A year ago, Stephen F. Austin won the regular season Southland conference title, but after losing to Northwestern St. in the conference tournament, ended up going to the NIT. It was a good squad, but this will be a transition year for Lumberjack basketball, as long-time coach Danny Kaspar (one of the best coaches that you have never heard of) left to rebuild the program at Texas State. In his 13 years at Stephen F. Austin, Kaspar posted a record of 246-141, winning 64 percent of his games. His record before that at NAIA Incarnate Word was 219-52. And his moustache has never been defeated.
Kaspar's replacement, first year head coach Brad Underwood, has been coaching for a long time. In 2006 he joined Bob Huggins' staff at Kansas State, and has spent the intervening years as an assistant for Huggins' successor Frank Martin, first at Kansas State, and last year at South Carolina. Taking over the program from the defensive-minded Kaspar, he inherits a roster of tough, physical players.
On last season's 27-5 squad, Taylor Smith was the team's star player at both ends of the floor, leading the nation in effective field goal percentage, and protecting the rim and controlling the glass like few 6-6 players can. But he was a senior last year, and Texas will not have to contend with him. Several other key contributors also used up their eligibility last season.
When Kaspar was the coach, Stephen F. Austin made its name on defense. Last season the Lumberjacks ranked ninth in D-I in the kenpom.com adjusted defense ratings. They limited opponent threes, protected the rim, and they always rebounded. But now it is a new season, with a new coach. In SFA's only game against a D-I opponent, a match-up with Kaspar's Texas State, the Lumberjacks gave up plenty of offensive rebounds and did not protect the basket.
But the Lumberjacks did manage to beat Texas State, in large part because of Texas State's 17 turnovers and miserable shooting. And of course the Lumberjacks are just a more talented team that had a good night shooting the three.
The best player on SFA is Desmond Haymon, a 6-3 senior guard who shot 37 percent from long distance last season. Haymon is more than just a catch and shoot player; he also is able to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket, finish around the rim, and earn frequent trips to the line. He does all this while keeping the turnovers to a minimum. If the Longhorns again start this game in zone defense, they will want to keep track of Haymon.
6-4 sophomore Thomas Walkup, 6-6 junior Jacob Parker, and 6-5 senior Nikola Gajic are all active on the glass and a good finishers near the basket. None of them are the sort of players that will blow Texas away with a low post game, and all three are undersized, but each of the three front line players are willing to occasionally step out and take a three.
5-9 sophomore Trey Pinkney does most of the ball handling. He is quick off the dribble, but his size limits his ability to finish at the cup. He also has a history of being turnover prone. He is most likely to hurt Texas by getting to the free throw line, and by stepping out and shooting threes.
Stephen F. Austin is, to put it mildly, small. Part-time players Tanner Clayton and Sharife Sergeant are both 6-9, but among the players getting the most minutes, no one is over 6-6. But so far this season the Lumberjacks have shot the ball well, have gone to the offensive glass, and haven't turned the ball over much. They are a good team with some good players, and will likely give Texas a good game.