The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best weekend of the calendar year (this is fact, not an opinion). Dozens of college basketball games with teams and players trying to make themselves a household name, even if for just the weekend. This continues our series looking at conferences and schools are most likely to represent them in the NCAA Tournament. Consider this early bracket research to find that Cinderella team that busts everyone’s bracket...except yours.
Last Year’s NCAA Participant: New Orleans
Prior Years Upset Team: In 2016 14-seeded Stephen F Austin upset 3-seed West Virginia and nearly knocked of Notre Dame, losing by 1 in the second round. Also as a 14-seed, who can forget when Northwestern St. knocked off Iowa back in 2006?
Seemingly, this conference will be above the 16-seed line but it depends on who comes out of the Southland Tournament to determine what seed they’ll end up.
KenPom Rank: 170
Off Efficiency: 106.2 (169)
Def Efficiency: 105.9 (175)
eFG%: 53.0% (92)
Why are they dangerous: The Colonels bring two, high scoring senior guards in Roddy Peters and Tevon Saddler. Peters was a 4-star recruit with offers from UConn, Kansas, UCLA and many others before settling on Maryland. He only stayed a Terp for one season where he played in 32 games before transferring to South Florida. His final season is one where he is leading Nicholls in scoring and is second in the Southland Conference with 19.5 ppg.
Overall, Nicholls is dangerous because they play fast, they force turnovers and they turn those turnovers into easy baskets. They have experience as well. This is a team that could catch a higher seeded team off guard.
Stephen F Austin
KenPom Rank: 118
Off Efficiency: 106.3 (164)
Def Efficiency: 102.0 (97)
eFG%: 54.1% (59)
Why are they dangerous: The reason they have a chance is that this program consistently forces a LOT of turnovers. In fact the 2018 Lumberjacks lead the nation in turnovers forced at 26.8% of their opponent’s possessions. Forcing that many turnovers makes a team alter their gameplan and play on their heels. The have 3 high scorers in Shannon Bougues (16.2), Kevon Harris (15.9) and TJ Holyfield (13.4). None of those three are seniors, so look out for this team to be very dangerous in 2019. But this is about the 2018 Tournament.
Early in the year they beat LSU, lost at 20-8 Mississippi State by just 5 and lost at Missouri by just 1. This team isn’t shy about taking on P5 conference teams and is capable of knocking them off. The Lumberjacks play fast and high-pressure defense. I always have them as a dangerous team to watch, should they make it out of the Southland with the auto bid, they could be an upset capable team. High KenPom ranking but will likely be a very low seed. Their matchup could be an interesting one.
KenPom Rank: 215
Off Efficiency: 101.4 (256)
Def Efficiency: 105.8 (170)
eFG%: 50.2% (202)
Why are they dangerous: The Lions are currently tied with Stephen F Austin in 2nd place but they get to host Nichols in the final game of the regular season with a chance to win a share of the conference regular season title. Based on their profile, looking primarily at KenPom stats, they seem to be less dangerous than the two teams listed above. They are pretty good defensively but not as strong on offense. With the “right” first round matchup, they may have some success. But I think on this stage, they are less dangerous.
In addition to the three teams profiled you also have Sam Houston State and New Orleans who are both just 1.5 games out of first place.
Overall the Southland is a conference that tends to have teams who force turnovers that lead to easy baskets. Defense is key and if one of these teams catches a good team on a day when the lower-seeded team is hitting from the outside as they play great defense...this is a conference to keep an eye on. If Stephen F Austin makes it to the Big Dance, they are certainly a team to watch out for.