February 17, 2015

Getting Dressed

You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.

A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:

*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see.  FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.

*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.

*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.

*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.

*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.

*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)

Each year, FIU Baseball gets:

Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.

432 fitted baseball hats

$34,000 retail value of free product.

$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach

The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.

  

February 15, 2015

Saturday Stinkers (except for Softball)

Today's blog post brought to you by...

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The Pelonis Space Heater! Yes, this little baby, brought by me to Saturday's game from the home it's served since the 2009-10 winter days that dipped into the 30s, warmed fingers still chilled from Friday night at first pitch Saturday. The base temperature actually was cooler Saturday, but Friday night's wind dropped the late game temperature from the 50s to much lower.

(One swimmer from a cold weather climate told me she left Friday's game in the fourth inning. Too cold.)

Anyway, I came ready for Saturday. FIU? Nyet. Not the women's basketball team (79-56), not the men's basketball team (75-42...what?), not the baseball team, which went face down 9-2 and never challenged.

Head coach Turtle Thomas called it a game you "flush and move on." He criticized freshman pitcher Garrett Cave for falling too far behind in counts, the defense for committing seven errors, the batters for being too passive at the plate. On this last count, the best example came during garbage time, the eighth inning. Three consecutive hitters, with men on first and second, looked at strike three.

At least the softball team split, losing to Memphis 2-0 before coming from behind to mercy rule LIU 12-4 in the FIU Invitational. Freshman shortstop Ashley Balans from Plantation American Heritage made her first college home run a grand slam. Gabriella Spallone doubled in two runs. Stephanie Texeira went two for three. FIU entered the fourth inning down 4-3 and left it up 10-4. 

February 08, 2015

Some things about Saturday

Weirdness abounded Saturday night on Replacement Lime Court at FIU Arena.

The game briefly stopped while a little girl crawled under one of the new cabanas to retrieve a ball knocked under there. For the first time in all the basketball games I've covered courtside (my first was 1987), my computer got smacked by a ball. Poor job by me -- I saw the ball coming, but wanted to finish the thought I was writing -- but good show by the Dell, which never stopped working. The iPad with the in-game stats got knocked two screens silly.

On the court, instead of FIU turned scrambly by a press, UTEP looked overwhelmed when FIU raised its defensive energy in the second half. Instead of FIU looking like eight Shaquille O'Neals at the free throw line, the Panthers dropped in 15 of 19, an excellent 78.9 percent. Meanwhile, three times in the second half, UTEP players missed both free throws and the Miners finished 18 of 32, a near-comedic 56.3 percent.

After the game, FIU senior guard Dennis Mavin said, "It's frustrating because you want to win, but at the same time, it just shows we can play with anybody in this league and we're a tough team like anybody else."

Daviyon Draper, who had 21 points, seconded that with "We can play with anybody in this league, just some of the small things need to be cleaned up. We can definitely see improvement from the beginning of the season to now."

Mavin explained his hopping, well-defended, off-balance three-pointer at the horn off an inbounds play that began with 2.4 seconds left.

"The play wasn't even for me," he said. "I was supposed to come up, all the attention was going to be on me and it was going to be a flare screen for Kris (Gulley). But somehow it messed up. It wasn't the look was supposed to get because I wasn't supposed to get the ball."

Also, Conference USA's leading scorer in conference games left the game in the first half after taking a tumble to the floor. UTEP got a foul on the five-on-four power play as Mavin writhed.

"I just got tripped up and fell on my (left) hand," he said. "My hand's been bothering me for two weeks now."

I'm really sorry I missed the halftime acknowledgement at one of this week's home basketball games of the swimming & diving team's undefeated dual meet season, the first in FIU history. You know, when the team was brought out on the court, drizzled with applause and wished luck at the Conference USA meet. I know Athletics wanted to do this for them because the next really good event crowd probably will be the next men's basketball home games, by which time the water women will be starting the water fight with Rice and Western Kentucky at the conference meet in Knoxville.

Wait, that didn't happen? Oh...

FOOTBALL

The statheads at ESPN came out with their first FPI power ranking for 2015, based on offense, defense and special teams efficiency, returning starters and (most subjective of all) recruiting rank.

FIU's 87th and fifth in Conference USA behind Marshall, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State.

 

February 06, 2015

Free-For-All Friday

I doubt an FIU coach came into this season with more optimism softball's Gator Rebhan.

Rebhan, an assistant under Jake Schumann last year, gets a Division I job after two decades of coaching travel softball and high school softball in South Florida. And the roster, which loses only three players from a 33-win team and includes seven of his former travel softball players, has enough talent that Conference USA coaches voted FIU co-favorite with UAB to win the championship on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium in May.

Rebhan told the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee last fall that the Panthers could be a 40-win, Conference USA champion. He saw no reason to back off of that Thursday afternoon. 

"We're very capable of reaching that. We're a very athletic team," Rebhan said. "Our pitching is strong. Our defense is strong and fast. Our hitting, one through nine, should be solid. We don't have one thing that stands out. We're well-balanced. Their attitude is excellent. They're really loose, which is good."

Hours later, the Panthers backed up their coach by crushing Houston in its season opener 8-1. Sophomore Stephanie Texeira, last year's Conference USA Freshman of the Year, bashed out a double, a home run and four RBI. Freshman Ashley Belans doubled in another two runs. Panthers bats ruined Houston starter Shelby Miller the way they would a Shelby Mustang, sending her back to the garage totaled after one and a third innings.

Meanwhile, junior Corrine Jenkins diffused nine hits over seven innings. The Jenkins-Shelby Graves right-handed combination will be backed up by Brianna Bartuccio, a transfer from Austin Peay. 

Sophomore Ashley Leon played second base ("defensively, she's phenomenal" Rebhan said), had two hits and hits second. Rebhan figures she'll shore up the second spot, which he considered an FIU weakness last year. Then, it's FIU's Pitchers Pounders: Texeira, sophomore Gabby Spallone and senior Krystal Garcia.

Texeira came out of Gulliver with credentials -- the first high school All-American to come to FIU -- and exceeded them last year. She hit .408 with 11 home runs, 41 RBI and a .736 slugging percentage. According to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia, Texeira let him know she wanted Rebhan as their know coach and he listened. Spallone also made C-USA's All-Freshman Team after hitting .319 with seven home runs and 33 RBI.

Friday, up at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Alabama, FIU gets Lamar and McNeese State. Saturday, the Panthers face Eastern Kentucky and Alabama. Their first home game is a week from Friday, against Memphis. 

FOOTBALL

CoachingSearch.com reported that FIU wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach Cam Turner would be skipping to the NFL's Carolina Panthers to be assistant to the wide receivers coach. So, let's recap...

Cam Turner coached The Citadel's wide receivers and special teams for one season. That was his experience as a hands-on coach when new FIU head coach and father Ron Turner ("the best quarterbacks coach in the country" according to Pete Garcia upon hiring) hired Cam Turner to be the quarterbacks coach AND the wide receivers coach in 2013.

Ron Turner was disappointed with the quarterbacks in 2013, disappointed with the wide receivers in 2013 and 2014, disappointed with the whole passing game both seasons. But the guy in charge of those two units in his second and third years of hands-on coaching gets lifted to an NFL staff headed by Ron Rivera. That's Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator for Chicago during some of the same years the Bears offensive coordinator was...Ron Turner.

BASKETBALL

Pete Pelegrin was calling Thursday's game for the PantherVision webcast when Kris Gulley, in pursuit of a loose ball, crashed across the table, knocking off Pelegrin's glasses and scattering some of the radio equipment.

It worked as metaphor for FIU's 14-turnover, outscored-by-20 second half in the loss to Texas-San Antonio

February 04, 2015

Honey, They're Home...

At the end of a long, eventful day at Camp Mitch, men's basketball head coach Anthony Evans, center Adrian Diaz and guard Dennis Mavin talked about home crowds and strange schedules.

They'd just stomped FAU, which played like something you'd see out of Fred Sanford's yard (the Owls missed more bunnies than Elmer Fudd), with one dominating half of solid defense and crisp offense, then one half of not falling asleep out of exhausted boredom. I've never seen a final score less reflective of a game than Tuesday's 64-56 Panthers win.

They spoke of being happy to be back in front of another good, into-it crowd at FIU Arena, their first home game in 18 days. Energized by that crowd, too, and good thing for the third game in a five-game, 10-day stretch that, like the 18 days between home games created by moving the FAU game to Tuesday for the Miss Universe pageant.

(When's the last time a Division I team with its own on-campus home arena had a blocs of 44 days and 18 days between home games in the same season?).

That started with 12 days off.

"We tried to work on the things we weren't doing well. Defensively. Offensively, shoot a little more," FIU coach Anthony Evans said. "I think it was evident during the game in Charlotte, guys got hot. Just trying to do things to keep the team as on point as possible. When you have a long layoff, hyou worry about rust. I think (Old Dominion) played really well when we played them. It took us that first game to get back into some sort of rhythm."

Also, FIU moved the ball. Sometimes, watching the Panthers on offense, you see five guys seeming to operate as independently as five University of California campuses. Not so Tuesday.

Evans said he'll keep practice to under an hour today and Friday to keep legs fresh for Thursday's game against Texas-San Antonio and Saturday's contest against UTEP.

January 28, 2015

Back Home Again...

Ironic, appropriate or both that the first women's basketball home game after Cindy Russo's retirement is against Old Dominion, alma mater of Russo and longtime associate coach Inge Nissen?

You don't need a shot of Old Grand Dad to know that FIU's got a shot at Old D if they find their defense. it's the only area of clear superiority for the Monarchs. In Conference USA play, Old Dominion has given up only 58.9 points per game and 35.9 shooting from the field. FIU's given up 74.5 and 45.8. And that's with a conference-leading three-point shooting percentage defense of 27.2 percent.

Old Dominion's men share four characteristics with the FIU men -- good defense and conference losses to Western Kentucky and at Alabama-Birmingham and Middle Tennessee State. But the Monarchs lead the conference in rebounding margin while FIU is last in assists per game and scoring offense. Not a good combination when you've got a ball stagnant team against a good defense. We'll see whether the 12-day gap swung FIU's offensive game toward the acutely sharpened or the obtusely dulled.

FIU's arena-based teams could move wholly back into their spaces today, the last day any Miss Universe people or stuff should be in the arena or parking lot.

That's according an FIU synopsis of the agreement between the school and Miss Universe.

A seat count from various photos taken late last week after the arena got set up for the contest comes up with 1,118 chairs + an estimated 1,500 bleacher seats on each side. That's 4,118, but the Miss Universe folks got 1,000 comp tickets per night. Preliminaries, Dress Rehearsal and the Finals sold out. FIU's $5 per ticket gets them approximately $46,770.

The Athletics release, which already downgraded the FIU benefit estimate from $400,000 earlier in January to $330,000, included $50,000 to $70,000 in ticket revenue and assumed $140,000 of state matching funds on the First Generation Scholarship Fund.

Anyway, it's back to normal for the FIU Athletics hoi polloi, whose staffing, workload and pay sometimes remind me of this scene from the 1985 classic DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 8.

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January 27, 2015

Quensel C-USA Diver of the Week(x5)

Freshman diver Rebecca Quensel's 1-meter and 3-meter wins against Florida Gulf Coast Saturday earned her Conference USA Diver of the Week for the fifth time this season. Coincidentally, that makes her the fifth diver to with a season's quintet of Diver of the Week awards.

Sorry that we missed forward Kiandre'a Pound racking up her second consecutive C-USA Freshman Player of the Week award Monday.

January 23, 2015

Time for Russo to Rest

The surprise for many at FIU was that Cindy Russo returned for the 2014-15 season.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the standard prediction around the athletic department had Russo's retirement dovetailing with the end of star guard Jerica Coley's eligibility in 2014.

Last season's ineligiblity of 6-3 Marita Davydova infuriated Russo just as much at the end of the season as the beginning. She never flat said it, but she had to know that dropped the ceiling for Coley's last team and her last team with postseason potential. With some semblance of an inside/outside game, FIU could put together a winning season and would hold a puncher's chance in the Conference USA tournament. Without it, you get what happened -- FIU rising only to the level of Coley's superpowers. Once those ran out like a power ring's charge in the 25th hour against eventual champ Middle Tennessee State in the conference tournament semis, that was it.

Russo returned for one more year, I think, almost out of reflex. This is what she's done every fall since 1977. Routines beget full body muscle memory. But fatigue strikes earlier and earlier as the years pass until the time the remembering muscle tells the mind, "Forget this, I'm tired." 

All college coaches essay the role of parent on some level. For years, Russo had been the caretaker for her elderly mother. That's not a Wikipedia example of "sandwich generation" but it's still "sandwich generation." Most "sandwich generation" folks don't go on bi-weekly business trips to places like Bowling Green, Kentucky or Huntington, West Virginia (in January).

Soon after Russo's mother died in late December, rumors began around FIU athletics that she'd retire. Worn down even before being weakened by the flu that refuses to leave her -- I almost wanted to pour chicken soup through the cell phone when we spoke Thursday afternoon, she sounded so bad -- she saw the rest of the season looming like K2.

The vastness of Russo's career can't be overstated, both as far as FIU and women's basketball.

When she began as an assistant coach at 1970s powerhouse Old Dominion, many families actively discouraged their girls from participating in team sports. Heck, many girls actively discouraged girls from participating in team sports. Not feminine enough, you know. Many states didn't have high school girls basketball tournaments. Indiana, home of the most storied boys high school tournament, didn't start a girls counterpart until 1976, the same year the Summer Olympics first included women's basketball. Pro leagues? Please. The NCAA didn't sanction college women's basketball, but rather the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) did. The first AIAW national championship game to be nationally televised ended the 1977-78 season, Russo's first at FIU, where a few structures dotted a lot of space. Parking not a problem back then.

Now, well, look around. Despite the roles sexism and homophobia still play in college women's basketball, if you don't see the vast differences from 37-plus years ago, you're too obtuse to read this blog. FIU continues to grow an inexorably as The Blob.

Of course, Cindy Russo would've liked to finish this season, though it looks headed for a C-USA tournament one-and-done. No woman in sports Russo's age with any stature got there by leaving anything unfinished. All those women fought more battles than Patton just to get to the game time fight.

Russo's earned the right to say she's too tired to keep fighting.

January 22, 2015

January 19, 2015

Another FIU Freshman Honored

Not a bad year for the newbies on campus.

Freshman quarterback Alex McGough started 11 games for the football team while freshman running back Alex Gardner tied redshirt junior Anthon Samuel for the led the team in rushing. Freshman swimmer Silvia Scalia and freshman diver Rebecca Quensel each have compiled four Conference USA performer of the week awards.

And now redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound has four Conference USA Freshmen of the Week awards. Pound averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in FIU's losses at Western Kentucky and Marshall. 

January 18, 2015

Pressing Matters

There used to be a saying among basketball coaches that "you can't press a good team." My first 21+ years in basketball country provided little evidence to the contrary, save No. 14 Cleveland State upsetting No. 3 Indiana in the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament. I still believe an experienced, well-drilled team dismantles all but the most athletic presses and traps. 

But "experienced" and "well-drilled" rarely describe even the best college-affiliated basketball teams these days. So many rosters get a remix each year. Players declare for the draft as soon as somebody tells them they have a shot. There's almost as much player movement between schools as there is between NBA or NBA D-League teams. Coaches seem to find it easier to get a team trapping and pressuring properly than getting a lineup proficient at dismantling it.

FIU can be a good team. They'd be better than 9-9 without spending eight consecutive road games during 44 days between home games. They're also a new mix of players -- Adrian Diaz, Kris Gulley, Daviyon Draper, Tashawn Desir, Ray Rodriguez all playing significant minutes this year, none on the floor for FIU last year.

That said, Saturday night, in a game between the two Conference USA schools without dedicated video people in their athletic departments, the Panthers looked completely discombobulated by Western Kentucky's press, improperly so. When Daviyon Draper said after the game that the press surprised the Panthers, I thought not sure why it should have, but I'm glad it did. I'd hate for a team to look that stunned seeing something they knew was coming.

Then, FIU either couldn't figure out who was supposed to stay back and help or when they got through, didn't know what to do with the numbers and space. FIU coach Anthony Evans said afterward he thought the Panthers got complacent in the second half and stopped attacking overall.

FIU maintained a lead most of the time Adrian Diaz sat with first half foul trouble, then slowly lost it before halftime. Diaz wound up playing only 25 minutes. After his second consecutive game with limited minutes by two early fouls, Diaz said he's got to stay out of foul trouble. The questionable quality of Thursday's calls on Diaz created a karmic situation satisfied by the way the refs turned a blind eye to Diaz repeatedly committing his fifth foul. Saturday, there wasn't much to beef about either way.

The Panthers have 12 days to sharpen themselves against the defensive schemes that caused their offensive malfunctions three of the last four games. This would've been the second travel partner game week, when you have one conference game because you're playing your travel partner, FAU in the case of FIU.

(For those unfamiliar with the travel partner system, it works thusly -- when FIU plays on a Thursday at, say, Marshall Feb. 26, FAU will play at Western Kentucky. Saturday, Feb. 28, FIU and FAU will switch opponents, just as Marshall and Western Kentucky did this week. So, there's only one conference game travel partner week, which was the first week of conference play and will be this week for everybody but FIU and FAU.)

The moving of the game from next Saturday to Feb. 3 to accommodate the Miss Universe pageant creates the almost-fortnight gap followed by five games in 10 days. At least the last two, Feb. 5 against Texas-San Antonio and Feb. 7 against UTEP, are at home.

Great crowd again, by the way. I think three of eight cabanas were in use.

January 17, 2015

Dealing With Streakers

Here's what both FIU basketballs face today against Western Kentucky:

Neither gender of Hilltoppers has lost to a team from outside the state of Kentucky since Thanksgiving. The women lost to Mississippi State Nov. 23 and the men lost to Stony Brook Nov. 25.

The last basketball game Western Kentucky lost was to Louisville. That's correct for either gender. The women lost to now-No. 4 Louisville 89-67 on Nov. 25 (apparently, the last truly bad day for Western basketball). The men's team lost to now-No. 6 Louisville, 76-67, on Dec. 20.

Since then, they've gone 18 for 18, 12 in a row for the women and six in a row for the men. The women sit just outside the Associated Press Top 25, atop the "Others Receiving Votes" group. The chances at Western for still-struggling FIU clearly rank around "Chaminade."

Western's men, who face FIU today on Lime Court at Formerly Sunblazer Arena, don't have that stature, but have been playing the best ball in Conference USA along with Louisiana Tech.

FIU could cause them problems, especially 6-10 Adrian Diaz inside. Western's got 6-10 Aleksej Rostov and 7-1 Ben Lawson to counter Diaz, but they combined for just over 27 minutes per game. Diaz plays 29.3 but unless he gets in foul trouble, look for him to get 35 or 36 minutes. Also, he'll need to help defensively on 6-6 senior forward George Fant, last week's Conference USA co-Player of the Week.

Both teams observed Casual Friday after winning overtime games Thursday night. Another reason besides winter weather the FAU-FIU travel partner swing ranks as the confrence's favorite: just get on the bus the next day for an hour. No lounging around in cramped airport seats. No possible plane issues. Western came down and broke a sweat.

FIU coach Anthony Evans put his name on the bottom of a letter asking for the same kind of crowd that filled the arena's lower sections for Thursday's win against Marshall. Could help -- before Thursday, the Hill People's last game outside Kentucky was Dec. 13 and they've played only five road games all season.

 

January 16, 2015

Home Balling

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A happy Panthers bunch grinned and hugged through the alma mater Thursday night as if not quite ready for the come down usually already embraced by the time this closing credits tune sails.

And why not? In their 66-62 overtime win, they really made two comebacks to win in the kind of game where you usually get only one shot.

Down 38-21 early in the second half, FIU went on a 12-0 run as the Panthers got to Marshall on the defensive perimeter. As Marshall works inside about as well as NASCAR (and, frankly, aren't the most basketball intelligent team at either end), taking away the three turned the Thundering Herd into the Blundering Herd.

Center Adrian Diaz's points (two) matched his fouls (two) in the first half.

"When he's in foul trouble, I try to take him out," FIU coach Anthony Evans said. "Especially if he gets two quickly, we can't afford for him to get the third early because in the second half, I have to play more conservatively. So once he got two, he and Dennis (Mavin), I took them out and we had to ride it until halftime."

Early in the second half, Diaz's fouls edged ahead. Marshall's 6-9 Cheikh Sane threw himself into the part by throwing himself to the floor as Diaz got position for a rebound of a Marshall miss. A Diaz pass deflection launched Mavin to a hoop-and-harm three-point play on a fast break the previous possession. Now visibly roused by the bad call, Diaz blocked Sane the way an older brother blocks a younger one and whipped a pass out to Kris Gulley for another fast break layup.

At the next media timeout, with FIU closed to 38-31, FIU assistant coach Louis Rowe appeared to be telling Diaz to calm down and Diaz seemed to be saying, "I'm all right, I'm all right."

"Dennis was penetrating, getting to the basket," Evans said. "They were going to pay a lot of attention to him. They were downing the ball screen on the side so I thought the best advantage for us was a middle ball screen. Once he started doing that, he was able to penetrate, dish to somebody else, dish to Adrian. So it started to create some havoc with them."

After FIU closed to 38-33, Marshall got together a 9-2 run to go up 47-35 with 11:41 left. Running out of time wasn't so much a concern as running out of mental gas. Pick your sport, teams making big comebacks often have one in them, if that. If they get back into the game, they can ride that positive momentum and energy until either the end or the other team answers. If the other team answers, then you get saggy shoulders, the drained feeling. It's why it took until last weekend for an NFL playoff team to erase two 14-point deficits to win. Marshall had answered.

And the Panthers had something else for The Herd. Mavin ran off eight consecutive FIU points in the middle of a 16-4 FIU run that ended with a Diaz leaner in the lane to put FIU up for the first time all game 51-50.

The Panthers deserved to win. They outsmarted and outgutted Marshall. But they did get two important pieces of zebra help.

Diaz got his fourth foul with 10:16 left in regulation. Apparently, to get his fifth, he would've needed to use weaponry and insult each referee's mama. You can say that's karmic balance for some of the lousy calls on him earlier. Or, you could point to Marshall's laughably pathetic six for 16 from the line -- making FIU's 16 of 27 (59.3 percent) look like a team of Rick Barrys and Steve Alfords -- and 10 for 39 shooting from two-point range to conclude it flat didn't matter.

Also, the Mavin miss that Diaz jammed home for a 63-62 lead with 58 seconds left in overtime, the most important overtime bucket? Mavin didn't just travel on penetration. He ran for a first down.

The final book of game statistics and play-by-play didn't include an official attendance. A second quad set of cabanas now grace the east side of the court, giving the house eight cabanas to not sell. That moved the pep band over to Section A, the Lincoln Road section, while keeping their playlist back in 1967-87. That helped fill in the student section, on the south side. So, there was good noise for the first home game in Originally Sunblazer Arena since America had hope Annie wouldn't be the disaster it was.

 "Hopefully, for our game Saturday, they'll all come back," Mavin said.

Just looked this up: last season's official average attendance, 1,474, placed FIU 265th in the nation and earned athletic director Pete Garcia a bonus of approximately $7,613.

This is the track team boarding a bus for their workouts. Behind them sit two of the four massive, parking lot cramping trailers that have something to do with getting FIU Arena ready for Miss Universe. Not sure why the scene struck me as metaphor, but...

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January 08, 2015

Conklin, Harley to Pitt; Hilliard to Valdosta State; Where Russo Is

In his season season as FIU's defensive coordinator, Josh Conklin became the highest paid assistant coach in FIU history ($200,000) and did a pretty good job of earning it.

Though working with better talent than most of us "experts" anticipated, Conklin had more than a little something to do with a defense that put up fat stretches of good football and collected turnovers like boys collect Hot Wheels -- first in the nation in fumble recoveries, fourth in total turnovers gained. Defense and special teams scored or set up 110 points for FIU and the Panthers had at least one defensive touchdown in each win.

Linebackers' coach Rob Harley coached the biggest surprise, a rapidly rambunctious group of mostly young linebackers. Before FIU, he'd been a graduate assistant on the coaching staff that included defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, now the head coach at Pitt.

FIU sources confirmed a Sports Illustrated report that Conklin will be taking the same position at Pitt. The source also said Harley will be going with Conklin.

FIU's two quarterbacks for 2012 and 2013 were Jake Medlock and E.J. Hilliard. Medlock transferred to Valdosta State last year with one year of eligibility remaining. Now, Hilliard will be doing the same, he announced via Twitter Thursday.

As early enrollment begins Friday, FIU should be welcoming Lakeland Christian All-State quarterback Christian Alexander, Central running back Anthony Jones and Central defensive lineman-projected linebacker Fermin Silva. 

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

The flu that's sweeping Florida put FIU women's basketball coach Cindy Russo on the injury report for Thursday's 75-60 loss to Middle Tennessee State.  

January 07, 2015

Football season opener at UCF Sept. 5

Central Florida's made official that the season opener for the state's two largest universities will be Sept. 5 at UCF. This is the game UCF asked FIU to postpone this year so the team from Orlando could have a bye week after playing Penn State overseas. FIU filled the gap with Wagner.

FIU goes to Bloomington for the first of a home-and-home with Indiana Sept. 12. They get what should be a layup against UMass on Oct. 3. Between those two games, the Panthers still need another game. Wonder if Booker T.'s available...

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Larry Dennis started the last five of the nine games he played this season for FIU, but hasn't played since the FIU win against Florida Gulf Coast in which he had no points and one rebound in seven minutes. Dennis declared on social media he had no problems with anybody nor did he have problems in the classroom. He didn't feel he was getting any better as a player, so he's transferring to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

 

January 05, 2015

Jerseys, Warmups, Shoes, Pound & Wide Receivers

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.

FIU announced they've signed a five-year deal with two one-year options with addidas that'll allow the athletic equipment and apparel manufacturer to keep clothing all FIU teams, as they have done since 2005. The deal's announced as being worth $2.6 million.

That includes uniforms for FIU's sports teams;  a suite at FIU Stadium; and signs at FIU Stadium, FIU Arena and FIU Baseball Stadium.

WOMEN'S HOOP

For the third time this season, 6-foot redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound has been named the Conference USA Freshman of the Week. She averaged 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in FIU's 1-2 week.

FOOTBALL, PAST & FUTURE (?)

USA Football chose FIU commit Austin Maloney, a 5-11 wide receiver out of Columbus High, for its Under 19 team that'll play Team Canada in the 2015 International Bowl Feb. 7. Maloney gained 939 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on his 59 catches this season and returned a punt for a touchdown.

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman, who graduated as a student in December, and safety Justin Halley will play for the American side in the Medal of Honor Bowl Game Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina. Especially for Coleman, who averaged 20.3 yards per catch on his 23 catches, this is a huge opportunity to showcase his talent for NFL scouts.

 

January 03, 2015

Went to a Conference Party...

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, FIU Sprint Invite, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Women's Basketball, vs. FAU, Sunday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Florida, Texas Christian, FAU, Thursday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.

No longer the new kids on the block, FIU's still given less of a chance in the Conference USA basketball jungle than New Kids on the Block would be. But in the mid-major hoops world, all hoop dreams remain in play until you lose in the conference tournament.

At least the 7-6 FIU men know they'll participate in that this season, making the conference schedule about something more tangible than media guide filler. As for the 3-8 women, though they played perhaps their best game of the season in beating Bowling Green 68-55 in Tuesday's consolation game of the FIU Sun & Fun Classic, they're still piecing together who best fits with whom and where.

Redshirt freshman Kiandre'a Pound, clearly FIU's best Panther, lacks the range and playmaking ability omniweapon Jerica Coley had, but she's a smooth, confident scorer with height (6-0), build and athleticism that pushes her high end above Coley's. Over the last six games, Gulf Coast Community College transfer guard Destini Feagin has established a place on the perimeter and her scoring numbers the last four games have been, in order, 3, 6, 10 and 15 points.

The erratic offensive games of point guard Taylor Shade and senior center Marita Davydova don't cause FIU as many problems as the Panthers erratic team defense. Whether slow afoot, on the help or on the rotation, the Panthers' defense arrives on Miami time far too often. Usually, when you see a team giving up 45.8 percent shooting from the field (335th out of 343 Division I teams), they aren't outrebounding teams by 8.1 per game. Check out the teams ranked 333rd (Saint Francis, PA), 334th (Alabama A&M), 336th (Loyola Maryland) and 337th (Grambling) in field goal percentage defense. Respectively, they average -14.6, -11.4, -8.2 and -18.4 in per game rebound margin.

Fellow Sun Belt refugees Middle Tennessee State, last year's regular season and tournament champion, and Western Kentucky have the best RPI. Western (11-2) and Marshall (8-3) have the best records going into conference play. 

On the men's side, "I think it's a great league," FIU men's coach Anthony Evans said. "Obviously, UTEP, La Tech (the preseason favorite), Old Dominion have been playing really well. Charlotte, too. Then, I think there's a second tier of teams and we're probably in the mix."

Evans knows what he's going to get from fifth-year senior guard Dennis Mavin and center Adrian Diaz every night. I asked him who else needs to gain that regularity of production to move FIU into that upper echelon of C-USA.

“The other guys, the Daviyon Drapers, the Ray Rodriguezes, the Jason Boswells, Marco Porcher Jimenez, if those guys continue to improve, then it helps us because now we’ll have more people they have to worry about than just two guys,” Evans said. “That’s what our numbers say. If those guys are making shots and playing well, I think we’re a really good team.”

 

December 29, 2014

And We're Back...

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Women's basketball, vs. Auburn, tonight 6 p.m.

Women's basketball, vs. Bowling Green or Hampton, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, FIU Sprint Invite, Saturday, 1 p.m.

FIU plays the 6 p.m. games in the 30th Sun & Fun Classic, a women's basketball staple at FIU since the Sunblazer days, over the next two days at FIU Arena. I've never seen a team whose results could so clearly be gauged by a single statistic. Seven FIU opponents have shot 47.6 percent or better from the field. FIU is 0-7 in those games. Two FIU opponents have shot under 47.6 from the field, in fact, under 40 percent. FIU's record in those games: 2-0.

FOOTBALL

Tennessee State running back Tevin Spells claimed on Twitter Monday that he was transferring to play at FIU. Spells ran for 199 yards on 49 carries for Tennessee State last year as a sophomore after apparently doing most of his work on special teams his freshman year.

Considering the flaky health of running backs, you can never have too many good ones. But Spells does come to a backfield that already has Alex Gardner, Napoleon Maxwell and Anthon Samuel, each of whom already put up better numbers against better college competition than Spells.

 

December 15, 2014

Another RPI Win for FIU

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. North Florida, Wednesday, 11 a.m.

Women's Basketball, vs. Western Carolina, Saturday, 1 p.m.

While the women's basketball team was falling like the night time temperature in Jacksonville, the men's team was knocking off previously 8-1 Florida Gulf Coast over in Fort Myers, 69-63.

FIU's 6-4 with two wins over teams in the top 100 of the NCAA's RPI rankings, No. 34 Gulf Coast and No. 60 Wright State. As importantly, the Panthers seem to be consistently getting better and should be ready for the Conference USA season.


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