming games.

Opening up their season on Nov. 6, they’re taking on the UCF Knights for the first time in program history. The last time the Panthers opened their season on the road, they took a 58-51 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on Nov. 9, 2021.

Playing their first three out of four games on the road, they held a 3-10 road record last season and struggled in enemy territory.

They have also earned the opportunity to play in the Cayman Islands Classic, starting on Nov. 19, 2023. Their first opponent of the tournament is the Akron Zips, who they’re also playing for the first time in program history.

PantherNOW has made multiple attempts to reach out to athletics for comments on men’s basketball’s upcoming season, but they have not responded.

With a new season ahead of them, the FIU men’s basketball team looks to establish a new identity with many new faces.

Follow Pablo Hernandez on X: @pablitothree

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