Kevin Jairaj - USA Today Sports

The Matchups: Xavier vs Northern Iowa

Before every game, Rick takes a position-by-position look at what to expect. This edition focuses on Sunday night's Tire Pros Invitational championship game against Northern Iowa in Orlando.

Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Juwan McCloud FR (5-11, 173)

McCloud is a short but strong and athletic point guard with a tight handle. He attacks the rim fearlessly and does a good job of drawing contact, but he struggles to finish due to his size. He's the only UNI player with the ability to get into the lane consistently and make plays off the dribble. He went 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-2 from deep in 24 minutes of action against ASU, finishing with four points and a rebound. He only saw 15 minutes against Oklahoma and finished with two points (1-4 FG, 0-1 3PT), three rebounds, an assist, and a steal. Xavier should have a big advantage in the backcourt, particularly in this matchup. Sumner has made plays consistently throughout the first four games of the season, but he's also had too many lapses for a star player. It's possible this game comes down to the final possessions, and the Musketeers will need their point guard to be better in crunch time than he's been so far this season.

Significant Edge Xavier

JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) Wyatt Lohaus JR (6-2, 180)

Lohaus is a smallish combo guard that typically looks to space along the 3-point line and spot-up. He's off to a rough start through the first three games. He played just 15 minutes against ASU and finished with two points on 1-for-7 shooting, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He wasn't much better against Oklahoma, going 1-for-5 from the field and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc with three points, four rebounds, and an assist in 41 minutes. He averaged 4.0 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 18.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. Macura went nuts in the first half against Clemson, pouring in a career-high 23 points before intermission and finishing with 28 for the game. It's not fair to expect him to shoot like that in back-to-back games, but don't expect him to slow down in this one. At the very least, it's likely he'll be aggressive with the Panthers lacking the size and athleticism to matchup with all of XU's perimeter weapons. 

Significant Edge Xavier

Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Jeremy Morgan SR (6-5, 195)

Morgan is UNI's best player. He's a wing shooter with length and athleticism that rebounds well and gets it done on defense. He led the Panthers with 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from deep, 12 rebounds, and four assists in 37 minutes in the win over Arizona State. He then followed that performance up with 17 points on a tough shooting night (4-15 FG, 2-9 3PT, 7-8 FT) to go with seven boards, seven steals, four assists, and four blocks in 41 minutes against Oklahoma. Xavier has to chase him off of the 3-point line as he's much less comfortable when forced to make plays off the bounce. He's averaging 16.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 steals, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks in 32.3 minutes per game, all of which are team highs. He averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 40.7 percent from three as a junior. Bernard came up with some clutch buckets down the stretch in the win over Clemson and he's consistently played solid in other areas. While he's spent a lot of time chasing point guards over the last two games, he'll likely spend most of his night guarding someone closer to his size tonight in Morgan.

Moderate Edge UNI

Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Klint Carlson JR (6-7, 222)

Carlson is a face-up forward with a well-rounded skill-set and decent athleticism. He does a lot of pick-and-pop work within UNI's offense and he also has a strong first step going to his dominant left hand off the bounce. He was the hero for UNI on Friday night in the overtime win over Oklahoma. He led all scorers with 22 points  on 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-8 from the perimeter, to go with three assists, and two rebounds in 38 minutes. He finished second on the team Thursday evening in the win over Arizona State with 19 points (8-10 FG, 2-4 3PT, 1-1 FT) to go with four boards and no turnovers in 30 minutes. He's the team's second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game to go along with 2.7 boards and 2.3 assists in 27.7 minutes. He averaged 7.4 points (48.4% FG, 32.1% 3PT) and 3.6 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game as a sophomore. Bluiett got back on track offensively against Clemson after struggling against Missouri, even if he didn't shoot it well from three. He finished with 21 points (6-15 FG, 2-7 3PT, 7-9 FT), five rebounds, and four assists in 40 minutes. This should be an entertaining matchup to watch - it's likely both players find success offensively. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Sean O'Mara JR (6-10, 244) vs Bennett Koch JR (6-9, 234)

Koch is a big man that moves fluidly with good feet. On offense, he's comfortable catching the ball 8-12 feet from the rim and working in isolation off the dribble, often with spin moves. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 21 minutes of action against Arizona State. He had just eight points (4-7 FG), two blocks, and two turnovers in 19 minutes against Oklahoma. He played 18.8 minutes per game as a sophomore, averaging 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds. O'Mara only played 12 minutes against Clemson because he was in foul trouble. He had 10 points (4-4 FG, 2-2 FT) and two rebounds. He was good when he was on the court. He was physical and played solid defensively. This will be another good test for him, particularly on the defensive end. 

Slight Edge UNI

Xavier Bench vs Northern Iowa Bench

Redshirt freshman Spencer Haldeman (6-1, 173) is a small, scrappy spot-up shooter, who will serve as the Panthers' primary ballhandler at times. He gave them a big boost off the bench on Thursday against ASU, posting 17 points (6-8 FG, 5-7 3PT) and two boards in 23 minutes. He played 26 minutes against Oklahoma and finished with eight points (3-7 FG, 2-6 3PT), five rebounds, one assist, and four turnovers. Iowa State grad transfer Jordan Ashton (6-4, 192), a senior guard, is mostly just a spot-up shooter on offense, but he's a fundamentally solid player overall. He provided a lift off the bench on Friday as he scored 13 points (4-7 FG, 3-3 3PT), grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out two assists in 34 minutes against Oklahoma. He knocked down 2-of-7 from deep to finish with six points and three assists in 27 minutes against ASU. Xavier has a major advantage with frontcourt depth. The advantage of having three capable centers showed against Clemson as O'Mara, RaShid Gaston, and Tyrique Jones were all in foul trouble throughout the game but it never really mattered because they just continued to rotate. Gaston had some trouble finishing but he was solid defensively and strong on the glass, finishing with two points (1-5 FG), six boards and a block in 15 minutes. Jones added two points (1-1 FG) and two rebounds in 12 minutes. Quentin Goodin is still finding his way. Each game, he's had some good moments and some freshman moments, and Friday was no exception. He finished with two assists, two steals, a rebound and three turnovers in 10 minutes of action without a field goal attempt. 

Even

Overall

Northern Iowa often plays five out with a lot of spacing and movement on the offensive end with the intent to jack threes. The Panthers hoisted 16 of them in the first half against Arizona State to set the tone in Orlando and shot 30 for the game. They followed that up with 31 attempts against Oklahoma. They're shooting 41.2 percent from deep on the season. While they rely heavily on the 3-pointer, they're not a run-and-gun offense. In fact, they're actually very patient, ranking 265th nationally in average length of possession. Xavier has to keep the ball in front on the defensive end and play with a chasing mentality around screens. Northern Iowa doesn't have any guards that are great at putting their head down and getting into the lane to disrupt the defense. The Musketeers should be physically capable of winning their individual matchups more often than not, which would make it much easier to stay close to UNI's shooters on the perimeter. When they do get beat, they have to be quick and controlled in how they close out. And finally, they have to hope the Panthers miss shots. That's the worst part about playing a team that loves to shoot the three in back-to-back games - the chances of catching them on a hot night go way up. On the other end of the court, UNI plays a modified Pack Line man-to-man defense 100 percent of the time, very similar to Xavier's. The Panthers do a good job of staying tight in the gaps and offering help to overcome some of their physical deficiencies. They lost their top two scorers from last year's team in Wes Washpun and Matt Bohannon and they're not as deep this year, but Ben Jacobson's team is still plenty dangerous. 

Predicted score: Xavier 72 Northern Iowa 68


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