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Stephen F. Austin Basketball

Scouting Report (NCAA Tournament Edition): Texas Tech Red Raiders

March 12, 2018
3,284

The Game: (14) Stephen F. Austin versus (4) Texas Tech
The Time: Thursday, March 14th, 6:27 p.m. (CT)
The Broadcast: TruTV (television), Lumberjacks Sports Network (radio)

The stage is set. After clinching an NCAA Tournament berth with a three-win Southland Conference Tournament run, Stephen F. Austin has landed back in the Big Dance for the fourth time in the past five years.

On Thursday, while battling Texas Tech from the Big 12, SFA will be gunning for a spot in the Round of 32 for the third time in those four appearances.

The Red Raiders, who for much of the season looked ready to end Kansas' ridiculous run of Big 12 titles, dealt with injuries over the last month of their season and dropped five of their last seven. With star player Keenan Evans playing healthy again, though, Tech fans are certainly optimistic about their tournament draw.

Three storylines to follow...

The Sutton connections are everywhere. Many know of the years Lumberjacks head coach Kyle Keller spent under legendary Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton. The Sutton brand of defense continues to show up in the SFA product, but Eddie's influence extends to others, too. Lumberjacks assistant Wade Mason worked for several years under Eddie's son, Scott Sutton, who coached at Oral Roberts for more than a decade.

The other Sutton son, Sean, succeeded his father at Oklahoma State for two seasons and retained Keller. It wasn't until Sean was fired by the Cowboys that Keller found himself out of work and ended up landing with another former Sutton assistant, Bill Self, at Kansas.

Meanwhile, Sean joined his brother's staff at Oral Roberts, where he and Mason even spent a couple years in the Southland Conference. Mason joined Keller's staff at SFA in 2016 at the urging of his boss, Scott. After Scott (and by extension, Sean) was let go by the private school in Oklahoma under odd circumstances, the former returned to Oklahoma State where he now works under former Lumberjacks assistant Mike Boynton.

And Sean Sutton went to Texas Tech.

So, if you're still following, there are plenty of brilliant basketball minds on both sides who know the inner workings of those on the other. It'll make the meeting all the more intriguing on Thursday.

Zhaire Smith was a big SFA recruiting target. Keller's staff was one of the first groups to really identify the potential of Texas Tech's stud freshman Zhaire Smith. The Lumberjacks made an offer but his stock just absolutely exploded. Ultimately, Smith committed to the Red Raiders and has been sensational in his debut season.

Entering this game, Smith is shooting 42% from three-point land and 57% on field goals overall. He's also pulling down nearly five rebounds per game and averaging nearly two assists and a steal. A year ago, he was a really good recruit that a lot of people had overlooked. Now, he's a bona fide NBA lottery prospect.

And it wasn't out of the question, once upon a time, that he'd be a Lumberjack. 

Chris Beard won't take SFA lightly because he's been right where they are. In March of 2016, SFA was making waves with an upset of West Virginia in the Round of 64, but there were other upsets happening too. One of them was Chris Beard's Little Rock team, that knocked off Purdue in double overtime for the Trojan's second ever win in the NCAA Tournament.

Beard, a former graduate assistant at Incarnate Word under Lumberjacks' great Danny Kaspar, was one of the first major hires for Little Rock athletic director Chasse Conque (son of SFA football head coach Clint Conque) back in April of 2015. In his only season with the Trojans, he led them to a 30-5 record, including 17-3 in the Sun Belt, before Texas Tech took a big gamble on hiring a man with just a single season of Division I head coaching experience.

But a couple years later, it has certainly appeared to pay off. In addition to some brilliant recruiting, Beard challenged Kansas for a Big 12 title before injuries pushed them to runner-up status.

What does Texas Tech do well...?

Defensive disruption. Does that sound familiar? It probably should, because any time there's a Sutton connection, it's a trend. Much like Stephen F. Austin, the Red Raiders pride themselves on wreaking havoc on their opponents' offense. Tech forced turnovers on 21% of their opponent's possessions — that was second in the Big 12 to West Virginia — which fell just a bit below SFA's nation-leading 26%.

Interior offense. The Red Raiders are a slightly better than average three-point shooting team, but it is not the focus of their offense. Texas Tech loves to pound the ball into the paint and draw contact, and with a backcourt size advantage, that probably won't change on Thursday.

Offensive rebounding. The Red Raiders do a superb job using the size of their guards to create second-chance opportunities. 32.2% (37th in the country) of their missed shots are retained for another possession, slightly better than SFA's 31.6% (50th). It will be tough for the Lumberjacks, despite dominating the glass through the Southland Conference Tournament, to consistently field a lineup that matches up well there.

What does Texas Tech not do well...?

Give up free throw opportunities. If SFA is going to pull off another 14-3 upset on Thursday, they'll need a heavy dose of free-throw opportunities. They should get some, because Texas Tech fouls a lot. 22% of all opponent's points came from the free-throw line against the Red Raiders this season. Unfortunately for SFA, once again, Tech's weakness is also theirs. The Lumberjacks were dead last in all of college basketball, with 26% of opponent points coming from the stripe. High risk, high reward tends to do that.

Consistency in their shooting. For the season, Texas Tech has shot like an average team. If you look at their losses, though, they've just had a terrible time scoring from outside the arc. Lack of consistency there has made it difficult to always do what they really want to — drive the ball inside. It isn't totally unlike what SFA has dealt with, a bit of hot-and-cold shooting that can make them look exceptional one night and inept the next.

Turning the ball over. The contact-baiting style of offense contributes to Tech's tendencies to turn the ball over themselves — something they've done on 18% of all offensive possessions. Still, they have an advantage there because SFA turns it over 20% of the time, the 37th worst percentage in the country. The Lumberjacks are better than anyone in basketball at forcing them, though, leading the nation in both turnover percentage and steals per game.

Three Texas Tech Red Raiders to know...

Keenan Evans. An injury limited him a bit this last month and it's no coincidence that Texas Tech wasn't firing on all cylinders. As Evans goes, so does his team. Evans had a turf toe injury that has taken away some explosiveness, but he's a top-level athlete, a quick 6-foot-3 guard, and a senior leader that creates offense for everyone on the floor. He frequents the foul line and converts 81% of his tries there. He's not a great three point shooter, just barely topping 31%, but he averages 17 points per game and leads his team with 3.2 assists.

Zhaire Smith. As mentioned above, the 6-foot-5 freshman shooting guard has taken on the Big 12 by storm. He thrives at getting to the free throw line, shoots very well from outside the arc, rebounds and scores in the paint, and is a tough, gritty player who does a great job defensively for a freshman. He averages 11.2 points and nearly five rebounds per game and is also an exceptional shot blocking guard. 

Jarrett Culver. The other sensational freshman for the Red Raiders is also a 6-foot-5 guard. He's a superb outside shooter and one of the best individual defenders on the team but maybe not quite as good inside the paint as Smith. He'll get to the free throw line, but isn't great there, converting just 64% of his chances. He averages 11.7 points per game.

The Lumberjacks win if...

They create offense in transition, shoot at or above their average. Texas Tech does a really good job in defensive transition, but SFA won't win without success there. It has been such a big part of the Lumberjacks' scoring this season and they've looked downright flat when teams don't give them chances to run in space. Shannon Bogues, John Comeaux, and others, need to be able to showcase SFA's biggest strength: their speed.

The offense will open up and opportunities to create space will come naturally if outside shots go in early. The Lumberjacks have been hit or miss there all season, but to win, they need to hit. The interior game may not bail them out with Texas Tech's size.

The Red Raiders win if...

They don't self-destruct with turnovers, use their size advantage in the backcourt. As brilliant as Aaron Augustin and Comeaux have been defensively, they just don't really have the size to matchup with everyone Tech will put on the floor. That combination will almost certainly be tasked with slowing down Evans, but Smith and Culver are just probably more likely to draw matchups with SFA's guard-forward combos like Ty Charles and Kevon Harris.

The key for Texas Tech is to not pull a West Virginia and fall apart by turning the ball over. SFA did a bang up job in the non-conference season taking teams out of what they wanted to do offensively. Can Tech adjust without shooting themselves in the foot?

Fast Break Points...

- Texas Tech is probably one of only two opponents in the East Region (Arkansas being the other) that SFA could have been matched up with at the American Airlines Center that would have a far bigger fan presence. And they will. As great as it is that SFA fans can enjoy the action in person, expect them to be outnumbered at least 4-1.

- Texas Tech is not the only team with questions about health. Kevon Harris continues to battle back from a nerve injury he suffered in late January while TJ Holyfield's knees need the offseason as badly as Ivan Canete's legs. There are lots of bumps and bruises and nobody is in top condition physically. 

- No matter what happens, Kyle Keller deserves praise for how quickly he brought SFA back to the national stage. He set expectations high and the team hasn't always met them, but this truly is a roster rebuilt since the last time SFA danced. You can change coaches, players, and offenses, but the culture remains. The Lumberjacks are here to stay.

The Verdict...

The NCAA Tournament is unpredictable by nature. There is little time to prepare and scout and opponents from various leagues and levels of college basketball just match up differently. In the past, that has worked to the advantage of unconventional defense like SFA employs. It would be foolish to say SFA doesn't have a chance in this game, because they most certainly do, but they are also the underdogs for a reason. 

SFA will make a game of it, but I think Tech makes the plays down the stretch. The Lumberjacks have a really good team, but they probably aren't at the level they could be in another year.

Texas Tech: 84
Stephen F. Austin: 74

Scouting Report (NCAA Tournament Edition): Texas Tech Red Raiders

nacluth
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Nice breakdown Isaac. Ready to prove your prediction wrong again.
Ryan
Kinnaird Guitars
TallTexan
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Great breakdown, I now wish I had watched a couple of the Texas vs Tech games this season.

I think we've seen all season that anyone can have a great game for us, now we need 2 or 3 guys to have a great game & we'll be in business.
Gazette1
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Good assessment Isaac but for once I hope that you are wrong with your prediction. Win or lose, I am very proud of this team. I wish that I could be there but I won't be able to make it.
Txjack
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A fair/realistic assessment of our team and chances. Wish we had Kevon at the level he was before the injury...I agree with your prediction but funny things do happen in the tourney...hope I am laughing Thursday night!
Gazette1
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To be realistic we will have to play our best game ever and they will have to play their worst game ever, but it is possible.
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