Will Duval | Sports Director
The FIU men’s basketball team traveled to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands to participate in the Cayman Islands Classic tournament, which began on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023.
Starting in 2017, the Cayman Islands Classic is an invitational basketball tournament that takes place every year in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Each year, eight teams from around the country are invited to compete for first place.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the tournament didn’t occur in 2020 or 2021, making 2023 its fifth year in action. This year also marks the first year where there is both a men’s and women’s bracket, as there was only a men’s bracket in years prior.
For this year’s tournament, the eight teams participating in the men’s bracket are: the Drake Bulldogs, Utah State Big Blue, Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, Loyola Marymount Lions, Oakland Golden Grizzlies, Marshall Herd, Akron Zips and FIU Panthers.
Of the eight teams selected, seven teams, including FIU, are making their first appearance at the tournament. The only returning team is the Akron Zips, who made appearances in 2018 and in 2022.
Entering the tournament this year, the Zips held a 3-0 record after taking a blowout 114-56 to the Heidelberg Student Princes on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Coming off their first win of the season prior to the tournament, the Panthers looked to turn things around over their next stretch of games. Unable to win their first matchup, they took a 77-71 loss and fell to Akron on Nov. 19.
In that game, they struggled to rebound the ball all night long, as they could only grab 23 rebounds compared to their opponent’s 41 rebounds.
Separated by a small margin in most other major statistical categories, rebounding ultimately differentiated the two teams.
Both teams fought back and forth throughout the game, as there were seven lead changes and 11 ties throughout regulation.
Nearly matching each other’s offensive output, FIU shot 43.4% from the field and Akron shot 48.1% from the field. While nearly a five percent difference, the Zips only made three more field goals and took one more shot.
Reaching an identical 3-point percentage, both teams shot 40% from beyond the arc, with the Panthers going 8-20 in the game and their opponent shooting 10-25 from deep.
While there is a large margin in the difference in free throw percentage, the teams almost matched each other in terms of free throws made and total attempts.
Akron shot 60% from the line and made 15 of their 25 attempts throughout the night. Compared to FIU, they converted on 17 of their 23 attempts, making two more shots on two less attempts.
Junior guard Petar Krivokapic led the team’s offensive attack, as he finished with 26 points on 9-10 shooting and went 5-6 from 3-point distance. He was one of two players to score double figures in the game.
Sophomore guard Arturo Dean played an all-around game, reaching 14 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and four steals. While he caused havoc on the defensive end with his steals, he had six turnovers in the game and struggled to keep the ball secure.
Despite their proximity in multiple areas in the box score, the game ultimately ended with the Panthers taking a 77-71 loss to the Zips. Their season record dropped to 1-4 after the loss and were disqualified from taking home first place in the tournament.
Looking at years past, the winner of the Cayman Islands Classic usually goes on to find success later on in the season. Most recently, the Kansas State Wildcats won the tournament in 2022 and went on to reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.
Going even further back, the Cincinnati Bearcats, who were the inaugural champions in 2017, also made the NCAA tournament in the same year. In 2018, the Creighton Bluejays won the tournament and went on to the NIT quarterfinals that year.
Historically, the winner of this tournament tends to make some sort of postseason tournament, as three of the past four champions have. While FIU took themselves out of the running for first place, they still have the opportunity to compete for respect.
Losing four of their first five games this season, the Panthers still have plenty of remaining in the season to turn around their record.
Taking on Marshall in their next game on Monday, Nov. 20, the winner of that matchup will have the opportunity to compete for fifth place in the tournament.
Prior to the tournament, they held a 1-1 record and were slated to take on Utah State in the first round. In that game, they took an 83-60 loss and dropped to 1-2 on the season.
Struggling on both ends of the floor, they shot 35% from the field and allowed the Big Blue to shoot 54.5% from the field. Unable to stop their interior attack, the Herd allowed 46 points in the paint while only scoring 24 themselves.
Graduate student guard Kevon Voyles led the team in scoring and finished with 17 points and two rebounds. While filling up the scoring column, he shot below 50%, as he made seven of his 17 shots.
If FIU wishes to leave this matchup victorious, they must play with the same level of energy that they’ve played their last three games with.
After taking a close loss to the Miami Hurricanes, the Panthers were able to take their first win of the season against the Houston Christian Huskies. Against the Zips, they kept the score close all game long and lost by a small margin to an undefeated team.
Showing their true level of skill against better teams, they must not judge Marshall based off of their one game in the tournament. They must play with a sense of urgency and not underestimate their opponent.
Fighting for fifth place, the FIU men’s basketball team is playing in their second game of the Cayman Islands Classic tournament in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023.
Tip off is set for 5 p.m. at the John Gray Gymnasium.
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