They're going for a White Out today at The Branch. So put on your best Man from Glad suits and you can head straight to the club after FIU upsets No. 6 Louisville.
Kidding, of course -- nobody's letting you into the club dressed like the Man from Glad these days.
I''d love to see The Branch packed, blasting with South Florida beat and energy. FIU won't play a bigger home game this year or, probably, for a few years to come. What, some regular season closer against Rice to decide the Conference USA regular season title brings the blood to your get-up-and-move-something parts? Please.
And in all that noise, I want to see how FIU responds. When they say the crowd helped them against Florida Gulf Coast, I believe them. Goosed by the energy, the Panthers moved a half-step quicker on offense, which allowed them to get away with what normally would be too much individual play, especially in the second half. They drew fouls, hit their free throws and won going away.
That won't work today. Louisville's too quick and too well-coached. FIU averages only 11.75 assists per game, 12th in Conference USA. I wasn't shocked that FIU coach Anthony Evans mentioned "sharing the ball" as one of the things worked on during the two weeks since the Gulf Coast game.
“Just the fact that we’re moving the basketball creates easier shots for our team," Evans said. "Obviously, Ray (Taylor) not being there, he created shots for others. Now we have to manufacture that through ball movement.”
And it better be smart ball movement. Louisville ranks No. 1 nationally in turnover margin, No. 7 in the nation in steals and does it by committee. There's a lot on the shoulders of freshman point guard Jason Boswell and redshirt junior guard Dennis Mavin today. Cutting down on the turnovers, a problem even in FIU's wins, is a must or embarrassment will visit the Panthers like the relatives in Christmas Vacation.
I asked Evans what was the one thing he definitely didn't want to see from FIU today: “Play tight. I want them to come out and play like we have been. Louivsille’s a very good team and they’re going to play their style and we have to play ours. I just want them to play, execute and be confident.”
Expect FIU to play up-tempo defense and low-tempo offense. If the Panthers stay in the game five minutes into the second half, Louisville might start getting annoyed, in a good way for FIU. The Cardinals also have been down here for a few days. Louisville's the south only technically -- weather-wise, it's the Midwest so you know how those young men have felt in South Florida this week. Still, it's hard to overcome that much experience, coaching and athleticism.
The line is Louisville by 20. I'll say 10, 70-60.
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
FIU faces Florida tonight in the Gator Holiday Classic final after extending their win streak to three Friday night, spanking LaSalle 84-58. Jerica Coley had her usual high-scoring night with 33, including 12 of 13 from the line. (Young players, free throws aren't cool to do well...until you see how much they boost your point total individually, how much you'll get the ball late in close games and how much they can alter your team's win/loss ratio).
Support for Coley dictates how well FIU plays overall, though. Sophomore Taylor Shade and junior Tynia McKinzie each had efficient 15-point games. McKinzie grabbed seven rebounds. All of Kamika Idom's 11 points came from the line.
FIU lost to Florida at The Branch last year in the postseason Women's NIT.