After Syracuse was rewarded for their great play in the Big East Tournament with a 3 seed, the next thought for Orange fans was “Who the hell is Stephen F. Austin”? I did some research on them so you wouldn’t have to. Here is what I now know about the Lumberjacks.
HOW WAS THEIR SEASON?
SFA won the Southland Conference Tournament after winning the regular season title as well. They have won the regular season title in two consecutive seasons. After starting 1-2, including a last second loss to a bad Louisiana Monroe team, the Lumberjacks won ten of their next twelve. SFA finished 13-3 in conference and beat SE Louisiana, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Texas San Antonio to win the automatic bid.
SFA faced three “Big Six” Conference schools, falling to Texas A&M (55-48), Arkansas (67-51) and Texas Tech (69-55).
SFA are currently 30th in this seasons Mid-Major top 25 poll on Collegeinsider.com (new poll will be released later today) after finishing 14th in last years final poll.
WHO IS THEIR COACH?
Danny Kaspar is in his ninth year with SFA, compiling a 376-155 record with the Lumberjacks. He has led SFA to two straight Southland regular season titles after inheriting a team that won a combined six games in the two years prior to his arrival. He has coached two consecutive Southland Conference Players of the Year and was voted the conference Coach of the Year in 2008.
Before coming to SFA Kaspar coached at the University of the Incarnate Word, a division two school in San Antonio, where he compiled a 219-52 record. According to his official bio, “In 27 years as a collegiate coach, Kaspar has only been associated with six teams with losing records. In two of those seasons, the teams were one win away from .500 records or better.”
His family has also been touched by cancer, something familiar to Jim Boeheim.
WHO IS THEIR STAR?
2009 Southland Conference Player of the Year Matt Kingsley leads the way for the Lumberjacks. Kingsley is a 6-9 senior center who averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, both of which placed him 5th in the conference. Kingsley also hit 55.6% of his shots (while only attempting one three pointer) on the year. He reached double figures in all but seven games this year and had nine double-doubles.
WHO ARE THEIR OTHER PLAYERS?
If Kingsley is 1, then Josh Alexander is 1A for the Lumberjacks. He too is a Southland Player of the Year, having won the award last season. The senior forward averages 14.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He has led the team in scoring and rebounding every year of his career except this season, and is also a decent 3 point shooter, although his 3-pt percentage has fallen every year of his career, from 47.7% in his freshman year to 35% this season. Obviously the new three point line has had a negative impact on him, as last season he shot 41% from the shorter arch. (editor’s note- Donna Ditota has a great article about SFA up which mentions that Alexander suffered from a high ankle sprain this season but is now healthy, which easily could have contributed to his poor 3-pt numbers this year).
SFA returned four starters from last years team. In addition to Kingsley and Alexander, senior power forward Nick Shaw (6.1 points, 6.0 rebounds) and junior point guard Eric Bell (3.6 points, 3.4 assists) add a lot of veteran leadership to this squad. In fact, they are the top ranked team in their conference in terms of experience.
Their best player off the bench is 6-2 guard Eddie Williams, who finished the year with averages of 7.4 points and 2.7 assists, as well as an impressive 2.3:1 assist to turnover ratio.
HOW DO THEY PLAY?
While I haven’t seen the Lumberjacks play, their coach had something to say about their defense before the season in the Blue Ribbon Yearbook preview:
I’ve always felt like even without a talented group, you have a good chance of winning if your defense is there every night,” he said. “Kids don’t mean to miss shots, but sometimes they just don’t fall, so we try to play tough defense every night.
Their stats say something about their defense as well: it is good. Actually, very good. Through March 12th, SFA is ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 55.8 points per contest (Washington is first with 50.0). They were also second in the nation in scoring defense the previous year. Their field goal defense is ranked 19th overall, as they’ve held their opponents to just 42.5% from the field (they were third in the nation at 37.2% heading into last week). They also defend the three, holding opponents to just 28.6% from behind the arc (second best in the nation).
If you’re into advanced stats, Ken Pomeroy has SFA with the 13th best defensive efficiency in the nation, and 3rd best opponent’s effective FG%. The also rank 20th in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, so don’t expect too many follow-ups off your own misses, Mr. Harris. Pomeroy also says they’re defensive fingerprint is of a man-to-man team. Helpful considering I didn’t see them play once this season.
HOW DO THEY MATCH UP?
It’s tough to say without having seen them, but on paper they aren’t the easiest 14 seed to ever be in the tournament. Defensively they seem to be the type of team that can hassle their opponents all night and force bad shots, while also keeping teams off the offensive glass. Their 3-pt defensive stats are very good, although Syracuse played 3-such teams this week in UConn, West Virginia and Louisville. If the Syracuse guards are able to hit their shots and our zone forces them to shoot from outside (ranked 266th in the nation), we should easily find ourselves playing on Sunday.