Stephen F. Austin, March Madness Underdogs

Will March Madness’ Underdogs Rise to the Top?

As March Madness begins, there is a clear list of favorites that basketball fans across the nation root for every year. We always hear about the big schools — the Goliaths that make it to “The Dance” every year. I don’t want to talk about the Florida Gators or the Duke Blue Devils. That’s boring. I’m more interested in the Davids, the underdogs, the schools that never contend but somehow made it happen this year. With this in mind, let’s talk about Stephen F. Austin State, a school that doesn’t carry the swagger of a UCLA or a North Carolina. But every year it happens to someone, and this year SFA earned their program’s second trip to the NCAA Tournament.


A Longshot

The No. 12 seeded Lumberjacks from Nacogdoches, Texas were a longshot at the beginning of the season. How much of a longshot were they? Let’s just say that Head Coach Brad Underwood’s team will likely be the feel good story of the year but will have to settle for an outstanding regular season and little else in the Tourney.

The ‘Jacks have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the program’s history. That was in 2009 when they lost to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange. They never had a prayer. SFA lost to the perennial powerhouse, 59-44, in the South regional in Miami that year.


A Stellar Coach

Hired almost a year ago, Underwood logged 27 years as a coach before taking over the Lumberjacks as head coach. Prior to his current gig he worked two years under Head Coach Frank Martin at Kansas State and South Carolina.  SFA Director of Athletics, Robert Hill, introduced him at a 2013 press conference declaring that "All of this plus his knowledge of the game and ability to recruit makes him the perfect hire for our men's basketball program.”

Who would have thought the guy would lead the Lumberjacks to a 31-2 overall record in his first year, though? Not even ranked in the College Sports Madness Top 144, his team finished with a perfect 18-0 Southland Conference record as well as a perfect home record and topped it all off with a 33 game home win streak.

Underwood’s success showed in the on-the-court production of his players as well. Senior guards DeShaunt Walker (396 points, 58 rebounds, 41 assists) and Desmond Haymon (473 points, 123 rebounds, 94 assists)  led the way for their team, while junior forward Jacob Parker ‘s 14.2 points and  7.1 rebounds per game earned him the title of Southland Conference Player of the Year. All three men will likely play professionally.


Can They Continue Their Strong Run?

As March Madness takes over the minds of college basketball fans across the nation with the power of a 2015 Mustang, everyone is anticipating how the underdogs will perform in the competition. Great numbers posted during the regular season don’t always translate to a strong run in the tourney for the ‘Jacks. They might get past 5th seed VCU in the South Regional, but they almost certainly would not be able to contend with either UCLA or Tulsa in the second round. UCLA’s roster sports a higher level of skilled athletes who faced tougher opponents this season. And they have infinitely more experience in the Tournament.