Tag: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

Jerod Haase
Associated Press

Mid-majors capable of wrecking some brackets

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It never fails.

Every March some plucky underdog seemingly comes out of nowhere to pull off an upset in the NCAA tournament, wrecking brackets across the country in the process. The key word in that sentence is “seemingly,” because each year there are teams that show signs throughout the season that they’re capable of winning once in the NCAA tournament.

Below are ten programs capable of pulling off an upset in the NCAA tournament as we approach the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

1. UAB: Jerod Haase’s Blazers pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 NCAA tournament, as they sent home three-seed and trendy Final Four pick Iowa State in the round of 64. All five starters from that team have returned, including two players in forward William Lee and guard Nick Norton who ranked among the top freshmen in Conference USA a season ago and conference tournament MVP Robert Brown. Reigning C-USA Sixth Man of the Year Chris Cokley anchors a deep and experienced bench. And with Brown being the Blazers’ lone senior, they could be at the top of this list in 2016-17 as well.

2. Valparaiso: The Crusaders narrowly missed out on an upset back in March, falling by just three points to four-seed Maryland. Vashil Fernandez receiving his fourth season of eligibility means that head coach Bryce Drew can call upon one of the top front court tandems around, pairing Fernandez with junior Alec Peters. Peters was a first team all-Horizon League selection last season, with Fernandez being the Defensive Player of the Year. In total ten of the eleven players who scored a point for Valparaiso last season are back, with guards Tevonn Walker and Darien Walker and wing E. Victor Nickerson among those contributors.

3. Stephen F. Austin: Brad Underwood’s first two seasons at SFA have produced consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and the Lumberjacks have enough experience and talent to push that streak to three. Five seniors led by reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year Thomas Walkup have seen a lot in their college careers, including a wild win over VCU in the 2014 NCAA tournament. A group that was good on both ends of the floor (they ranked fifth in defensive turnover percentage, too) and won 29 of their final 30 games a season ago should pick up right where they left off in March.

4. Belmont: Like the three teams ahead of them on this list Rick Byrd’s Bruins reached the NCAA tournament a season ago, where they ran into a tough matchup in Virginia’s pack line defense. However it should be noted that Belmont scored 67 points in that loss, a mark met or surpassed by Virginia opponents just four times in 2014-15. Four starters from that team are back in Nashville, led by the OVC’s best player in senior guard Craig Bradshaw and the nation’s field goal percentage champion Evan Bradds (68.8 percent). The Bruins are highly efficient offensively, and that could make life difficult for an opponent unfamiliar with their style/personnel.

5. Old Dominion: Jeff Jones’ Monarchs fell short of their goal of an NCAA tournament bid a season ago, but they didn’t sulk once in the Postseason NIT. Trey Freeman and company reached the semifinals of that event, and the postseason experience should serve this group well. Freeman’s one of the best players in Conference USA, and in total ODU welcomes back three starters and four of their top six scorers. East Carolina transfer Brandan Stith pairs up with leading rebounder Denzell Taylor to help ODU account for the loss of Jonathan Arledge and Richard Ross from their front court, and this is a group that can be dangerous in a one-and-done scenario.

AP Photo
Old Dominion’s Trey Freeman (AP Photo)

6. UC Irvine: The prohibitive favorites in the Big West, Russell Turner’s Anteaters had eventual Elite Eight participant Louisville on the ropes back in March. UC Irvine fell by just two points on that day, and many of the key contributors from that team have returned for another run at the NCAA tournament. That includes experienced guards Alex Young and Luke Nelson, wing Dominque Dunning and a front court with some serious size led by 7-foot-6 junior Mamadou Ndiaye. While UC Irvine isn’t an explosive offensive team, their defense is what makes them such a tough matchup for team not used to their style and personnel.

7. Iona: There’s no denying the fact that Tim Cluess’ Gaels are going to score points. Last season Iona averaged 79.5 points per game, and from an adjusted tempo standpoint only 11 teams played faster. Iona does have to account for the loss of MAAC Player of the Year David Laury, but four of the team’s top five scorers from a season ago are back led by high-scoring guards A.J. English and Shadrac Casimir. The key for Iona, especially in the MAAC tournament where they’ve fallen to rival Manhattan in each of the last two title games, will be their commitment on the defensive end. As we saw with Eastern Washington in March, being able to score doesn’t mean much if you can’t get stops.

8. Evansville: The Purple Aces have one of the better inside/out combinations around in high-scoring guard D.J. Balentine and forward/center Egidijus Mockevicius, who combined to average 32.6 points per game in 2014-15. That tandem helped lead Marty Simmons’ team to the CIT championship, and with all five starters back expectations are high for the Purple Aces. They’re in position to challenge preseason Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State, and given their talent and experience should Evansville reach the NCAA tournament they can cause trouble.

9. Central Michigan: Keno Davis’ Chippewas won 23 games and a MAC West Division title last season with an offense that shot the ball well and took good care of it too. All five starters, led by guard Chris Fowler and forward John Simons, are back on campus which should allow them to hit the ground running in 2015-16. The key for this group will be to get better on the defensive end of the floor (MAC foes shot nearly 54 percent from two), as they ranked 11th in field goal percentage defense, seventh in three-point percentage defense and ninth in effective field goal percentage defense (conference games only).

10. Louisiana: The biggest reason for the Ragin’ Cajuns’ inclusion on this list is the fact that they’ve got a likely pro in Shawn Long in their front court. The 6-foot-11 senior is the preseason pick for Sun Belt Player of the Year, coming off of a junior campaign in which he averaged 16.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. All five starters are back for head coach Bob Marlin, and while the Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t reach the NCAA tournament they did play in the CIT (losing to Evansville in the quarters) so there is some postseason experience to call upon.

Five others to keep in mind: Hofstra, Columbia, North Florida, Stony Brook, Pepperdine

Introducing Cinderella: Meet the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

AP Photo
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AP Photo

Conference: Southland

Coach: Brad Underwood

Record: 29-4 (17-1)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 41
RPI (per NCAA.com): 40
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: Given their RPI, the Lumberjacks are probably looking at a No. 12 or 13 seed.

Names you need to know: Thomas Walkup (15.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.6 apg), Jacob Parker (14.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Stats you need to know: Stephen F. Austin does two things very, very well on the offensive end of the floor: They shoot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc as a team, and they grab 38.2 percent of the available offensive rebounds. That’s how you end up with the nation’s 23rd most efficient offense while turning the ball over more than 20 percent of the time.

Tendencies: The Lumberjacks are aggressive defensively, forcing the fifth-most turnovers in the country. They gamble a lot — and foul a lot, too — but their style of defense allows them to get a lot of easy looks in transition.

Big wins, bad losses: Buffalo has a terrific RPI, but they don’t actually have many great wins. South Dakota State and a sweep of Akron are their only top 100 wins.

How’d they get here?: Stephen F. Austin rolled their way through the Southland Conference once again. They went 17-1 in the regular season and steamrolled everyone — again — in the tournament. The Jacks have one loss since November ended.

Outlook: SFA is a difficult team to prepare for. They are aggressive defensively, pressuring in the half court and trying to force turnovers by risking picking up fouls. They also are a team that can really shoot it from deep with big men that can play out on the perimeter. It’s going to take a beneficial matchup for them to pull an upset — they don’t have the kind of size to matchup with, say, North Carolina or Oklahoma — but they are certainly good enough to land a win or two.

How do I know you?: VCU fans are going to be quite familiar with SFA. While their roster looks different than it did a season ago, the results haven’t been all that different from the team that knocked off the Rams in overtime in the opening round of last season’s NCAA tournament.

The 15 best college basketball games of 2014

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Getty Images

1. Kentucky 78, Wichita State 76 — March 23

Kentucky entered the 2013-14 season with buzz about a potential perfect season on the horizon. However, it was Wichita State, the Final Four darling from the previous March, flirting with perfection in the NCAA tournament, taking a 35-0 record into the Round of 32. Kentucky’s shortcomings resulted in the Wildcats being slotted as a No. 8 seed, a dangerous third round matchup for the undefeated Shockers.

Wichita State led 69-64 with 4:30 left after a few 3-pointers from Cleanthony Early. James Young would led a run for the Wildcats who took a 70-69 lead with under three minutes to play. A two-possession lead, 75-71, was cut to a single point after Ron Baker banked in a three. Julius Randle hit a pair of free throws, and Fred VanVleet’s final 3-point attempt was off the mark.

2. Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) — March 29

Bo Ryan advanced to his first Final Four with a dramatic 64-63 win over top-ranked Arizona in the West Regional final. Arizona possessed the nation’s top defense, but Frank Kaminsky proved to be the ultimate mismatch with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon both guarded Kaminsky. Nick Johnson would front him. Nothing worked. Still, the Wildcats had a chance to win, although, a controversial charge call went against Johnson with 3.2 seconds remaining.

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3. Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 73 — April 5

Aaron Harrison clutch. Aaron Harrison clutch.

It needs to repeated because Harrison replicated a game-winner against Michigan in the Elite 8 in Kentucky’s Final Four matchup against Wisconsin. No seriously, look: identical shots. Harrison’s 3-pointer with two seconds left sent the Wildcats to the national championship game.

4. Kentucky 75, Michigan 72 — April 1

Kentucky was part of the toughest region in the bracket. The Wildcats needed to top Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan in order to reach Arlington. Thanks to Aaron Harrison’s long, contested 3-pointer, Kentucky topped the previous season’s national finalist, 75-72.

5. Syracuse 91, Duke 87 (OT) — Feb. 1

The long anticipated matchup between new conference rivals, Duke and Syracuse, did not disappoint. The Orange, in front of 35,446 fans inside the Carrier Dome, took down the Blue Devils 91-87 in overtime. Rasheed Sulaimon forced the extra frame with a buzzer-beating three. Syracuse, leading by one, was aided by a favorable no-call as Rodney Hood missed a dunk over Jerami Grant. The bigger Syracuse frontline was led by C.J. Fair’s 28 points and Grant’s 24. Duke countered with 15 threes. The second meeting between the two storied programs and two Hall of Fame coaches was equally as memorable.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

6. Mercer 76, Duke 68 — March 21

The upset of the tournament was No. 14 seed Mercer over No. 3 seed Duke. The Blue Devils had struggled on the defensive end all season long, and those problems came to light in the Round of 64 with the Bears shooting 55 percent from the field. Duke hit 15 threes, but took close to 40 attempts from beyond the arc. However, as a team, Duke was 35 percent from the field with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood combining for 20 points off 6-of-24 shooting.

7. Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 (3 OT) — Feb. 4

The first of two games between the Cowboys and Cylcones went to triple overtime with Iowa State pulling out a 98-97 win. In the second overtime, DeAndre Kane’s offensive rebound turned into a 3-pointer for Naz Long, tying the score at 89-all and forcing an additional five minutes. Iowa State took control in the third overtime and while Oklahoma State had its chances, the Cowboys couldn’t convert.

The other meeting between these two also went to overtime with Long tapping into Hilton Magic.

8. Stephen F. Austin 77, VCU 75 (OT) — March 21

The Lumberjacks were a trendy upset pick as the No. 12 seed. Stephen F. Austin had won 28 straight and had one of the nation’s top defenses, though, late in the game against No. 5 seed VCU, it looked as if that upset bid would come up short. That was until Desmond Haymon was fouled on a four-point play to tie the score with 3.6 seconds left, which forced overtime. The Lumberjacks prevailed in overtime and advanced to the Round of 32.

9. Louisville 58, Cincinnati 57 — Feb. 22

Russ Freaking Smith.

The Louisville All-American hit a game-winner with two seconds left to led the Cardinals to a road victory over Cincinnati in February. Smith was clutch down the stretch with a pair of assists in the game’s final moments.

10. Michigan 73, Tennessee 71 — March 28

Tennessee became a dangerous No. 12 seed, rolling through UMass in the Round of 64 while missing out on a matchup with Duke — thanks to the Mercer upset — in the following round. The Volunteers nearly reached the Elite 8, erasing a double-digit lead only to have a controversial charge call go against them late in the game. Jarnell Stokes was called for a player-control foul on Jordan Morgan, with Michigan leading by one, with six seconds left.

Five more:

source: Getty Images
Ohio State v Dayton