The NCAA has moved its three-point line back, but the FIU men’s basketball team is going to continue to charge forward.
FIU, under first-year coach Jeremy Ballard last season, finished 20-14, tying for second on the program’s list of most victories. Ballard inherited a 14-18 team and somehow produced FIU’s second winning season since 2001.
This year, FIU — and every other men’s team in Division I — will have to adjust as the three-point line has moved back to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches.
“I think it’s good for our game,” Ballard said of the rule change. “I’m hoping it’s going to allow for better spacing on the offensive end. Spacing is something we preach with our guys.
“I’m hoping [the new line] is going to allow teams we’re playing to shoot worse while not affecting us [on offense].”
The longer line was tested in last season’s NIT, and three-point percentages went down from 35.2 to 33.3. However, teams still attempted roughly the same number of three-pointers per game (23).
FIU was last in Conference USA — and 339th in the country — last season with just 30.9-percent accuracy on three-pointers. FIU also shot just 64 percent on free throws, ranking No. 338 in the nation.
“Shooting of any kind wasn’t a forte of ours,” Ballard said. “But I think we addressed the shooting with our recruiting. We brought in some guys who can make shots.”
Ballard mentioned newcomers such as 6-0 junior Tevin Brewer, 6-4 junior Blake Furcron and 6-1 sophomore Cameron Corcoran as players who shot better than 40 percent at their previous stops.
Eric Lovett, a 6-5 junior who averaged 18.3 points at a Missouri junior college last season, has also impressed Ballard.
Holdovers Devon Andrews, Antonio Daye Jr. and Trejon Jacob have improved their shooting strokes, Ballard said.
Defensively, FIU is going to continue its frenetic pressure, which forced turnovers on 23.4 percent of possessions, ranking seventh in the nation. FIU also ranked fourth in the nation with 23 points per game in transition.
However, the Panthers will no doubt miss graduated point guard Brian Beard, who finished second in the nation in steals last season (2.9). Beard was also second in the league in assists (6.0) and seventh in scoring (17.3).
Brewer, an extremely quick junior-college transfer, has shown signs he can run the point this season, starting with a highly difficult opener on Nov. 5 at Mississippi State.
Andrews, a 6-6 senior forward who is the most versatile player in Conference USA (as per Lindy’s magazine) and a preseason first-team all-league selection, is FIU’s go-to scorer. He averaged 15.3 points and reached 20 in four of FIU’s final 10 games.
Osasumwen Osaghae, a 6-9, 250-pound center, is regarded as the best shot-blocker, defender and rebounder in the league. He averaged 8.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks last season. He also ranked first in the league and fourth in the nation in blocks.
Jacob, a 6-5 senior shooting guard, averaged 10.5 points and shot 38 percent on three-pointers.
Daye, a 6-1 sophomore point guard, averaged 8.3 points as a freshman, starting 18 of his final 20 games. After averaging 25.4 points as a senior at Fort Lauderdale High, the Panthers have high hopes for Daye.
Another player to watch is 6-9, 235-pound post Sedee Keita, who is on his third Division I college team. He averaged 9.6 minutes as a freshman, helping South Carolina reach the Final Four. Last season, he averaged 2.1 points and 2.0 rebounds, helping St. John’s reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
Ballard would love it if Keita can now help FIU reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its only appearance in 1995.
Other local teams at a glance
NCAA DIVISION I
▪ FIU — Coach: Jeremy Ballard; Last season: 20-14, 10-8 Confereunce USA; Top players: Devon Andrews (6-6 sr. F); Trejon Jacob (6-5, sr. G); Osasumwen Osaghae (6-9 sr. C); Noteworthy: FIU was seeded seventh in last season’s league tournament before getting upset by 10th-seeded North Texas 71-57. Then, after beating Texas State by six in the CollegeInsider.com tournament, FIU’s season ended with a second-round loss to Green Bay, 98-68.
NCAA DIVISION II
▪ Barry University — Coach: Butch Estes; Last season: 18-11, lost in Sunshine State Conference semifinals; Top players: Tylan Birts (6-6, sr. SF); Evan Walshe (6-4 sr. SG); David Moya (6-0 sr. PG); Noteworthy: The Bucs have made the NCAA playoffs in five of the past six years.
▪ Nova Southeastern University — Coach: Jim Crutchfield; Last season: 29-4, 18-2 Sunshine State Conference. The Sharks won their league’s regular-season title. In the playoffs, they won the South Region title and reached the NCAA’s Elite Eight. Top players: Mark Matthews (6-6 r-sr. F); Connor Zinaich (6-6 r-sr. F); Mikkel Kolstad (6-4 sr. SG); Noteworthy: Crutchfield has completely turned this program around, posting a 46-14 record in two years.
▪ Florida Memorial — Coach: Ansar Al-Ameen; Last season: 5-25, 3-15; Top players: Omar Outar (5-9 sr. PG); Mubashar Ali (7-0 jr. C); Kyle Young (6-10 jr. PF); Noteworthy: The Lions dipped from a 15-12 record in 2017-2018 to last season’s losing campaign. Outar is the team’s leading returning scorer. Ali and Young are transfers who should help on rim protection.
▪ Johnson & Wales — Coach: David Graham; Last season: 3-22; Top players: Tristan Stephens (6-4, so. F); Michael Stuart (5-9, sr. G); Sydney Alcena (6-3 jr. G); Newcomers: The Wildcats have recruited nine newcomers. Stuart averaged 8.5 points and made 41.4 percent on 3-pointers. One of the Wildcats’ three wins was over 16th-ranked Warner, the top seed in the league tournament.
▪ St. Thomas — Coach: D.P. Harris; Last season: 11-16, 10-8, lost in conference quarterfinals; Top players: Justin Brown (6-4 sr. G); Ahmad Gilbert (6-7 sr. F); Fotios Malelis (6-8 sr.); Noteworthy: Harris, who was the head coach of St Vincent (an NCAA Division III school in Pennsylvania) for 16 years, was hired by the Bobcats on March 7. He was inducted into the St. Vincent Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014. He inherits Brown, who made first-team all-league last season.
▪ ASA Miami — Coach: Jean Dubuisson; Last season: 10-20, 5-7 Southern Conference; Top players: Sebastian Jean (6-0 so. PG); Levard Missick (6-8 so. F); Marquise Jones (6-3 so. G); Noteworthy: This is Dubuisson’s fourth ASA team and his deepest. Jean and Missick could be two of the best players in the league, hoping to take ASA to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
▪ Broward College — Coach: Anthony Anderson: Last season: 16-12, 5-7 did not make playoffs; Top players: DeAndre Pinckney (6-9, so. G/F); Darien Jenkins (6-4 so. PG); Landon Kirkwood (6-6 so. SG); Noteworthy: Pinckney averaged 19 points and nine rebounds last season and is being recruited by Power Five schools. Kirkwood transferred from California-Fullerton, and Anderson — in his second year as the coach — believes his team should go to nationals.
▪ Miami Dade College — Coach: Kevin Ledoux; Last season: 10-20 overall, 7-5 Southern Conference); Top players: Elton Walker (6-5 so. W); K.J. Fitzgerald (6-0 so. PG); Gus Okafor (6-6 so. F); Noteworthy: Fitzgerald (Jacksonville University) and Okafor (Longwood) are D-1 transfers. After playing 10 of the top 25 junior-college teams in the nation and finishing 10-20 last season, Ledoux said his schedule won’t be as tough this season.