Southland Tourney Preview: Danger Lurking for Favorite Stephen F. Austin

Southland Tourney Preview: Danger Lurking for Favorite Stephen F. Austin article feature image

Dec 16, 2017; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks guard Shannon Bogues (5) brings the ball up court during the first half against LSU Tigers guard Daryl Edwards (5) at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Southland is the Thunderdome of college basketball. Nearly every team plays as fast as humanly possible on offense, while pressing full court on defense. Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, and traditional powerhouse Stephen F. Austin separated itself from the rest of the Southland pack this year, and we should be set for a wild few days in Katy, Texas. The SLC only allows eight teams into its tournament, with the top two seeds (SLU and Nicholls State) receiving byes all the way to the semifinals.

The action gets under way on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.

2018 Southland Tournament Overview

Dates: March 7-11

Location: Katy, Texas

Defending Champion:  New Orleans

Let’s analyze the bracket for any futures value and then finish up with ATS picks for today’s Fun Belt matchups.

Who Should Win

Stephen F. Austin +173

Behind leading scorer Shannon Bogues (pictured above), the Jacks enter as the 3-seed, and thus only receive a single bye, but Kyle Keller’s squad was the only SLC team with a positive adjusted efficiency margin. SFA had a solid out-of-conference season, as well, nearly going 3-0 against the SEC (settling for just win over LSU with tight losses to Mississippi State and Missouri).

Keller has maintained the same defensive identity as Brad Underwood’s great SFA teams, as the Jacks will extend pressure full court and play an denial-heavy defense in the half court that makes moving the ball on the perimeter a nightmare. SFA led the entire country in defensive turnover rate in the regular season, and ranked second in steal rate. Somewhat quietly, the Jacks were also the SLC’s most efficient offense, as Keller has maintained Underwood’s spread continuity motion offense with five interchangeable parts. Center TJ Holyfield can bring his man out to the perimeter, and wings Ty Charles and Leon Gilmore are efficient in the post when Holyfield pops outside. Oh, and Bogues, Kevon Harris, and Ivan Canete can all shot with efficiency from the perimeter. When the Jacks are clicking, they’re one of the hardest matchups in mid-major basketball.

However, a potential pitfall awaits the Stephen F. Austin in the quarterfinals with the winner of 6-seed Lamar and 7-seed Central Arkansas. The Jacks went just 1-3 against those two this year, and Lamar’s 71-66 win at SFA was perhaps the most stunning single game of the SLC season. The Jacks were dying for revenge after the Cardinals handed SFA its worst league loss since the 2001-02 season, but Lamar came into Johnson Coliseum and hit 10-of-25 from 3 and SFA couldn’t buy a bucket. With revenge and the double bye on the line for SFA, Lamar showed incredible toughness.

The senior-laden Cardinals are certainly a deep sleeper because of their ability to handle pressure. Lamar turned the ball over at the lowest rate in the SLC, which is an incredibly valuable asset in a press-heavy league. Of course Lamar has to defeat Central Arkansas first, and that won’t be an easy task. The Bears are led by the electric Jordan Howard, who basically scores at will in Russ Pennell’s transition-heavy offense. Casual SLC fans might remember Howard dropping 35 on UCLA in an OT loss at Pauley Pavilion way back in early November. UCA won a wild 2OT game at Lamar despite being unable to guard Colton Weisbrod at the rim. Weisbrod scored 38 points and shot 22 free throws. The SFA/Lamar/UCA pod alone is worth the price of admission in Katy. And oh yeah, Howard dropped a season high 43 on the Jacks in a win in Conway. These are must-stream games, folks.

If Not Them, Then …

Southeastern Louisiana +297 or Nicholls State +347

The top two seeds are obviously good bets to face each other in the finals, as they’ll be well rested coming off double byes. SLU has some issues, however, as leading scorer Jordan Capps is questionable with an abductor strain. On a far darker note, James Currington, SLU’s best defender in, won’t play after being shot in an on-campus incident where teammate Jabbar Singleton was arrested for firing back in apparent self defense. Head coach Jay Ladner has basically battled injuries every year of his tenure in Hammond, but this season’s squad had stayed remarkably healthy … until the final week. Nevertheless, the Lions still have wizard point guard Marlain Veal and interior presence Moses Greenwood, and they finished the year strong despite the adversity.

Nicholls State coach Richie Riley basically copied Eric Musselman’s model at Nevada, quickly building a monster through impact transfers, namely Tevon Saddler (UNC Greensboro), Kimani Jackson (Colorado State), and the well traveled Roddy Peters. The Colonels extend full-court pressure at one of the highest rates in the country, and thus they play at one of the fastest paces in the country. There’s also Lafayette Rutledge’s stat line that needs to be discussed. Rutledge has attempted 222 3-pointers this season and six (!!!!) two-pointers, making two.

Some bad news for the Colonels: Saddler appeared to suffer a serious leg injury against Northwestern State, and is likely out for the tournament. In SLC play, Nicholls State was a ridiculous 31 points per 100 possessions better with Saddler on the floor. He’s one of the most irreplaceable players in the league, and his absence puts a serious damper on Nicholls’ chances to cut down the nets in Katy. The Colonels also went 0-3 this year against Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana, with the second loss to SLU coming in the final game of the regular season, which Nicholls State played without Saddler.

Potential Sleeper(s)

Lamar +1400 and Sam Houston State +890

I already discussed Lamar, but 4-seed SHSU offers some intrigue as one of three teams to defeat SLU, and the Bearkats would have a rematch in the semifinals, should they get there. SHSU is a veteran team that offers some matchup issues with an attack-heavy, five-out ball-screen motion offense and a tricky zone press. The Bearkats lived in the paint against SLU, and could be catching them extremely shorthanded.

Most Intriguing Matchup

Defending SLC Tournament champs New Orleans lurks at the 5-seed, but will be without star point-forward Travin Thibodeaux, who has been suspended for the remainder of the season. UNO has lost its past three games without him in the lineup, and much like Tevon Saddler for Nicholls State, his value to the Privateers is irreplaceable. Thibodeaux is worth 21 points per 100 possessions on offense, per, and UNO could also potentially be without point guard Bryson Robinson, who is questionable.

UNO faces 8-seed Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which has been in playoff mode for the past two weeks as it was behind the 8-ball in terms of qualifying for the tournament. The Islanders’ season got off to a brutal start when they lost star Ehab Amin before they had even played a game, but they’ve since steadied, winning three of their past four to steal the final tournament spot from McNeese State (and cost McNeese coach Dave Simmons his job in the process). The Islanders will be looking for revenge in this matchup, having lost four tight games in a row to UNO, including an OT loss in last year’s SLC title game. Without Thibodeaux and potentially down Robinson, it’s going to be difficult for the Privateers to handle Willis Wilson’s high pressure defense.

Wednesday ATS Predictions

Lamar -1.5

Southland Final Prediction

SFA over SLU

Photo via Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports