When you first look at the matchup of Notre Dame vs. Stephen F. Austin, one could instantly think “oh the Irish have this one in the bag.” In the words of Lee Corso “not so fast my friend!” This is March and upsets are frequent and often welcomed by the casual fan. If you take a close look at the Lumberjacks of SFA, you will realize quickly that this team is no cinderella and that they are actually a damn good basketball team.
The Lumberjacks are led by senior guard Thomas Walkup. Walkup had his coming out party against West Virginia as he dropped 33 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. He also got to the free throw line 20 times and converted on 19 of them. Walkup also is the team’s leading scorer at 18 points per game. The Irish will need to keep him off the charity stripe as he shoots 81% from the line. SFA goes as Walkup goes.
A couple of other players that could end up hurting the Irish are seniors Clide Geffrard and Demetrius Floyd. Gerffrard didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in their first round win over West Virginia, as he was just 1-8. He did get to the line 8 times and converted 5 of them. Floyd is the team’s second leading scorer and best three-point shooter. He didn’t have much an impact against WVU, but he can definitely fill it up from the outside. Floyd is making almost 3 three-pointers per game. If the Irish leave him open he could end up making quite an impact.
SFA owns the nation’s longest winning streak at 20 games. They swept through their conference schedule and tournament. Then the Lumberjacks got the attention of the basketball world on Friday night when they outplayed 3 seed West Virginia for 40 minutes. SFA is one of the best defensive teams in the country. According to KenPom they rank No.11 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Lumberjacks force 18 turnover a game, which leads the nation. In their previous matchup they forced West Virginia into 22 turnovers. They also just coughed the ball up just 7 times to the nation’s No.2 team at forcing turnovers.
For most of the year the Irish have been one of the best teams at limiting turnovers. They turn the ball over just a little under 10 times per game, which ranked No.10 in the nation. Although over the last couple of games the Irish have been trending in the wrong direction in the turnover department. Since the beginning of March, Notre Dame has turned the ball over 13.6 times per game, including 18 times against Duke and 17 times against North Carolina. The Irish will have to buck this trend if they want to move on to their second consecutive Sweet 16.
SFA made most of their money at the free-throw stripe as they got to the line 39 times and were fouled 27 times against WVU. This shouldn’t be the case against the Irish. Notre Dame fouls just a little over 15 times per game, which leads the country.
I think this will be another great NCAA tournament game, but I am going with the Irish in a close one. Look for V.J. Beachem to continue his hot shooting. Since the beginning of March, Beachem is shooting 58% from three-point land. Zach Auguste also seemed poised for a big game due to SFA’s small front line. Don’t be surprised if he has another 20+ point, 12+ rebound game. The Irish should also be able to keep the Lumberjacks off the free-throw line and if they can limit turnovers it should be enough to advance.