Impact Newcomer.Rodney Jones (G), Jr, Southeastern Louisiana
What You Need To Know. The Southland is comprised of twelve schools over three states (you can probably figure them out from the schools’ names). The conventional wisdom says that the league is “West-heavy,” though we feel that’s giving Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State a little less credit than they deserve. Stephen F. Austin was last year’s representative in the NCAA Tournament but they lost their two best players from last year (actually, the conference’s last two Players-Of-The-Year!), Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley. And, with transfers and new freshmen, half of their personnel are totally new. Since the 1985 NCAA Tournament, the Southland’s tournament representatives have logged only two wins in the Big Dance, both by Northwestern State: 2001′s play-in game against Winthrop, and that thriller against #3-seed Iowa in 2006.
Predicted Champion.Sam Houston State (NCAA Seed: #14). Ashton Mitchell and Corey Allmond are a formidable guard combo who blend together seamlessly; Mitchell was 8th in the nation in assists (6.5 APG) last season and averaged 12.5 PPG as well, while Allmond is more than happy to accept those dimes from Mitchell as the leading returning scorer (15.3 PPG) on the team and ranking 4th in the conference in 3FG% (43.4). Senior forward Preston Brown will see a rise in minutes and touches as the main inside scoring threat though he’ll be partnered with Gilberto Clavell, a promising junior college transfer.
Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks (#14, South, Miami pod) vs. Syracuse (#3)
Fri., 3/20 at 12:15 PM
Vegas Line: SFASU, +12
General Profile Location: Nacogdoches, Texas Conference: Southland, Automatic bid Coach: Danny Kaspar , 158-103 08-09 Record: 24-7 (16-3) Last 12 Games: 10-2, won last eight Best Win: North Dakota State, 112-111 (3OT) on December 12th Worst Loss: Louisiana-Monroe 60-58 on November 25th Off. Efficiency Rating: 96.6, 242nd Def. Efficiency Rating: 88.9 13th
Nuts ‘n Bolts Star Player(s): Matt Kingsley, 16.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg, Josh Alexander, 14.5 ppg, and 5.4 rpg Unsung Hero: 5’3” Eric Bell starts at the point and averages 3.6 points and assists per game. Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): None Key Injuries: None Depth: 28.4%, 230th; percentage of minutes played by reserves Achilles Heel: The offense is awful for an NCAA Tournament team. Low shooting percentage (200th best) hurts this team because they don’t grab any offensive rebounds for second opportunities. Will Make a Deep Run if…: SFASU shoots the lights out and Syracuse’s legs are dead from playing seven overtimes in the Big East Tournament Will Make an Early Exit if…: The Syracuse zone exploits the fact this team can’t shoot and the Lumberjacks lose by 40.
NCAA History Last Year Invited: Never Streak: Never been dancing Best NCAA Finish: First Appearance
Other Six Degrees to Detroit: SFASU beat North Dakota State who beat Oakland who beat Wisconsin-Green Bay who beat Detroit. Distance to First Round Site: 1224 miles School’s Claim to Fame:Stephen F. Austin tried to win a Wikipedia War with Syracuse. School Wishes It Could Forget: Stephen F. Austin lost its Wikipedia War with Syracuse. Prediction: This team is one and done. The Lumberjacks didn’t beat anyone in the regular season to make you think they could beat Syracuse. Major RTC stories: None
There is no RTC correspondent for the Southland Conference, but we’re still taking applications.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Stephen F. Austin (18-9, 12-4)
Northwestern St. (18-13, 10-6)
SE Louisiana (14-15, 9-7)
McNeese St. (12-17, 8-8)
Central Arkansas (10-19, 4-12)
Nicholls St. (8-21, 4-12)
UT-Arlington (19-10, 11-5)
Lamar (16-13, 11-5)
UT-San Antonio (15-13, 10-6)
Sam Houston St. (13-16, 7-9)
Texas A&M-CC (9-21, 5-11)
Texas St. (9-20, 4-12)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). The Southland Conference is an overlooked conference in an area of the country that doesn’t exactly embrace college basketball. While the league has traditionally been cannon fodder for first-round high seeds in the NCAA Tournament, there are indications that may be changing. Last year’s champion, Northwestern St., was a Cinderella entrant who got bombed by #1 Memphis, but in the period from 2005-07, the Southland champion was competitive with #2 seeds Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and of course everyone remembers the #14 NW St. upset victory over #3 Iowa in 2006. In the early 2000s, the league was consistently rated among the bottom half-dozen conferences on an annual basis, but in the current environment with a solid few programs leading the way, the conference is now regularly in the 20-25 range. It’s moving on up!
Predicted Champion.Stephen F. Austin(#16 NCAA). The ‘Jacks are jacked. Coming off a 26-6 (13-3) 2007-08 campaign that led to an NIT appearance (SFA lost 80-60 to UMass), Danny Kasper’s squad returns four starters, including arguably the best two players in the league (Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley), from a withering defensive-minded unit that only allowed 56 ppg last year (on 39% FG shooting). Last year’s team had NCAA written all over it, having won road contests at NCAA entrants Oklahoma and San Diego, until Northwestern St. upset SFA in the semis of the conference tournament - the ‘Jacks are loaded and will probably not be denied this time around.
UT-Arlington. As a #7 seed in last year’s conference tourney, UT-Arlington got hot at the right time and defeated three higher seeds en route to its first conference championship and NCAA appearance. The Mavericks return two key starters, Rog’er Guignard and Brandon Long, but all eyes will be on BC transfer Marquez Haynes, a 6’3 guard who played starter’s minutes for the Eagles in 2006-07. This team won’t be overlooked again.
Lamar. Lamar should provide the biggest challenge for UT-Arlington in the West, as the Cardinals return significant experience in the form of nine returnees. The key to Lamar’s success lies with PG Kenny Dawkins, last year’s Newcomer of the Year, who averaged 15/5 apg leading his team to a league-best 13-3 record.
Northwestern St. We threw Mike McConathy’s team on here as a challenger simply because, no matter what personnel they lose from year to year, they always seem to find a way to remain competitive, having been to the last four conference title games (winning one). The Demons’ style of play doesn’t depend on one or two players, so this year should be no different.
Northwestern St. @ Indiana (11/15/08)
Stephen F. Austin @ Texas A&M (11/18/08)
Northwestern St. @ LSU (11/23/08)
Lamar @ Kentucky (12/03/08)
Lamar @ Louisville (12/08/08)
Texas Tech @ Lamar (12/13/08)
Stephen F. Austin @ Arkansas (12/20/08)
UT-Arlington @ Baylor (12/20/08)
Northwestern St. @ Oklahoma St. (1/03/09)
Neat-O Stat. The Southland, like many conferences is a twelve-team league with two divisions of six each (East and West). Ok, no big deal, right? Well, what’s strange about this setup is that the current alignment allows for Stephen F. Austin (East) and Lamar (West) to switch divisions every two seasons. Since the current alignment began in 2006-07, this means this will be the first year of SFA in the East and Lamar in the West for a while. The league made this arrangement for travel purposes, with seven Texas teams (v. five Louisiana/Arkansas teams), but can you imagine if the SEC did this – Florida and LSU switch sides every couple years?
65 Team Era. The Southland is 4-24 (.143) in the era, but one of those wins was from the PiG in 2001, and two others are from Karl Malone’s #5 Louisiana Tech team back in 1985 (La Tech is no longer in the conference). In other words, the league has had only one legit NCAA win since 1985, but oh, what a great one it was (see video below).
Final Thoughts. As mentioned above, the Southland appears to be a conference on the rise. The big-conference team that gets pitted against SFA in the NCAAs this year (assuming they make it through the conference tourney unscathed) should really pay attention or they will get burned. The conference has proven it can play with teams at the BCS level in a one-game scenario. This was not always the case – from 1997-2004, the average margin of loss for a Southland team in the NCAA Tournament was 29 points. Since then, it has been 12 (including a 1-pt win). Who will be the next Iowa?