Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks (28-6) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (24-9)
This week I will be focusing exclusively on the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. In this article, I will be breaking down the matchup between the three seed Texas Tech Red Raiders as they play against the fourteen seed Lumberjacks of Stephen F Austin.
The Red Raiders are -11.5-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 137.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:27 PM PST on Thursday from the AA Center in Dallas, Texas.
For the casual fans of college basketball, most may not know much about the Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks, except that when they make it to the NCAA tournament, they always seem to shake things up.
This SFA team has made the tournament three times since 2014 and have won games in the tournament twice. That is pretty impressive for a team that has never been ranked higher than a twelve seed.
SFA finished third place in the Southland Conference regular season but managed to get hot in the conference tournament and knocked off Southeast Louisiana in the finals to get the leagues auto-bid to the tournament.
This team doesn’t have the firepower that the last couple of SFA tournament teams have had, but they can’t play suffocating defense and force more turnovers than any team in the country.
SFA comes into the tournament red-hot winners of ten out of their last eleven games. They will need to stay hot tonight to have any chance to beat a Texas Tech team that was flirting with a one seed just a couple of weeks ago. The Lumberjacks have played this underdog role before and have had some great success.
In 2016, their last trip to the tournament, SFA upset a very good Notre Dame team as a fourteen seed in the first round 70-56. They then came very close to making the Sweet 16 as they lost a hard-fought game to the number six seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish by one point, in the round of thirty-two.
The Lumberjacks also won a first-round game in 2014 when they knocked off the five seed VCU in the round of sixty-four. That run also ended at one game as they then lost to UCLA in the next round. This team is used to being the underdogs and figuring out ways to win in March.
Texas Tech had a great start to the season. At one point they were 14-1 and ranked in the top ten nationally. Once Big 12 league play really started to kick in this team stumbled a bit. They struggled badly down the stretch of the season as they lost five out of their last seven games before the tournament. That included losses to non-tournament teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State.
To make matters worse, the Red Raiders best player, senior leader Kennan Evans, has been dealing with a banged up big toe that saw him miss action down the stretch. Evans was able to make it back for the Big 12 tournament but looked banged up and sore in the finals against West Virginia and was mostly ineffective. The Red Raiders will need Evans at 100% if they want to survive the upset in the first round.
Too many people have counted out this Stephen F Austin team too many times. This team has played five NCAA tournament games in the last four years, and they have two big upset wins. You know how many NCAA tournament games Texas Tech has won in that same time span? ZERO.
The Red Raiders have made the tournament just once since 2009, and they lost in the first round that year. So, when you are looking at the team that is going to be more comfortable playing in an NCAA tournament atmosphere and knowing how to win games in the tournament, the edge clearly goes to SFA. The NCAA tournament is its own animal, and it takes something special to win games, SFA has that figured out, Texas Tech doesn’t.
Outside of recent tournament history that suggests Texas Tech isn’t quite ready for primetime and that SFA absolutely is, I actually love how these teams match up. SFA can absolutely play defense and forced more turnovers than any team in the country.
You will have to wonder how Evans will be able to bring the ball up against such a great defensive unit with a banged-up toe. Against a similarly good West Virginia defense in the Big 12 tournament, Evans struggled badly. I expect more of that in this game.
The NCAA tournament is so much more about how you are playing right now and who stays healthy than it is about which team had the better season or posted the best resume. All that talk ends as soon as the committee releases the bracket. Now it is what have you done for me lately and are your players healthy.
And in this case, you have one team, SFA, that is healthy and playing very well at the moment. They ran the table in their conference tournament and entered the tournament hot.
For Texas Tech? Their best player is banged up, and they stumbled to the finish line to end the season. I am not sure if this SFA can shock the word yet again, but I am quite sure that 11.5-points are way too many in this matchup. SFA always plays well in the tournament, and I expect that to happen again against Texas Tech.
It remains to be seen if they can win the game outright, but you can be sure that Texas Tech will be on upset alert. This is what NCAA tournament upset are made up of.
Big conference school that struggled down the stretch playing against a small conference squad with all the swagger in the world that knows how to win games? Smells like a close game. Give me the Stone Cold Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks getting 11.5-points in what should be a thriller.