Stephen F. Austin-VCU Preview
SAN DIEGO (AP) Stephen F. Austin’s leading scorer is known as Sunshine, a long-haired free spirit who wears tie-dyed shirts and Superman socks.
The Lumberjacks are a loose bunch off the court, rapping and videotaping skits. On it, they’re stoically frenetic, taking out opponents with their aggressive defense and the concern of a kid stomping ants.
They have the nation’s second-longest winning streak and their coach has become a successful Division coach after a three-decade wait.
Every year, a fun-loving darling catches the fancy of fans in the NCAA tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast and Dunk City had that shine on them last year.
SFA has the pedigree to become the next sleeper sensation.
Jack City, anyone?
”We feel like this team has achieved a great deal and has a tremendous of confidence going in,” SFA coach Brad Underwood said. ”We know we will have to play well and we’ll throw it up, go have some fun and see what happens.”
Before the Lumberjacks (31-2) can get anyone to jump on their bandwagon, they’ll first have to get through a team that comfortably fit into the underdog role once before.
VCU had one of the more improbable runs in NCAA tournament history in 2011, joining Butler in crashing the Final Four to turn it into a mid-major party.
The Rams have remained steady, winning an NCAA tournament game each of the previous two seasons and set a school record by making it into the bracket for the fourth straight season.
VCU (26-8) is one of three schools to win at least 26 games each of the past five season and still plays the ”Havoc” defense, created by coach Shake Smart, that gives opponents fits.
Yet for all the Rams have done, they are perceived by some to be underdogs despite having the higher seed – 5 to SFA’s 12 – for Friday’s South Regional game and they don’t like it one bit.
”We read the clippings and see what comes on the TV,” VCU junior guard Briante Weber said. ”It adds to the fire as us being the underdog. We’re going to attack from the get-go and see what happens.”
Here’s five more things to look for when SFA tries to take down VCU:
LUMBERJACKS’ ROLL: Few teams will enter the NCAA tournament on a better roll than SFA. The Lumberjacks’ 28-game winning streak is the second-longest in the nation behind No. 1 seed Wichita State’s 34-game streak and is nine more than the previous longest in Southland Conference. SFA became the first Southland team to win 30 games in a season, the first undefeated league champion since Arkansas State in 1967 – the only one to do it in 18 games – and has a 33-game home winning streak.
STEADY RAMS: VCU has become an NCAA tournament regular over the past decade. The Rams have been included in the bracket six of the past eight years and are the second school from Virginia – with Virginia from 1981-84 – to play in the NCAAs four straight seasons. VCU is one of seven schools entering this year’s tournament to win an NCAA tournament game for four straight years and is 23-7 under Smart in the postseason, including the Atlantic-10 and CBI tournaments.
UNDERWOOD’S RUN: Underwood has made the most of his first job as a Division I coach. A former assistant under Frank Martin at Kansas State and South Carolina, has coaxed the Lumberjacks to the NCAA tournament for the second time (with 2009) with a firm-but-free style and a motion offense that spreads the scoring wealth around the roster. Underwood was named the Southland Conference’s coach of the year, joining his predecessor Danny Kaspar (now at Texas State) to give the Lumberjacks a two-year sweep of the award.
TURNOVERS KEY: VCU led the nation in steals per game (11.2) and in forcing turnovers (18.3) for the second straight year. The Rams are pretty at protecting the ball, too, finishing the regular season third nationally with a plus-6 turnover ratio. SFA plays a similar game, though with more of a halfcourt slant. The Lumberjacks aren’t bad in the turnover game, either, fifth nationally in turnover margin at plus-5.2 and seventh by forcing 16.3 per game. To go out on a limb, turnovers might have an impact on this game.
PRODUCTIVE PARKER: SFA forward Jacob Parker isn’t your typical college basketball, nor does he want to be with his flowing blonde hair and style. He sure can play, though. The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season and SFA two straight (with Taylor Smith last year) SLC players of the year by winning the award this season.