Texas Tech Basketball: Know Your Enemy – Stephen F. Austin

COLUMBIA, MO - DECEMBER 19: Jeremiah Tilmon
COLUMBIA, MO - DECEMBER 19: Jeremiah Tilmon /

Texas Tech faces Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night in Dallas.  Let’s take a closer look at what the Lumberjacks will bring to the table as they try for the upset.

In-state showdowns in the NCAA Tournament are unusual, especially in the first round.  Yet, that is what is in store for Texas Tech Thursday when it faces Stephen F. Austin.  Though the Lumberjacks are from the Lone Star State, most Texas Tech fans do not know much about the Southland Conference Champions.

S.F.A. finished the regular season 28-6, good for third in the Southland.  They played three power-5 schools going 1-2.  The Jacks won at LSU (83-82) while falling in close games at Mississippi State (80-75) and Missouri (82-81).  Thus, there is no reason to believe the opportunity to face a Big 12 team will be intimidating or daunting to the No. 14 seed.

Furthermore, S.F.A. is led by a man with considerable Big 12 experience.  Their head coach, Kyle Keller has spent time as an assistant at Oklahoma State (1999-2008) and Kansas (2008-2011).  He also spent five years (2011-2016) as an assistant at Texas A&M prior to taking over in Nacogdoches.

Keller should be familiar with Texas Tach’s motion offense because he spent virtually his entire run in Stillwater scouting Texas Tech and Bob Knight, who is Chris Beard’s chief mentor.  However, Texas Tech has an assistant coach on its staff that is very familiar with Kelley as well.

Former Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton is one of Beard’s top confidants on the bench.  During his run with the Cowboys, Sutton employed Kelley as one of his assistants so Sutton should be an immense help to Beard this week.

As for what to expect on the floor, S.F.A. is an unusual team.  They lead the NCAA in turnovers forced per game at just under 20.  But do not believe the lazy analysis that is already coming from some national media members comparing the Jacks to West Virginia.

As Texas Tech fans know, West Virginia employs a full-court press for all 40 minutes.  That is not what Stephen F. Austin does.  Rather, the Jacks play a tough man-to-man defense in the half-court.  Where they create turnovers is in employing random and aggressive half-court traps and trying to surprise opponents.  Instead of comparing S.F.A. to West Virginia, think about the style Louisville likes to play with extremely physical and aggressive defenses that pick up almost immediately as the ball comes across half-court.

This strategy is effective against teams in the Southland Conference which may be short on quality ball-handlers.  However, Texas Tech has a roster full of players that can be deadly at beating man-to-man defense off the dribble.

Also, S.F.A. lacks the elite talent that a team like W.V.U. has.  They do not have a Jevon Carter to lock down Keenan Evans or a Sag Konate to defend the rim.

Offensively, S.F.A. is unconventional.  One oddity is the fact that their leading scorer comes off the bench.  Guard Shannon Bogues plays 24 minutes per game as a reserve and puts up 15.4 per game.  There are two other Lumberjacks scoring in double digits (Kevon Harris and T.J. Holyfield).

In all, the Jacks score 81 points per game aided by 37% shooting from three.  They have hit 6.9 shots per game from deep compared to Texas Tech’s 7.1.

But where S.F.A. really makes its impact on offense is off turnovers.  They are shooting a fantastic 48% from the field because of all the easy buckets they generate.  When they are forced to generate their own offense in the half court, they can struggle and often tend to rely on one-on-one basketball which plays into Tech’s hands.

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Also, do not be too concerned when some analysts point to S.F.A’s high scoring average as a reason for a potential upset.  Remember, they play at a frantic pace and often their games devolve into mad scrambles for several possessions at a time.  That means there are more shots going up and the game is played at a higher pace meaning there is going to be more possessions.

Look for Texas Tech to slow the game down and try to put S.F.A. into a grind-it-out style of game.  Tech should be able to wear the Jacks down physically and mentally in that type of game.

One final note to remember about S.F.A. is that they are tiny.  There is only one player on the roster over 6-foot-8 (7-footer Jovan Grujic) and he plays just 5.8 minutes per game.

Their inside presence comes mainly from the 6-foot-8 Holyfield.  The 220-pounder grabs 6.5 boards and blocks 1.3 shots per game.  However, he is not an elite offensive talent.  He gets the majority of his offense off of hustle plays and offensive rebounds.  Tech must keep him off the boards to limit his offense and prevent the Jacks from getting extra shots.

After watching S.F.A.’s win in the Southland Conference Tournament title game, I have a lot of respect for how hard the Jacks play.  They are an intense team that plays with a ton of moxie and they won’t back down from Texas Tech.

But with that said, Texas Tech is an awful matchup for S.F.A.  Tech has turned it over just 12.5 times per game this year and should they do that Thursday, the Red Raiders will be in great shape.  There is nothing that S.F.A. does nor is there an individual talent on the roster that Tech shouldn’t have an answer for.

Next: Breaking Down Texas Tech's NCAA Draw

For S.F.A. to pull off a huge upset of a power-5 school, they would have to out-work and out-hustle an overconfident team.  However, being out-worked and out-hustled is something that almost never happens to Texas Tech.  The Raiders play with a similar blue-collar mentality as S.F.A. and do so with more talent, athleticism and size which makes an upset highly unlikely.