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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
No suspense here, as the Rupp Arena court will be chock full of players who rate among the nation’s best. Kentucky’s ten-man rotation has been one of college basketball’s biggest conversation points thus far, but the Longhorns are one team who (at least in the front court) won’t be at a major disadvantage from a depth standpoint. The problem for Texas is that they’re without guard Isaiah Taylor, who’s out with a broken wrist. Javan Felix is an adequate fill-in and Rick Barnes has solid options on the perimeter, but Taylor is their “difference-maker.” That could be tough to overcome in this matchup.
MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Long Beach State at Stephen F. Austin, 8:00 p.m.
This is a game that in years past would be played in mid-February thanks to the now-defunct BracketBusters event. In fact, it’s a return game from SFA’s visit (and win) back in February 2013. Friday’s matchup is key for both teams but especially for Long Beach State, with this being the first of six straight on the road. Two players to keep an eye on: Long Beach State’s Mike Caffey (18.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Stephen F. Austin’s Jacob Parker (15.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg). The Lumberjacks have won three straight, and their defense could be the difference against the 49ers.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: SMU (vs. Wyoming, 7:00 p.m. ESPNEWS)
In all honesty a Cowboy win in Dallas wouldn’t be a major surprise. Larry Shyatt’s team may not roll up the points, but they’ve been efficient offensively (Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Adams are fun to watch) and at times stifling defensively. Larry Brown’s Mustangs certainly don’t lack for talent with point guard Nic Moore leading the way. But how will they deal with a slow, slug-it-out affair? While SMU wouldn’t be characterized as a “running” team, tempo will be key in this one.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 11 Kansas is back in action, hosting a Florida team that has struggled offensively and can use a quality win for its resume. Forwards Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander played well for the Jayhawks down in Orlando, and now the key is to get sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. going.
2. UConn enters tonight’s game against Yale at less than full strength, with Ryan Boatright (ankle) a game-time decision and both Rodney Purvis (knee) and Omar Calhoun (knee) also being question marks. But regardless of who the Huskies have on the perimeter, their front court better come ready to play with Yale’s Justin Sears being one of the Ivy League’s best.
3. City rivals Duquesne and Pittsburgh meet at the CONSOL Energy Center, with the Panthers looking rebound from what was a disappointing defensive performance in their loss at Indiana earlier this week.
4. No. 22 Oklahoma returns to the court for the first time since the Battle 4 Atlantis, as they host Missouri in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Are the Sooners any more comfortable with forward TaShawn Thomas, who if worked into the flow consistently can give them the low-post scoring threat they lacked last season?
5. Former Big East foes Providence and Boston College meet in Chestnut Hill, and something to keep track of is the health of Providence’s Kris Dunn. Dunn was affected by an ankle issue during Sunday’s loss at No. 1 Kentucky, and when he’s hampered the Friars are as well. Also this is a chance to get another look at Providence’s LaDontae Henton and BC’s Olivier Hanlan, two of the best players in their respective leagues.