Will Duval | Sports Director
With more than half of their 2023-2024 campaign under their belt, the FIU men’s basketball team has struggled to find consistency throughout the season.
Coming off a 78-69 loss to the Liberty Flames on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, the Panthers’ record dropped to 7-12 following the defeat. Despite a run-of-the-mill offensive performance statistically, their lack of aggression defensively was the difference maker.
In that game, FIU shot 47.5% from the field and knocked down nine 3-pointers. However, their makes came on a high volume, which resulted in a 34.6% 3-point percentage from their 26-attempts.
Senior guard Javaunte Hawkins led the team in scoring and finished with 24-points. He provided the Panthers with a large portion of their perimeter scoring, as he made six of his 13-3-point attempts.
Defensively, they allowed the Flames to shoot 46.6% from the field and knock down 16-3-pointers on the night. As a team, they shot 48.5% from long distance and made eight 3-pointers in each half.
While FIU was able to win the turnover battle, the difference in 3-point shooting was too great to compensate for. Outside of their game with Liberty, they have struggled to make defensive stops for the entire season.
This season, the Panthers have allowed an average of 75.6-points per game, which is the most allowed in Conference USA. Since they allow the most points in the conference, it has mitigated most of the impact that the offense can make.
When looking further into their defense, they surrender a 47.1% field goal percentage to their opponents, which is the highest in the conference. Sequentially, opposing teams make 37.1% of their 3-pointers against FIU, which is also the highest in CUSA.
Beyond the high field goal percentage they allow, the Panthers have struggled to rebound the ball. This season, they pull down the eighth fewest in the conference and average 32.9-rebounds per game.
Due to their rebounding struggles, they allow opposing teams to grab 37.4-RPG, the eighth most in CUSA. When all put together, it results in a -4.5-RPG differential, which is the largest in the conference.
Despite all of their defensive struggles, FIU still shines brightly in certain defensive metrics.
Where the Panthers thrive are in the passing lanes, as they average 11.37-steals per game this season. Averaging the second most steals in CUSA, their ability to pickpocket defenders is centered around sophomore guard Arturo Dean.
This season, Dean averages 3.9-SPG and leads the NCAA in steals per game. His ability to stop an offensive possession with his quick hands has been one of the team’s defensive constants.
Through both Dean’s and the entire team’s ability to intercept the ball, it has greatly benefited their fastbreak offense.
On the offensive side of the ball, FIU averages 76.3-PPG and holds the third highest scoring average in the conference. Combined with their defensive struggles, it results in a 0.6-PPG differential.
Many of their offensive opportunities come on the fastbreak, due to the defense’s proficiency in getting steals. However, that results in the offense playing at a faster pace, which can be beneficial at times.
As a team, the Panthers shoot an average of 45.3% from the field and 34.2% from 3-point range. Among CUSA teams, both averages rank middle-of-the-pack, with their 3-point percentage ranking fourth.
While their shooting splits don’t necessarily jump off of the stat-sheet, their fast-paced offense results in a high volume of shots. This season, they make the second most 3-pointers in the conference and average 8.6-per game.
Hawkins has carried a large portion of FIU’s offensive load this season and leads the team in scoring. This season he averages 13.3-PPG, 2.2-REB, 1.7-AST and shoots 44.1% from beyond-the-arc.
Over his last six games, he averaged 21-PPG and shot 25-50 (50%) from 3-point distance. His shot-making ability and 3-point shooting have provided the team with a consistent offensive option all season long.
Outside of Hawkins, Dean has followed up his CUSA Freshman of the Year campaign by improving in mostly every statistical category.
This season, Dean averages 12.3-PPG, 4.8-REB, 4.4-AST and has shot 27.5% from 3-point distance. Reaching a career-high in each of those categories, his impact goes far beyond offense.
However, the Panthers’ offensive speed and efficiency comes at a price, as they average 14.6-turnovers per game. Due to their lack of control at times, they average the second most turnovers per game in CUSA this season.
On both offense and defense, FIU has a fast-paced style of play, which has resulted in statistical extremes.
In certain areas such as 3-point shooting, scoring and individual statistics, the team has found relative success. But in other metrics such as points allowed, opponent shooting efficiency and turnovers, they diminish what success they do find.
If the Panthers want to get back above the .500 marker, they need to focus on playing an all-around defense, rather than just get steals.
Even though they thrive on creating fastbreak opportunities, they can’t expect to win while surrendering such a high field goal percentage. Getting more defensive stops on a play-by-play basis is a necessity for FIU.
Looking to get back on track, the FIU men’s basketball team is traveling to Bowling Green, Kentucky to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.
Tip off is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.
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