February 08, 2016

Future Watch

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Thursday -- Men's Basketball vs. UTEP, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Softball vs. Florida State, 7 p.m.

Saturday -- Softball vs. St. John's, 5:30 p.m.

Saturday -- Men's Basketball vs. UTSA, 7 p.m.

Saturday -- Softball vs. Illinois, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday -- Softball vs. LIU-Brooklyn, 1 p.m.

Sunday -- Softball vs. Valparaiso, 3:30 p.m.

The Futures market sells big in FIU Athletics these days.

Make no mistake, it always has. Talk of what could be, should be, will be (maybe) always seems to draw more interest at FIU than what is. Maybe it's just I'm noticing this confluence this year.

Softball starts this Friday at home. Baseball begins a week from Friday at Ole Miss. Sand Volleyball will start soon after finishing last season ranked No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. And, of course, we just had Signing Day with the football coaching staff likely looking at a Pack For a Bowl or Pack Up the Office season.

Now, take men's basketball, 11-13 overall, 5-6 in Conference USA, zero for four in its last four. You knew the season had entered the "just get ready for the conference tournament" phase when when coach Anthony Evans exuded an almost sanguine air after the Jan. 30 men's basketball home loss to Old Dominion. FIU did some things well, not enough or as many as Old Dominion and took a four-point loss. They're still trying to gain the cohesion and consistency of a team, which is where they seem to be at this point every year. Even in Evans' third year, there's still a chop shop quality to the roster -- this part from a Hialeah body shop, this piece from Sanford & Son's area, these pieces driven down from Tallahassee. There's not wholesale roster changes, but enough key players change each year that FIU seems perpetually trying to get past the dating stage.

The good news for the women's basketball team (3-19, 1-10)? Everybody makes the conference tournament. The bad news? FIU has to play with this year's team instead of next year's. This year's Panthers show about 72 times more pluck than they did last year. They're still tax refund light on talent and focus. Nobody's looked forward to next year like this since the Brooklyn Dodgers ("Wait 'til next year!") or 1960s Dallas Cowboys (Next Year's Champions).

Here's what FIU gains next year: a pair of three-star freshman forwards, 6-1 Sydney Fields from Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview and 6-2 Jamesia Amand from Dallas Skyline; three-star 5-7 point guard Alexis Gordon from Palm Bay Covenant Christian; point guard Kayla Rogers, who runs the show for Jacksonville Ribault, which has been nationally ranked this year; and 6-4 transfer Erin Garner, a former three-star recruit who transferred from Georgia Tech. Oh, and last year's CUSA Freshman of the Year, 6-1 forward Kiandre'a Pound, will be back from spending a redshirt season becoming a mommy.

Swim & Dive just finished its dual meet season at 8-5 by beating FAU 115-71 and the defending Conference USA champions enter conference meet prep. With the variation how much stress some programs put on earlier season meets, checking out top conference times can be like looking at a Kandinsky -- looks wonderful, but you might not be seeing what you think you're seeing. Still, FIU's got one of the top two CUSA times this year in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, 1000 free, 1,650 free (sophomores Kyna Periera and Naomi Ruele, take a bow); 100 back (Ruele), 400 free relay, 800 free relay, 400 medley relay; and sophomore Rebecca Quesnel could sweep the three diving competitions.

But FIU's owned the best individuals at conference meets before and been left to celebrate them while finishing from here to Hollywood from the team title. That changed in 2015 with FIU's depth burying second place Rice. The challenge is to repeat that feat Feb. 24-27 in Atlanta.

  

February 05, 2016

Women's BBall Gets First Conference Win In a Long Time

On Feb. 22, 2014, senior guard Jerica Coley scored 35 points on 12 of 26 shooting from the field and eight of 11 from the free throw line to lead FIU to a 77-66 win against Marshall.

FIU's women's basketball team lost its next 30 regular season Conference USA games. Until Thursday.

Senior guard Taylor Shade went off for an efficient 26 points -- nine of 13 from the field, three of four from three-point range, five of five from the line -- and Destini Feagin dropped in 19 points with seven rebounds and two steals as the Panthers beat UAB 72-61 at FIU Arena. First-year coach Marlin Chinn gets a conference result to go with his upbeat, energetic attitude.

FIU hosts Middle Tennessee State Saturday at 2 p.m.

 

February 04, 2016

The 2016 FIU Football Schedule

This year, the Panthers get a bye week, between Western Kentucky and Marshall. We don't know yet which games will be on CBS Sports Network; Fox Sports Net; or moved by American Sports Network to noon, stripping attendance, then not shown anywhere south of Destin...before the generator blows, taking the broadcast off the air.

Sept. 1 -- vs. Indiana

Sept. 10 -- vs. Maryland

Sept. 17 -- at UMass

Sept. 24 -- vs. Central Florida

Oct. 1 -- vs. FAU

Oct. 8 -- at UTEP

Oct. 15 -- at Charlotte

Oct. 22 -- vs. Louisiana Tech

Oct. 29 -- vs. Middle Tennessee State

Nov. 5  -- at Western Kentucky

Nov. 12 -- BYE WEEK

Nov. 19 -- vs. Marshall

Nov. 26 -- at Old Dominion

 

What Have We Here?

Yeah, like anybody really knows for sure.

Longtime readers of this blog know much as I love the hectic pace of Signing Day and will report analysis of recruiting gurus/websites, I stick by the theory that nobody knows nothin' at the mid-major level. Look how often the big boys whiff on recruits and they're taking guys my daughter (great run after catch, hates watching football) can pick out as good players. Down in Group of 5 Land, it's truly like television programming (Family Guy's in its 11th consecutive season on the same network that twice before canceled it).

Who knows which young man finds greater joy in Proust, pipe or Paula than in post patterns or pass protection? Who knows which young man finds the work ethic that another loses? Who knows who reacts to the challenge of the next level with elan and who suffers shrinkage? Who knows which kid truly responds to a particular coach or which position coach fails the players under him? Or does that coach or coaches stay? Staffs change like the time at G5 schools.

What does it mean that Rivals.com, as of this moment, puts FIU at 99th nationally and No. 8 in Conference USA? Or that 247Sports.com puts FIU at 107th and 10th? About as much as it meant in 2013. Remember that FIU class? Only the defensive backs kept that from being the consensus worst rated class in FBS that year. Here's the top rated recruits from that class, according to ESPN:

(What follows isn't to make fun of or throw shade on the young men, who came into a calamitous situation at FIU and I hope are having good college experiences. But, rather, I'm making fun of and throwing shade on analyst projections.)

1. Vontarius West, defensive back -- Saw his first significant playing time this season as a backup linebacker.

2. Travis Wright, quarterback -- Spent the late summer bounce passing throws like the quarterback of a basketball offense. Then, there were questions about his eligibility. Then, he was gone. Never played a down at FIU.

3. Chris Flaig, offensive lineman -- Non-football related health issues sidelined him for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

4. Jordan Budwig, offensive lineman -- Started all 24 games his first two seasons before a shoulder injury ended his junior year before it began.

5. Willie Smith, defensive back -- Never enrolled. Now playing at Division II Ferris State.

Hmmm...maybe Rivals.com knew better. Let's look at their top five from that year:

1. West -- Oh, OK.

2. Xavier Hines, defensive back -- Redshirted, didn't play a game as a redshirt freshman, got into 11 games in 2015, started one.

3. Silas Spearman, running back -- Ran for 130 yards in FIU's only 2013 win, then suffered a knee injury that wiped out 2014. Played four games in 2015.

4. Smith -- Well...

5. Wilkenson Myrtil, defensive back -- Started two games in 2013 and 2014 each, at cornerback. Started three games at safety before suffering a season-ending concussion.

Now, let's look at 247Sports.com. They tend to have the best take on this recruiting thing:

West -- Huh.

Hines -- Huh (again).

Jordan Gibbs, linebacker/defensive end -- Redshirted in 2013. Moved to fullback in 2014. Jettisoned by 2015.

Budwig -- OK.

Jeremy Derrick, linebacker -- Redshirted in 2013. Didn't get into a game in 2014 or 2015.

Anybody see tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's best offensive player since T.Y. Hilton, on any of the lists? Or linebacker Treyvon Williams? What you do see: injuries, players re-cast in different roles, players just not working out for whatever reason.

Whether or not you like Ron Turner overall as a coach, you have to like that he insists on FIU doing its own homework on players such as talking to custodians -- the eyes and ears of educational institutions -- to discern a player's character (oh, future recruits take note that they really do watch your Twitter account). And FIU does its own player evaluations. You'd be surprised how many times coaches can be lemmings, although you shouldn't be considering how every sports league is a copycat league. The same coaches who bellow about leadership turn into lockstep followers all too often.

Quarterback Maurice Alexander's lack of ideal size limited his offers despite showing some moxie the few times Booker T. got in a tight situation his senior year. Turner loves Alexander's leadership charisma. Running back D'Angelo Ware averaged 12.9 yards per carry in Florida, where speed in the secondary can turn 50-yard average-boosting runs into 20 or 25 yarders. He was offered by Troy, FAU, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire (FCS).

John Madden recalls that during his Raiders coaching days (yes, kids, the guy with his name on the video game used to coach) NFL player personnel ace Ron Wolf would say about a player something like, "He'll be a good player in the league, but he won't be a good player for us."  Few players FIU's got a shot to get come one size fits all.

Long-winded way of saying maybe 247Sports.com and Rivals.com are right. And, even if they are, it might not matter one bit.

 

February 03, 2016

Signed, Sealed, Delivered to FIU

Good morning and welcome to National Signing Day, 2016! As the signings roll in, I'll be updating on Twitter (@DavidJNeal) and here beneath the blog's usual Signing Day song.

 

 

Matt Kramer            DE       Lakeland High                        6-4, 225 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Hunter Orem           LB       Lakeland Lake Gibson              6-2, 200 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Wyatt Panaccione    OT      Clearwater Countryside            6-5, 285 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Ulice Gillard           WR     Orlando Lake Nona                   6-2, 205 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Zach Armour           TE      Cocoa High                              6-4, 215  Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Khairi Reaser          CB      San Jose City Football               5-9, 175  Two stars by Rivals.com. 

Shane McGough       C     Tampa Gaither                         6-2, 275 Three stars by 247Sports.com, two stars by Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Jose Borregales       K       Booker T. Washington High       5-11, 180 Three stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com. Two stars by Rivals.com.

JoJo Louis              S       Bradenton Braden River              6-0, 190 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Malik Tyson            QB      Tampa Robinson                        6-3, 195 Unrated by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Andrew Tarver        DT      Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern High 6-0, 297 Three stars by 247Sports, two stars by Rivals.com and Scout.com

Isaiah Brown           CB      Tampa Bay Tech                               6-1, 165 Two stars by 247Sports.com Rivals.com and Scout.com

Shakur Cooper       LB/DE  Coral Gables High                             6-1, 210    Three stars by Rivals.com, two stars by 247Sports.com and Scout.com

D'Angelo Ware        RB        Moore Haven High                           5-8, 185  Unrated by Scout.com, 247Sports.com, Rivals.com

Stantley Thomas     WR      Punta Gorda Charlotte                     6-0, 168 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com

Darrius Scott          WR       Booker T. Washington                      5-10, 175 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Bryan Ditchman      OL       New Lenox (IL) Lincoln-Way Central   6-3, 295 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, unrated by Scout.com

Elbre Gaiter          WR      Westminster Christian                       5-10, 170 Three stars by 247Sports.com and Scout.com, two stars by Rivals.com

Devontay Taylor         DE       New Port Richey J.W. Mitchell     6-4, 265 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Shawndarrius Phillips  RB      Delray Beach Atlantic                 5-11, 218 Three stars by 247Sports.com, two stars by Scout.com and Rivals.com

EARLY ENROLLMENTS

Newton Salisbury     DE     Northeastern Oklahoma A&M JC  6-4, 245 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com

Dallas Connell         OG    Jacksonville First Coast               6-3, 275 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

Doug Connell       C      Jacksonville First Coast               6-3, 285 Three stars by Scout.com, two stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com

Isaiah Hill                S      Tallahassee Florida High             6-1, 190 Two stars by 247Sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com

 

February 02, 2016

Turner Talk on The Day Before The Day

Unless you're Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or whoever's at Texas or Notre Dame, a college-affiliated football coach nearing Signing Day better behave like a man with many high maintenance girlfriends on Valentine's Day. Recruits must be basted with attention lest some last minute love from a place with a sexier tradition/conference/campus/student body flips the recruit into another's dorm.

FIU's experienced that Sunday, apparently losing linebacker Donavan Thompson to Utah. And it might happen again Wednesday. It's why FIU coach Ron Turner was happy he got running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones, quarterback Christian Alexander and defensive end Fermin Silva enrolled early last year. Turner's not confident FIU would've been able to hold onto them had they waited another five weeks to Signing Day.

Turner looked rather sanguine Tuesday morning. There would be a round of phone calls later in the day to go with the round of phone calls made Monday to retain FIU's commits as well as trying to be some flippin' Panthers themselves. The climax of year No. 4 in this modern era of recruiting was less than 24 hours away (speaking of modern era, recruits, watch your Twitter feeds...)

Turner referred to no recruits, other than early enrollments, by name.  

What positions had you wanted to focus on this year?

RT: Several. Corners, we needed to get some help there losing our two starters. We've got some good young guys, but we needed to get some more depth there, we did. Both lines, offensive and defensive. Always need to get numbers up there. We've done that. We've got five offensive linemen committed and four defensive linemen, plus an offensive lineman who gray-shirted last year (Jacksonville Fletcher's Andrew Burgess), so six coming in new, three this spring (Burgess, Jacksonville First Coast twins Douglas and Dallas Connell) and a DB, who'll be here this spring. More of a safety, but he could play corner (Isaiah Hill). We've got two defensive ends, two defensive inside guys, although a couple are interchangeable. Four receivers, which we needed. I like the guys we got, too. They've got a chance to help us right away, all four of them (Booker T. Washington's Darrius Hill, Westminster Christian's Elbre Gaiter, North Port's Stantley Thomas, Orlando Lake Nona's Ulice Gillard).

Why can they help you next year? Are they all of a type? What are they bringing?

RT: Speed. This group has good size and speed. We've got one smaller type guy in the slot, who I think will help us -- shifty, really good quickness. The other three have good size -- big, physical, long good size receivers that are good after the catch. That's the biggest thing. They're playmakers and can run. We had every one of them in camp. So, we got to work with them and see them as well as see all their film.

What's your philosophy on recruiting quarterbacks? (Bud Martin transferred to Eastern Illinois)

RT: I like to try to take at least one every year. We've got two freshmen (Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander) that I'm very, very excited about and Alex, a two-year starter with two years left. Those two freshmen, I can't wait to get into spring ball now that they've had a year of learning the system, a year in the weight room. They both have a chance to be really good. It's going to be a very competitive situation, a fun situation.  

Why have you been pretty successful up in the Jacksonville-Tampa axis?

RT: No. 1, the coaches do a good job up there. They know people. People trust them. They identify the kids early. It's not as heavily recruited as down here, so we give them more attention, I think. The coaches do a good job of seeing them early, this time of year. We see them in December and January, then go back and see them in the spring. Then, get them in camp up there. The camps have been invaluable as well. So we get a chance to know them and they get a chance to know us. We've had quite a few kids from there that have had success, so those kids know that as well.

Who does the Jacksonville/Tampa areas?

RT: We've had different people. My son, Cameron, did it the first two years and did a good job up there. Shannon Moore took it over when (Cameron Turner) left. He and Kort Shankweiler do a lot of it. Kort does all the Orlando area and he got into Jacksonville and he does Tallahassee. So he did a really good job in those areas. Steve Shankweiler does a really good job in Tampa and Central Florida. He coached there for a long time, he knows a lot of the coaches. And he did a good job in Atlanta. That's an area we'll probalby go into a little bit more. Steve's recruited there for a lot of years. We'll probably expand into there because the reception there is pretty good. Matt House has done a good job in Tampa, south Tampa, the Bradenton-Sarasota area.

We're going to really make sure we hit this South Florida area. We've got guys who have, but we're going to make sure every coach on the staff is going to have some schools in Miami-Dade or Broward. Each guy might have four schools. We've done a good job of getting a lot of coaches out. Tim Harris, Jr. might have Booker T. (Washington High). We'll make sure other coaches go in there. If we've got a receiver, we'll make sure (receivers coach) Kort Shankweiler goes in there, Steve Shankweiler as an (offensive) coordinator went in there. We get more people going to all the schools. We'll continue to do the same thing. We'll just have more assigned schools and they'll cross over. I think it's important we have a lot of our guys visible in the area.

Tim being in the area, been a huge name, he and his dad. Greg Moss being a local guy is a big name that's been good and it'll continue to get better when they have a full season to recruit the area. (Defensive line coach) Paul Valero coming on board, he's got a lot of ties, a lot of local connections in Miami. He's already made a little impact here with the guys he knows.

Locally, this year, it's looking thin. Had you expected to do a little bit better?

RT: No, I think it's pretty good, for the guys we targeted and the ones we went after, we didn't get all of them. Obviously, we lost some. We lost some late. But, for the most part, I'm pleased with what we did here and the reception from the coaches. The kids we realistically felt we had a chance to get and went after, I think we did pretty well (four players from Dade). It's an area we'll keep grinding on.

(DJN digression: to be fair, most observers see this as a down year for Miami-Dade talent as compared to past year or Broward County. So, if there's any year to be light on Dade, it's this one).

Do you find locally that some kids just want to leave town?

RT: No question about it. Every kid is different. Some, it's really important to stay home so mother, father and whatever can see them play. Other kids say, "I've been in Miami my whole life. I want something different. I want to get out. There's no question that comes up. You've got to try to identify that early.

Quesnel Gets Another CUSA Diver of the Week Award

Sophomore Rebecca Quesnel's 1-meter dive scoring 286.65 and her 3-meter dive scoring 285.5 each qualified her for the NCAA Zone Championships. They were also enough for Quesnel to be named Conference USA Diver of the Week for the fifth time this season and fourth consecutive time the honor has been bestowed.

January 31, 2016

Top Miami-Dade County commit Donavan Thompson flips

I explained to someone Sunday that the difference between an early enrolled player and a verbal commit is the difference between being married and being engaged.

Central linebacker Donavan Thompson took off FIU's promise ring and put on Utah's, he announced Sunday night via Twitter. Thompson had been FIU's highest ranked commit from Miami-Dade, No. 19 on The Herald's Top 50 from the county. Rivals.com put him as FIU's top overall recruit. 247sports.com put Thompson behind Jacksonville Ed White defensive back Jadarius Byrd.

"He was the heart of our defense," Central coach Roland Smith said to me last week. "He was the guy who made sure we were lined up right. He got all the signals. He played in a Ray Lewis kind of fashion for us."

Yeah, that kind of makes FIU's Miami-Dade prospective haul look pretty thin -- three every down players and a kicker. That's less than fellow mid-majors Florida Atlantic and Toledo, which is strange considering FIU really seemed to be building a much better relationship with Dade schools, particularly in North Central Dade.

 

January 29, 2016

Money, No Coffee & TV

When the Conference USA winter meetings broke in Boca, the conference proudly spoke of new regulations on student-athlete/athlete-student time demands. That's a problem that long needed to be addressed. Nothing like giving an athlete an education as payment for playing sports, then giving the athlete precious little time to get that education or the education you get from the whole college experience.

(If the education you got at college was the one they gave you the diploma for, you flunked)

The release spoke nothing of new television deals. That doesn't breed confidence in what the conference has cooking with its TV pals.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Maybe you didn't see it on American Sports Network, whose games involving FIU are often as invisible in Miami-Fort Lauderdale as the rights fees ASN pays Conference USA, but FIU center Adrian Diaz might've cost himself some money Thursday.

Diaz showing some nice spin moves on offense and the deft touch around the rim that's given him the conference lead in field goal percentage in conference games, 69.2 percent. But defense and rebounding top Diaz's can-do list. While Diaz slapped down Charlotte freshman guard Jon Davis like, well, a senior hazing a freshman, he had a problem with Charlotte senior center Joseph Uchebo. Uchebo went seven of 12 from the field and pulled down 10 rebounds going mostly at Diaz.

Diaz doesn't have many true big-on-big matchups this season to put on his tape for whatever or wherever his basketball life goes after FIU. He needs to dominate those few games.

FOOTBALL

You ever avoid going someplace on a date or just looking for a hookup because you know the glare of your competition for attention will render you invisible?

Then you know why FIU moved its season opening home game against Indiana to Sept. 1 from Sept. 3.

Oh, there was some official reason about now there's no chance the game gets jerked into the early afternoon by TV or some such. Yeah, yeah, yeah. As soon as the Hurricane's schedule came out with a season-opening home game against Florida A&M on Sept. 3, the first home game under new head coach Mark Richt, FIU began looking for a different date. Between attendance and attention, even by pulling off the very possible upset of Indiana, that fighting the first glow of Savior Richt would be The Charge of the Light Brigade for FIU.

On into the valley of death, rode the 600 (in the stands)...

FIU got Big Kahuna'd back to Thursday. And I don't blame them one bit.

 

 

January 27, 2016


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