Think of a program who has won their conference and made it to the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years. Does Stephen F Austin (SFA) come to mind?
The Lumberjacks have been at the top of the Southland Conference and and a top mid-major program as of late. They are led by Brad Underwood, who is in his third year as head coach. and he embodies the “Axe ’em” mentality of SFA. His players describe him as being a high-energy coach and having tall expectations. He expects perfection and they practice for perfection. They have dominated the Southland Conference with a record of 10-0 thus far this year, 17-1 last year and 18-0 in 2013-2014 for a combined 45-1. It doesn’t get much closer to perfection than that.
The Lumberjacks also have one of the longest home winning streaks in the country at 24 games, which puts them behind only six other teams, including Kentucky, Kansas, Wichita State and others.
SFA has experienced tremendous success over the past two years, earning NCAA Tournament bids in both. Their best performance came in the 2013-2014 NCAA Tournament where they earned a win over the No. 5 seed VCU and
advanced to the third round where they lost to No. 4 seeded UCLA. Last year, the Lumberjacks lost to No. 5 Utah in the round of 64.
If you look at SFA’s resumes in the last two years, its NCAA bids were almost guaranteed.
2013-2014: 32-3, with a 29 game winning streak, Southland Conference Champions
2014-2015: 29-5, with a 19 game winning streak, Southland Conference Champions
Both seasons are very impressive, but what is it about the team has led to this success?
The Lumberjacks run a spread offense and practice it to perfection. The spread offense is a strategy that has been implemented by NCAA coach’s such as Coach K of Duke, and Billy Donovan while he was at Florida. The spread offense is aimed at running time, getting strong attacking opportunities and limiting the oppositions time of possession. Coach Underwood has taught this well and it has shown as he has taken SFA to the a higher level of play.
In fact, Underwood he’s done so well that his name is being brought up in many conversations for potential job opportunities at bigger schools. He’s been rumored to have interviewed with Iowa State previously to replace Fred Hoiberg. That job eventually went to the former Murray State coach, Steve Prohm.
But no rumor has been more prominent than Brad Underwood to Kansas State. Underwood, a Kansas native, knows K-State basketball probably better than any one else. He played for the Wildcats in the 80’s and was an assistant coach under Frank Martin from 2006-2012. It sounds like the perfect opportunity for Underwood to establish himself as a coach at an elite program. With many people losing faith in current K-State coach Bruce Weber, it would not be shocking to see Underwood in his position soon. Sources told Texas Top 100 that if an spot opens up as head coach at either Kansas State or Oklahoma State, Underwood will be the top choice for the job.
But good coaching is not the only reason the Lumberjacks are leaders of the Southland Conference. They are returning six of the seven leading scorers from last years team are still there and preforming well. Most notably, Thomas Walkup has been impressive again this year totaling 17.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 4.2 apg. Walkup is a senior from Pasadena, TX, who has been a vital part of the last two NCAA appearances and the leading scorer on this year’s team.
SFA has eight games remaining this year as they look to close out their conference schedule undefeated.
The Lumberjack’s are primed for running the table the rest of their regular and conference tournament season and making the NCAA Tournament as a lower seed. Don’t be surprised come March Madness if SFA starts busting brackets, because they have the coaching and talent to do it.