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Florida International will try to give NC State a taste of its own medicine

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Let’s go for a run, why don’t we.

NCAA BASKETBALL: NOV 11 Florida Memorial at FIU Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If a team isn’t going to be any good, it might as well try to be interesting. Florida International has spent the majority of this century muddling around the bottom third of D-I in terms of quality while transitioning from one unremarkable style to another. I appreciate that second-year head coach Jeremy Ballard decided to change that.

Ballard decided that the Panthers would run like hell while trying force as many turnovers as possible, and they caught C-USA a bit by surprise in 2019: they improved by two games in the league standings over the year prior and finished with a winning record overall for the first time since 2013.

FIU was the fastest team in D-1 a year ago, finishing with an adjusted pace 77.6 possessions per 40 minutes. The average FIU offensive possession lasted only 14.1 seconds, which was also tops in the country. Now, sure, they were just 204th in the Pomeroy Ratings, but it was an interesting 204th.

FIU’s 2019 Factors — Offense

2019 Panthers OE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2019 Panthers OE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 102.4 (211) 48.9 (259) 17.7 (120) 25.7 (258) 38.0 (48)

Florida International attempted a lot of threes last season, which is one reason why their offensive possessions moved so quickly, but alas the Panthers just were not any good at making those threes. They had exactly one guy make more than 32% of his three-point attempts.

Despite that, Ballard said during the preseason that he was fine with the three-point line being moved back, and delivered this nugget of optimism:

“I’m hoping [the new line] is going to allow teams we’re playing to shoot worse while not affecting us [on offense].”

Who among us does not share this hope for the future?

FIU actually might end up better offensively in 2020, because I don’t think the departure of leading scorer Brian Beard actually hurts. Beard did several things well—distribute, create steals, get to the free throw line—but none involved shooting. And since Beard was a high-volume shooter, that hurt FIU quite a bit. He managed to make only 43.9% of his twos and 27.8% of his threes last season, and that was while accounting for more than a quarter of the Panthers’s shots while he was on the floor.

He posted a nice scoring average (17.3) as a result of all that effort but dude was basically just empty calories. A good chunk of his possessions could have been allocated elsewhere last year and the Panthers probably would have been better for it.

Now that they have no choice in the matter, it’s an opportunity for some more efficient players to step forward. Veteran wing Devon Andrews (6’6, 190) was a high-workload player last season as well and figures to be the primary option in 2020. He shot an impressive 52.5% inside the arc last year, and by team standards his 31.9% three-point shooting was pretty okay.

Senior Trejon Jacob (6’5, 185) also should be a primary option, and the career 36% three-point shooter is the closest thing to a proven commodity that FIU has along the perimeter. Jacob also is a Raleigh-native, so at the very least we know we have to watch out for him in this particular game.

And while Florida International is on the smaller side overall, it does have a legit interior presence in Osasumwen Osaghae (good luck with that one, Gary Hahn!), who is a career 62% shooter inside the arc. I wouldn’t expect him to generate a ton of his own offense, but he’s a good complimentary piece.

Beyond those three, there’s a good amount of uncertainty, as the Panthers reloaded with several junior college transfers during the offseason. Depending on how the newcomers fit around the returning vets, I’d say FIU has a good chance to be better at this end of the floor.

FIU’s 2019 Factors — Defense

2019 Panthers DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2019 Panthers DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 105.8 (198) 53.1 (289) 23.4 (7) 34.3 (342) 35.3 (240)

Ah yes, the eternal problems that come with being undersized, for one, and press-heavy for another. You better believe the Panthers forced a lot of turnovers last season, which was good and helpful and fine.

But the problem with pressing a lot, particularly when aren’t running with great talent, is that it often creates more problems than it solves. FIU was a one-trick pony in 2019—when it didn’t force a turnover, usually there was nothing else to rescue the possession. Opponents made 53.6% of their twos against FIU while rebounding a ton of the shots they did miss.

That’s always going to be the trade-off with this kind of defense: you’ll get more turnovers, but you’ll give up more easy scoring opportunities, and you’ll probably cost yourself some positioning in rebounding situations.

I am not here to suggest that FIU do anything different, though. Like I said, they might as well take the interesting route. Playing a higher-variance style is actually a good idea when you are under-talented, and it definitely makes you more difficult to prepare for.

I’m happy to see a team that is plenty willing to run with NC State—sure, the timing probably could be better for the Pack, which is shorthanded, but this should be an entertaining game, even if it isn’t close.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by 18.