Conference Tourney Primers: Southland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Southland Tournament

Dates: March 11-14

Site: Merrell Center (Katy, TX)


What to expect: This is Stephen F. Austin’s tournament to lose. Over the past two seasons, the Lumberjacks have gone 35-1 in Southland play and won 28 of those contests by double-figures, using sharp offensive ball movement and half-court pressure defense to make easy work of most challengers. Brad Underwood’s club has won seven games in a row since stumbling at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in mid-February, including its title-clinching victory over second-place Sam Houston State last Saturday. That last win was not easy, however, and those Bearkats – statistically one of the best defensive teams in the country – could present another tough test on Saturday. Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State combined for a 32-4 conference record this season and are overwhelming favorites to reach the title game, especially since five of the league’s 13 teams are ineligible for postseason play and will not participate. Despite a tough final hurdle, expect Stephen F. Austin to reach the NCAA Tournament – and possibly do damage while there – for a second straight year.

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin. This year’s Lumberjacks are slightly more efficient and substantially more accurate than last year’s group, which beat VCU in the round of 64. Their effective field goal percentage (56.1% eFG) is the 10th best mark in college basketball and their offense as a whole ranks among the sport’s 30 most efficient, thanks largely to the success of Jacob Parker (48% 3FG) and Southland Player of the Year Thomas Walkup (126.8 ORtg). Stephen F. Austin has dominated the conference from start to finish and seems unlikely to slow down this week in Katy.

Darkhorse: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Make no mistake – Sam Houston State is probably the only legitimate threat to dethrone Stephen F. Austin in this tournament. The Bearkats start four seniors and were the only team to hang within single digits of the Lumberjacks in a non-home environment. Still, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is the one Southland challenger to actually beat the league champs this season (at home, of course) – a 71-63 home victory on Valentine’s Day – and its style could once again cause some fits. The Islanders aggressively attack the rim and draw tons of fouls, attempting more free throws per field goal attempt than any team in the country. And one of Stephen F. Austin’s few weaknesses is its propensity to foul at a high rate. That combination spelled trouble in February (TAMU-CC earned 34 trips to the line) and could once again be an issue if the Islanders push on to Saturday.

Who wins: Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks manhandled Memphis in December and narrowly lost to Northern Iowa in the college hoops marathon, which shows the kind of potential they have. After dominating the Southland all year long, expect nothing different this week. Then let the Cinderella chatter begin.

Players to Watch: Jalan West and Zeek Woodley – Northwestern State. It’s a shame Incarnate Word is ineligible for this tournament, because Denzel Livingston (22 PPG, 6 RPG, 2.5 SPG) might have been the pick here. But that’s okay, because West, Woodley and the super-uptempo Demons are just as fun to watch. The backcourt duo combines for 41.6 points per game, each shooting near 40 percent from behind the arc with West averaging 7.5 assists per night to boot. These guys make magic on offense.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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