Preview: Championship Sunday versus the Panthers

The Musketeers will be playing for some hardware for the second year in a row in Orlando, as the winners of the AdvoCare Invitational from a season ago will take on the Northern Iowa Panthers in the Tire Pros Invitational championship. Coincidentally, the Musketeers had the Panthers on their non-conference schedule already, meaning that they will take on Northern Iowa on this Championship Sunday as well as this Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Cintas Center.

The Panthers are coming off of a six-point win over the Oklahoma Sooners that put them into this matchup, where they received a 22-point performance out of junior forward Klint Carlson. The team’s leading scorer on the season, senior guard Jeremy Morgan, chipped in 17 points of his own.

The Panthers actually play rather similarly to the Musketeers. Their tallest starter is junior forward Bennett Koch at 6’9” with the 6’7” Carlson lining up at the four. However, like Trevon Bluiett lines up at the four for Xavier, Carlson does a lot of his scoring form behind the arc, as 12 of his 22 points against Oklahoma came from distance. And also like Xavier, they have guards that rebound well, as their five leading rebounders from their last game were all guards.

What’s scary about the Panthers is their three-point scoring, considering Xavier has been atrocious at stopping the long ball this year. Northern Iowa shoots 42 percent from three as a team while Xavier is allowing their opponents to shoot 35 percent from distance this season.

Rebounding will be big in this matchup, considering that the Panther’s bigs don’t rebound all that well and Xavier’s big men rebound at a high level. Xavier will have to control the post altogether, as the Musketeers have a size advantage down low.

Northern Iowa also allows their opponents to score a mere 53 points per game, which means Xavier’s offense will have to operate efficiently. Now, the Panthers have not met a high-powered offense like Xavier’s yet, but it will still be important. The Musketeers cannot rely on JP Macura to have another out-of-body experience again, so guys like Bluiett and Sumner need to score like they are capable of.

Also, STAY OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE. We need Trevon to not pick up two fouls in the opening three minutes and for all of Sean, RaShid and Tyrique to stay clean.

If Coach Mack can run some sets to get his scorers in a rhythm early and contain the Panthers on the perimeter, Xavier should go home with the championship. The Musketeers are the more talented team and have a significant advantage in the post, but the Panthers should not be slept on.

The game will get underway at 7:30 p.m on ESPN2.

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