Monday, November 16, 2009

Beware the Southland

One day after seeing Southland Conference mate UT-San Antonio knock off Iowa, the mighty Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin roll into Williams Arena looking to snag a second win for their conference over a Big Ten team.  Well, the Gophers aren't exactly Iowa, but SFA is superior to UT-San Antonio (and Tennessee Tech).

The Lumberjacks won the Southland last season, going 22-8 overall - including a win over every midwestern white dork's favorites NDSU, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a 15 seed, losing to Syracuse 55-49.  Unfortunately for them, graduation ravaged their roster and they lost 3 starters, including the last two Southland Players of the Year, and some key reserves.  They do have their starting back court back this season, and point man Eric Bell is an excellent, heady ball player, but I don't know where their scoring is going to come from.  Outside of Bell and back court mates Eddie Williams and Walt Harris, there's nobody here with any experience and/or offense.

No, the danger in playing SFA doesn't come from their offensive prowess, it comes from their style of play and their defense.  The Jacks played at an extremely slow tempo last season, ranking 301st in the country.  They also played stifling defense, ranking 8th in overall defensive efficiency (better than Michigan State last year), due to allowing opponents to shoot just 43% from inside the arc (24th) and an incredible 28% from outside of it (2nd in the country).  And when opponents missed, they didn't get second chances, with SFA allowing offensive rebounds just 29% of the time, good enough for 39th in the country.  The Lumberjacks may have lost some key players, but the same coach remains and you can bet they are going to play slow, and they are going to play tough defense.

This match up would have been a nightmare game for Monson when he was here, because playing a slow team where just getting a shot is a chore can cause frustration, which leads to a mistakes when coupled with a lack of discipline.  With Tubby running the show, however, and plenty of fresh bodies to cycle in and out when frustrations set in, the Gophers should be able to handle SFA without too much difficulty.  That said, it's an excellent test for the team this early - not too difficult, but enough of a wrinkle that they'll have to do some work to get the win.

I expect the Gophers to try to kick up the tempo and look to run.  With SFA a bit challenged on the offensive end, and the Gophers having the size and athleticism to grab most of the rebounds, the opportunities should be there.  If you want to really notice how the team is, pay attention in the half court and watch how they handle a touch defensive team.  I know that's what I'll be looking for.  If the Gophers can get the open looks in this game they were getting on Friday, it will be a very positive sign.  I think they do it.

Gophers 70, Stephen F. Austin 52.

Also I couldn't find any pictures of any SFA girls, but this girl's name is Austin so hopefully we're still bros.

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