A Closer Look At SFA

Jeff from CollegeHoops.net’s blog March Madness All Season was kind enough to answer some questions about today’s opponent, Stephen F. Austin:

SFA features the last two conference P.O.Y. in Jeff Alexander and Matt Kingsley. Break down their games, and how do they match up against Syracuse’s predominantly 2-3 zone?

Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley are a dynamite frontcourt duo, but the two have completely different games. Alexander is an outstanding three-point shooter who can really stretch a defense despite plenty of defensive attention. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder even though he is just 6-4. He is also the team’s Jonny Flynn in terms of minutes, averaging more than 34 minutes per game and playing at least 40 minutes on nine separate occasions. Kingsley, a 6-9 force down low, is a very efficient finisher in the paint who can score and rebound with the best of them. He was the Southland Conference Player of the Year this season, as he dominated inside while Alexander received the majority of the opposition’s attention on the perimeter. Against the 2-3, Alexander is going to have to knock down his threes — and he is going to have to hit them consistently. Kingsley has the size and skill-set to perform well down low, but Onuaku’s athleticism could give him problems.

Everything from their stats indicates they play a tough man-to-man defense. What is your take on how they play d?

The Lumberjacks are an outstanding defensive team, one of the the best in the country. Despite their slow pace of play, they rank near the top of the nation in defensive efficiency and also rank third in effective field goal percentage defense. They guard the perimeter extraordinarily well and then corral the misses at a high rate. SFA has allowed more than 70 points twice this season, both in victories (including their triple-overtime win against North Dakota State). Even if you look at the BCS conference opponents they played — Texas Tech, Arkansas, Texas A&M — they only gave up an average of fewer than 64 points per game.

Can Syracuse be successful shooting the three against SFA, who is 2nd in the nation in opponents 3-pt pct?

With the style that Stephen F. Austin plays at — a slow, grind-it-out pace played mostly in the half-court — Syracuse is going to have to hit its threes. Devendorf and Rautins are going to have to make the most of their open looks, because they aren’t going to come that often. They shouldn’t expect too many transition shots, as SFA rarely turns the ball over. Therefore, Devendorf and Rautins are going to have to be active without the ball, moving around to open spots on the perimeter. If they get open, Flynn will be able to find them, as he will likely be guarded by the 5-3 Eric Bell, who has quick hands but is obviously small in stature. Additionally, having a height advantage on the perimeter could be key on the wings, too. Girod Adams is just 5-10, while Devendorf and Rautins run 6-4 and 6-5, respectively. The Orange will be able to get open looks at the basket due to their height — they just have to knock them down, because they might not get an abundance of second-chance opportunities.

SFA won the Southland Conference regular season and tourney. Exactly how tough is this conference? Are we talking the next Missouri Valley (multiple bid teams, big tourney upsets)?

The Southland has been underrated over the past two seasons, but I don’t anticipate it becoming the next Missouri Valley. Stephen F. Austin had a decent resume last year and owned a win over Oklahoma, but they weren’t deserving of an at-large bid. Basically, there’s not enough good teams on a consistent, year-to-year basis to anticipate multiple bids in a given year.

I see you had Flynn/Devendorf/Harris as the Orange trio in your top 10. Any thoughts on Harris’ erratic play of late? He seems to be struggling and keeps getting pulled by Boeheim.

I didn’t even realize how poorly Harris was playing lately. If you take away his mammoth effort against Connecticut in the six-overtime classic (29 points and 22 rebounds), he is averaging six points and about 4.8 rebounds over his past four games. Furthermore, he has had 10 single-digit scoring efforts in his last 16 games, as compared to just three in his first 18 games. It seems that Syracuse has been operating well offensively without him in the game, as Rautins comes in and provides another shooter on the wing. With the way he has been stroking the ball, it is tough to keep him out of the game. However, Harris could be a real key against Stephen F. Austin. He has the athleticism to give Alexander problems on the wing, and is a very difficult match-up for the Lumberjacks defensively.

What is your prediction for this game?

I think that Stephen F. Austin is a very solid team, and one that could give Syracuse a scare early in the game. The Lumberjacks will slow the game down and not allow many open looks for Syracuse, especially from the perimeter. Plus, they are not going to back down, as this is a very experienced group that has faced several major-conference teams over the past couple of seasons. However, I think that Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense and athleticism will be the difference. SFA was last in the Southland in three-point shooting, and Alexander is really their only consistent perimeter threat. They just don’t have enough guns on the wings to shoot over the zone. Additionally, the Orange’s frontcourt athleticism will give SFA problems on the boards and inside with Kingsley. Syracuse will pull away in the end in what will very likely be a low-scoring affair. I’ll take Syracuse by 12, 66-54.

Thanks, Jeff for some more insight into the Lumberjacks. As for me, I think Syracuse will be able to get some open looks and the zone will keep Kingsley in check.

Syracuse 71 – SFA 58

Come back at halftime and after the game for some analysis and a breakdown of the game.

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