PREVIEW: FGCU Flocks Back to the Nest to Face Florida Tech

Caleb Catto glides in for the finish.

FGCU (1-5) returns to Alico Arena on Tuesday, November 26th to do battle with Florida Tech (2-3). The Eagles come into this matchup after a tough 78-48 loss to VCU. Last time at Alico Arena, this young squad of Eagles showed immense resolve, earning a come-from-behind win against FAU. The Panthers (D-II) are 2-3 on the year but look to be a quality group of players. These teams have squared off 6 times and FGCU has won each meeting. In their most recent meeting (12/31/17), the Eagles won by only a small margin of 8 points (62-54). With Florida Tech being a D-II school, FGCU will look to get back in the win column and build some more confidence before heading into their next few games. Here are the top performing Panthers who will try to stand in their way.

The Players

Sesan Russell

Russell is the clear leader of this team. He is a 6’1″ / 184 lb sophomore. As a quick, athletic guard, he is fantastic when driving to the hoop as well as spotting up to shoot. Russell has scored more than 20 points in each of their games this season for an average of 25 points per game. He is definitely the main Panther player for FGCU to account for.

Runako Ziegler

Zieglar is a 6’3″ / 180 lb junior guard. He has scored double digit points in each of their first 5 games this year, averaging 14 points per contest. Additionally, he averages 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game. Ziegler is athletic and skilled at finding an open shot. He is also an underrated passer.

Mekhii Noble

Noble is the lead forward for the Panthers. He is just a sophomore though, standing at 6’8″ / 205 lbs. Currently he is averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds per game. Noble is a long and lean big who is still developing his already solid post game. He also has fair ball handling skills for a guy his size.

Antonis Pefanis

Pefanis is a 6’6″ senior guard. He has started 4 out of their 5 games this year, averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds. Pefanis is one of the only seniors on this team that gets much playing time.

The Matchups

Guards

Florida Tech has shuffled their starting lineup quite a bit early in the season. One thing that remains constant is that this team’s strength lies in their guards. Russell’s average of 25 points per game is something that every opponent has to keep in mind and game plan for. Niall Harris, Runako Ziegler, Antonis Pefanis, and Andy Francis are all guys who could potentially give the Panthers a boost.

For the Eagles, this is a game where we could see any number of individuals break out. Zach Scott and Caleb Catto are sure to have their successes. Guys like Jalen Warren, Jalen Harper, and Sam Gagliardi will have increased opportunities to show what they can do as well.

Forwards

The Panthers’ frontcourt is led by Mekhii Noble. There is some depth here as well. Jalen Hodges is 6’7″ / 210 lbs. He has played in 3 games, making 2 starts this season. Currently he averages 7 points and 4 rebounds per game. Mate Papai is their biggest forward at 6’8″ / 235. He has started 3 games this year and averages 4 points and 5 rebounds. Nieja Jordan stands at 6’8″ /195 and is probably their 2nd best option (behind Noble) among their forwards. He has played in all games this season, starting 4 of them. In those games he averages 6 points and 7 rebounds.

Outside of Noble (and maybe Jordan), there isn’t much production from other bigs. FGCU comes into the game with a chance to finally get their bigs going. Qwanzi Samuels has struggled among more athletic teams, but in this case, he has a height and weight advantage over a couple of the players that he may be matched up against. Justus Rainwater has an opportunity to capitalize on his athletic prowess versus this team as well. Dakota Rivers has a chance to get back on track versus this team also. Florida Tech might have more depth here but FGCU should be able to overcome that deficit.

The Outlook

Typically, FGCU has played a D-II or NAIA team within the first 3 games of the season. The first 6 games this year have all been against fellow D-I schools. After the high of their 1st victory, the Eagles then flew to VA to be shellacked by VCU. Now the team gets a chance to rebound in a big way against Florida Tech, to begin a much needed 4-game home stand. FGCU should dominate this opponent, regardless of their own struggles.

The Predictions

Elliott Kresse (4-2)

“For the program’s sake, I sincerely hope this is a ‘dubya’. The Eagles should hopefully find some rhythm and cruise to a win. I have spoken.” – Elliott

84-71 – FGCU

Russell Kelly (2-4)

“This game against a D-II team is exactly the right tonic for what ails FGCU. The Eagles have not earned the right to take any team lightly though so I expect starters to play a significant amount of time until a big enough scoring margin is had.” – Russell

88-62 – FGCU

Dawson Jordan (2-4)

“Coming off a tough road test FGCU should win this one. However, I believe Florida Tech could stick around until the end.” – Dawson

74-64 – FGCU

Bryan Genter (2-4)

“this should be a good chance for the Eagles to work out some kinks against an inferior team” – Bryan

82-55 – FGCU

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