NCAA tournament team previews: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 29-4 (17-1 in Southland)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 113.0 (19th)/99.1 (104th)
Seed: No. 14 in East
Impact player: Thomas Walkup, junior, guard: 15.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg.
The Case For: Few teams enter the NCAA tournament on as much of a roll as Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks laid waste to the Southland Conference for the second year in a row, losing just one conference game this season after going 18-0 last year. This year they had a 19-game winning streak from late November to ealry February and enter the Big Dance on a nine-game winning streak. Fifteen of their 17 conference wins were by double digits.
Stephen F. Austin was able to win its league in such dominant fashion thanks to an ultra-efficient offense that ranks 19th in the country and also averages 79.5 points per game. And though coach Brad Underwood’s team boasts the last two Southland players of the year in Walkup and senior guard Jacob Parker (14.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), the Lumberjacks aren’t overly reliant on their star duo, as they led all of Division I in assists per game with 17.8.
Having upset VCU as a No. 12 seed in last year’s Big Dance, the Lumberjacks certainly won’t go into the tournament with any tentativeness. Their combination of confidence, experience and offensive firepower will be a lot to handle for any team they play.
The Case Against: The Lumberjacks rank so highly on offense thanks in part to their pressure man-to-man defense, through which they’ve created turnovers on nearly a quarter of their opponents’ possessions. The problem is that if they’re not creating turnovers, they’re almost certainly allowing the other team to score or get to the free throw line. The latter is especially problematic, as Stephen F. Austin’s defensive free throw rate of 49.0 is 337th among Division I teams. Its frenetic brand of defense worked wonders in the Southland, but it seems likely to be less successful in the NCAA tournament, especially if the Lumberjacks’ opponent has a veteran backcourt. As long as a team doesn’t panic against SFA’s pressure and is able to get the ball upcourt with only the occasional turnover, it shouldn’t be difficult to score against their subpar half court defense. Throw in the fact that SFA itself turns the ball over on 20.3% of its possessions, and the Lumberjacks have an even slimmer margin for error.
SI prediction: Lose to Utah in Round of 64