West Virginia Meets Northern Iowa in Cancun Challenge

Christopher Hall

Morgantown, WV – The West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0) are traveling to Riviera Maya, Mexico for the annual Cancun Challenge. The Mountaineers meet the Northern Iowa Panthers (6-0) in the semifinals Tuesday night of the Riviera Division. This will be the first meeting between the two programs.

The Panthers won its first two rounds over Northern Colorado (77-72 OT) and the University of Tennessee-Martin (87-67). They won their only road game November 9 in a 64-54 win over Northern Illinois.

Probable Starters

Northern Iowa’s leading scorer Trae Burrow (Jr. G 6-5 195), averaging 14.7 points per game, has done most of his damage during last two games, scoring 36 against UT-Martin (13-17 FG, 8-11 3PT) and 20 versus Cornell (8-9 FG, 4-4 3PT). Burrow also shot 80.8% from the field and 80% from three during that span. The prior four games Burrow averaged 8.0 per contest.

AJ Green (So. G 6-4 175), Spencer Haldeman (Sr. G 6-1 175) and Austin Phyfe (Jr. F 6-9 235) combine for an average of 35.7 ppg. Green leads the team in assists (4.0) and is second on the team in scoring (13.3). Phyfe is leading the team in rebounds at 7.2 per game while Haldeman is first in steals (2.0).

Rounding out the starting five is Isaiah Brown (Sr. G 6-7 180), averaging 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Coming off the bench

Tywhon Pickford (Jr. G 6-4 202) 4.0 ppg 3.7 reb

James Betz (Fr. F 6-6 215) 4.8 ppg 1.2 reb

Noah Carter (Fr F 6-6 230) 4.0 ppg 2.2 reb

West Virginia hosted the first two rounds of the Cancun Challenge inside the WVU Coliseum, notching wins over Northern Colorado and Boston.

The Mountaineers have stayed under the national radar in large part for not steamrolling its opponents. Along with the opening round wins of the Cancun Challenge, West Virginia defeated Akron (94-84) and Pitt (68-53). 

If the team has appeared lack-luster, its due to five new players and a handful of second-year players that are trying to build chemistry early in the season. However, it hasn’t stopped them from controlling all four games from the opening tip.

Jermaine Haley has picked up where he has left off from last season, being aggressive and finishing around the rim, leading the team in scoring at 12.8 ppg and in steals (8) on the year.

Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe has had an up and down start to the year. Although he leads the team in rebounding (9.8) and is second in scoring (12.5), most of his destruction came against Pitt and Boston posting double-doubles averaging 20.5 points and 13.5 rebounds.

Second-year big man Derek Culver is trying to coexist with Tshiebwe. After nearly averaging a double-double last year in Big 12 play, he’s endured through a bit of a slow start, averaging 10.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Learning to play together will be vital come conference play.

Emmitt Matthews Jr (10.0 ppg, 6.3 reb) was huge in the win over Pitt, hitting big shots ending any Pitt momentum.

West Virginia and Northern Iowa will tip-off at 8:30 pm on the CBS Sports Network. The winner will play the winner of Wichita State and South Carolina on Wednesday at 8:30.

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