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.
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.