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Stephen F. Austin Basketball

New Orleans at Stephen F. Austin: Q&A with Privateer Island

January 27, 2017
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The once wide open Southland Conference is finally starting to take form. Contenders are emerging and pretenders are beginning to fade.

Stephen F. Austin remains in the former group despite three conference losses. The next two games, against the top two conference teams, will go far in determining how long they remain there. First up, the league-leading New Orleans Privateers, the surprise team of the year, rolling into William R. Johnson Coliseum at 7-1 after a 19-point take down of McNeese State last night.

To learn more about the Southland Conference's biggest weekend game, we went behind enemy lines to Shaun Maeder (@UNOPrivatr) of PrivateerIsland.net. Here's what he had to say:

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following exchange took place prior to SFA's Wednesday victory over UCA and UNO's Thursday victory over McNeese State.]

UNO has shocked most fan bases around the SLC with their start in league play. Coaches picked them to finish 9th and SIDs pegged them 10th. Are those more closely following the program as surprised as the rest of us that this team has started 6-1, or did they already know something we didn't?

Shaun: I’d be lying if I said we’re not surprised to see UNO in first place approaching the halfway point of the conference season, but we were also surprised the Privateers were picked so low in the preseason. The top eight contributors are all juniors or seniors and five of those eight have played together at UNO for the last three years. The hope was there that all that experience together would translate into more wins in close games. So far that has been the case in 2017.

One of the big story lines for the Privateers has been the emergence of JUCO transfer Erik Thomas, a good player from a year ago, that has nearly doubled his scoring output in his second season. To what do you attribute his bigger role and growth from a year ago to now?

Shaun: Erik Thomas has been a real treat to watch. He was very good last season, but there has been a very obvious shift with this year’s team that has allowed his personal stats to jump in the manner they have. UNO is not a good outside shooting team. They have several guys like capable of making three point shots, but for this team to be successful they know they need to get to the rim and to the free throw line and Thomas (60% FG, 77% FT) excels at both.

UNO has also really focused on Thomas and Travin Thibodeaux as their best players this year and primarily has run a lot of High/Low offense between the two. Thibodeaux at 6-foot-9 leads the Privateers in assists. His improvement from last year to this one is as big a reason for Erik’s statistical jump as any.

The Dallas Cowboys had just won a Super Bowl the last time UNO competed in an NCAA Tournament game. What would it mean to the Privateers' community to make it back to the biggest stage in the post-Katrina era?

Shaun: As a lifelong UNO supporter I understand exactly how long it’s been since the Privateers have danced on the brightest stage. I guess I never put together that the same year was also the last Cowboys Super Bowl. As a Saints fan, thanks for giving me that brief moment of joy!

Seriously, UNO making it back to the NCAA Tournament, whenever it happens, will be beyond words. It’s impossible to comprehend the challenges everyone in that athletic department, and the school as a whole, faces on a daily basis. After the (thankfully) ill-fated attempts to drop from Division I, the program had to be rebuilt from scratch. No scholarship players, no conference for scheduling, no post-season possibilities. Coach Mark Slessinger and his assistants over the last several years have done a great job just getting the program back on its feet.

With the top of the Southland (SFA) seemingly back down to earth this season, there is a growing “Why not us?” sentiment around the league. After this strong start I can assure you it’s being felt around UNO. Even though we hope the UNO program can continue to build and return to its glory days, stealing a tourney berth and a 16 seed in a down year for the league would bring immense joy to some loyal Privateers fans who have been through an awful lot.

What are the key matchups in this game that you believe will decide its outcome?

Shaun: I mentioned UNO’s High/Low offense earlier when talking about Erik Thomas. The key to just about every UNO game is limiting the turnovers as much as possible and getting to the free throw line. When you almost force the ball into the paint as much as UNO does, you’re going to commit some turnovers. Against a good defensive team like SFA, you can’t let that number get out of control.

The other factor, free throw shooting, is a question mark on the road. UNO will try to draw fouls. Whether you get the whistles you hope for is anyone’s guess on a nightly basis in a mid-to-low major basketball conference. My guess is that UNO will need to get a scoring contribution from the perimeter. Christavious Gill’s all-around game has been very good this season, but with the focus inside his scoring has decreased. This may be a game the Privateers need him or Nate Frye to knock down a few shots and open up the floor for the big guys.

On the defensive end, Gill has been great as a perimeter defender. Mike Zeno has also been a valuable defensive player at a number of positions. Defensive rebounding has been a bit of a concern at times for UNO. It’ll be very important to limit SFA to one shot if the Jacks are struggling at all on offense.

Has the 2016-17 progress sparked renewed interest from the local community in Privateers athletics?

Shaun: There is a definite buzz around the program this year after the 4-0 start. Local media suddenly remembers that UNO Basketball was a thing, and might be again. The Privateers have gotten more attention in the local media over the past two weeks than they have the previous several years combined. It has yet to really make a difference in home attendance, but the athletic department is working extremely hard. They are all over campus with players and signage.

Hopefully with students back on campus and “Homecoming” on the horizon, we’ll see a significant student attendance increase the rest of the way. The media attention will also only increase if the team keeps winning and we get closer to March. If they stay in the championship race, I have an honest hope that we may have a couple decently attended games down the stretch.

What is your prediction for the game?

Shaun: Teams almost always play better at home than on the road but the difference in home SFA to road SFA so far this year is staggering. It would already be a difficult task for UNO, but for the second week in a row their conference schedule calls for a Thursday night home game/long bus ride Friday/Saturday road game. They handled it beautifully last week dominating a talented UCA team in Conway.

SFA should clearly present a greater challenge, though. UNO barely missed out on a signature win over Sam. They have an even greater opportunity here in a place SLC teams go to die. I really feel UNO has a legitimate shot, but I’ll say SFA 71, New Orleans 67.

New Orleans at Stephen F. Austin: Q&A with Privateer Island

8,238 Views | 8 Replies | Last: 7 yr ago by sfa17
nacluth
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Great stuff! Really like the realism and optimism for UNO. I've thought they have been putting it together the last couple years. I wouldn't be surprised to see them battling in the conference tournament the next couple of years.
Ryan
Kinnaird Guitars
PurpleOut
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Staff
UNO has always had some good size and athleticism. I always picked road games there as trap games. They've finally put it together as a team, and as he said, have been getting it out of those same guys that have been there 2-3 years.
PurpleOut
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Staff
I did get a good laugh out of this though:

nacluth
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That is funny. I'm worried of all the blue shirts. By the way, are we doing a white out?
PurpleOut
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Staff
nacluth said:

That is funny. I'm worried of all the blue shirts. By the way, are we doing a white out?
No, too soon of a turnaround to get it advertised. Hoping they can get it worked out and scheduled for a later game, like the Sam game.
Jon
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That would be awesome to see! It's been too long.
SFASawmillGuy
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I've decided we're incapable of doing themes for games outside of purple out.
Black out games=purple shirts.
White out games=purple shirts.
Pink out games=purple shirts.
Greek game=random colored polo's and not paying attention to the game.
sfa17
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I think a white out could be possible vs Sam (bc it's a big game) . Maybe they can do a wear white and get in free( for non students) and wear white a get chance to win a prize etc... that's the only way to get people to do stuff unfortunately (for now)
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