No one can deny that it has been a roller coaster ride for the men's hoops team. Starting the season - missing several key player - FIU lost 7 of it's first 12 games (granted the nonconference schedule was stacked with some tough teams).
Beginning with the 89-66 loss to FSU, the Panthers dropped six of their next eight games, including three consecutive road losses against Louisville, Marshall and Jackson State.
FIU was able to overcome its early season woes, putting together a 4-1 stretch before the recent four-game losing streak.
Coach Isiah Thomas (left, Miguel A. Olivella, Jr., AP) seems confident his team will be able to start playing better with the help of Dominique Ferguson, Alex Legion and newly arrived Phil Taylor. Ferguson and Legion have only played in nine and 10 games, respectively. Both Legion and Ferguson (right, Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff) have logged a good amount of minutes - since joining the team - with each averaging over 22 minutes a game (Ferguson 22.7 and Legion 28.1). Taylor played for the first time against South Alabama, after being activated on Thursday. Taylor played eight minutes off the bench, going 0 for 2 from the field.
"Hopefully, it will give us a back up point guard that can come in, that’s really a point guard and not someone we are trying to convert to the point guard position," Thomas said about Taylor. "If [Taylor] can get acclimated to the things we are doing and we can gel over the next month or so, hopefully by tournament time, we can become a good basketball team. As of right now, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Thomas extended Legion's minutes in FIU's 86-78 loss to South Alabama this weekend. Legion played 37 minutes and had 23 points and six rebounds for the night.
From what I saw on against the Trojans, FIU looks like a solid team that needs to learn how to play with one another. I left that the UALR game thinking FIU might have something with this squad. You have to give credit where credit is due. The Panthers bounced back from a 15-point halftime deficit to make it a four-point game late.
The South Alabama game was similar with the Jaguars taking 13-point lead into halftime. The Panthers battled back in the second half, outscoring S. Alabama 52-47.With time running out, FIU held on to a brief two point lead after Marvin Roberts hit a free-throw shot. The Jaguars ultimately proved to be too tough for FIU, going on a 10-0 run with a little more than a minute to play.
In both games FIu struggled defensively. The Jaguars shot 49 percent on Saturday. South Alabama shot 53 percent in the first half. UALR shot 51 percent.
It is an understatement to say this team is still a work in progress. Coach Thomas was quick to point out to me last week, that this team has only been playing together for a few games and needs to learn how to "gel." Thomas hopes by the Sun Belt tournament, this team will be playing together. FIU still has nine games to improve before the postseason. Thomas has done a good job of getting the pieces necessary to build a legitimate team. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers can put it together and go on a nice run towards the end of the season. FIU fans need to be patent and give Thomas time to get the team to where he wants them. It is easy to sound the alarm when things do not seem to be going right.
I have little doubt this team is capable of playing at a high level. How high? Is yet to be determined.