2014 Southland Conference Tournament Preview: Can anyone stop Stephen F. Austin?

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When Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio, and Texas State left the Southland Conference prior to the 2013 season, the remaining teams breathed a collective sigh of relief. Before the trio departed (and the conference added Oral Roberts), the tournament allowed only the league’s top eight to compete, a bracket that forced each squad to play on the tourney’s first day and (unintentionally) encouraged upsets. During the past three Southland tournaments, the top seed has never won the NCAA’s autobid, but thanks to a new format, Stephen F. Austin (along with Texas A&M Corpus-Christi,) gets to bypass the first two rounds, potentially ensuring an NCAA appearance for the Southland’s most deserving team.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 12-15, 2014
Where: Leonard E. Merrell Center, Katy, Texas
Final: March 15, 7:30 (ESPN2)

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

It is unclear why Stephen F. Austin hasn’t received more national press (though CBT’s Scott Phillips did outline several reasons for the Lumberjacks’ success this season). The team hasn’t lost a conference game since February 16, 2013, and what is remarkable about SFA is their dominance with a new coach at the helm. Brad Underwood is a branch on Frank Martin’s coaching tree, and so while the team fouls at a ridiculous rate (their defensive foul rate, 53.1 percent, ranks among the worst in DI, typical of a Martin-influenced coaching philosophy), SFA also the Southland’s most efficient offense (1.18) and completely lock down opponents (.95).

And if they lose?: Northwestern State

Mike McConathy’s squad has the most momentum entering postseason play: since mid-January, the Demons have won eleven of their last thirteen games. And while they have lost six Southland contests, four were by a combined nine points. Northwestern State’s offense is propelled by its backcourt; Zikiteran Woodley and Jalan West have won the Southland’s past two freshman of the year awards and both are proficient scoring within the arc (a combined 58 percent). The Demons are also the nation’s fastest team, using 76 possessions per game, running about fourteen seconds off the shot clock before a field goal attempt.

Sleepers

  • Texas A&M Corpus Christi: The second-seeded Islanders are defined by their defense, particularly from beyond the arc and in transition. While opponents don’t take many threes, TAMU-CC is effective chasing shooters from the line and preventing open looks, and have perfected their transition defense, allowing opponents to post an effective field goal percentage of 49.1 percent (39th best in DI, per Hoop-Math.com). This defensive fortitude also extends to the halfcourt, as the squad also has the conference’s second stingiest non-transition eFG percentage.
  • Oral Roberts: The Southland’s wildcard for a tournament title, Oral Roberts is arguably the league’s unluckiest team. Not only did the Golden Eagles drop six games to Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Northwestern State, but each of the six losses were by single digits.
  • Sam Houston StateMichael Holyfield, the Bearkat’ junior center, is one of the conference’s most improved players, and it is inconceivable that the big didn’t earn a single Southland honor (especially an all-defensive team nod). Holyfield has seen a significant bump in minutes from his sophomore year, and has used the extra playing time to boost his rebounding percentages, grabbing nearly 19 percent of Sam Houston State’s misses (the nation’s eighth best rate this season) and 27 percent of opponents’ attempts (the seventeenth best rate). Combined with his block rate of almost ten percent, Holyfield can defensively control a game.

Studs

  • Jalan West, Northwestern State: The 5-foot-10 West excels at penetrating opposing defenses and wreaking offensive havoc. After a year spent probing, but not converting, within the arc, West upped his percentage of two-point (not at the rim) attempts and is efficiency connecting on those looks (45 percent).
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin: The Southland’s player of the year, only one other DI player uses a higher rate of his team’s possessions and is most offensively efficient than the forward (TJ Bray of Princeton).
  • Shawn Glover, Oral Roberts: The squad’s offense runs through the senior. A high usage shooter, Glover’s game is predominantly in the paint, and he has attempted a whopping 445 twos this season (making half of those shots).

CBT Prediction: Stephen F. Austin earns the conference’s automatic bid.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”