Cowboys Draw Dangerous Dance Partners

Here is a look at the three teams joining the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Chicago Regional first- and second-round pod in Oklahoma City. They may not be name schools, but there is plenty of information to keep you alert about this trio of schools looking to make a name for themselves at the expense of the second-seeded Cowboys.

The Cowboys' first dance partner in Oklahoma City is Southeastern Louisiana, the champion of the Southland Conference by virtue of its win Sunday over rival Northwestern State of Louisiana 49-42 in a defensive struggle. The Lions finished with a 24-8 record and a 13-1 conference mark under fifth-year head coach Billy Kennedy.

Kennedy is a Southeastern Louisiana alum who started there as a student assistant coach before going on to serve as an assistant at Tulane, New Orleans, Northwestern State, Wyoming, Texas A&M, Creighton and California. Before returning to his alma mater he was the head coach for two seasons at Centenary. His team last season was 20-9 before this year's team ripped off that 24-8 record.

The Lions are led by Southland Tournament MVP Ricky Woods. The 6-5 junior shoots 56 percent from the field and averages 17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. He is joined in the Lions lineup by 6-2 senior guard Jonathan Patton. Patton shoots 38 percent from three-point range and averages 11.8 points and 3.3 rebounds a game. Nate Lofton is a 6-10, 250 pound-senior post player who averages 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. Other starters or primary players include 6-1 sophomore guard Terry Bryant, 6-3 senior guard Neill Berry, and 6-8 junior forward Jonathan Walker.

Southeastern Louisiana shoots 46 percent from the field as a team, 31 percent from three-point range, and 65 percent from the line. They play solid defense allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. Besides conference success, the Lions posted wins over Boise State 56-48 and Idaho 63-54. However, they lost most of their matchups with teams from power conferences including 64-48 at Ole Miss, 68-61 to Houston, and 65-62 to Southern Miss. They also lost games to Arkansas-Little Rock and Southern.

This is a team the Cowboys need to respect, but it would be one of the biggest upsets in NCAA and school history if Southeastern Louisiana ended the Cowboys stay at this year's dance, especially in front of a friendly crowd in the Ford Center.

After Southeastern Louisiana, next on the dance card will be either the St. Mary's Gaels or the Southern Illinois Salukis, and either one will be a solid challenge for a second-round NCAA game.

The Salukis are the No. 7 seed out of the Missouri Valley Conference, which had three teams get in this season with champion Creighton, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. They finished the season with a 65-61 upset loss at the hands of Southwest Missouri State, coached by OSU grad Barry Henson. No doubt, Henson will be able to provide a decent scouting report if need be. Overall, the Salukis were 26-7, 15-3 in the Valley, and 3-1 on neutral courts. New head coach Chris Lowery, in his first season at the school, saw his team post wins over Vanderbilt (67-53) and UTEP (68-62) in Las Vegas, as well as a road win at Wyoming (81-69). Southern Illinois lost games to Arkansas-Little Rock (70-53), Louisiana-Lafayette (63-61), but in conference play split with NCAA qualifier Northern Iowa (67-61 loss and 78-69 win) and swept Creighton (69-63 and 71-67).

Southern Illinois has a slim margin in scoring over its opponents as they are not the best defensive team. They like to run and average shooting 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three-point range, and a sizzling 74 percent at the charity stripe. They allow opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arch. They also will turn the ball over.

Darren Brooks is the leader as the 6-3 senior guard averages 15 points and five rebounds a game. The Salukis aren't big with 6-2 sophomore guard Jamaal Tatum averaging 12 points and 2.4 rebounds a game. They are the only double figure scorers as 6-3 220-pound senior guard Stetson Hairston averages 9.4 points a game. LaMar Owen, a 6-5 wing, averages 6.7 points a game. Senior Josh Warren is a 6-8 post player with 3.9 points and 3.7 rebounds a game, while 6-7 Matt Shaw is a freshman averaging 6.1 points a game.

If they can manage a modest first-round upset then Oklahoma State could see the St. Mary's Gaels. Out of the West Coast Conference, St. Mary's looks a lot like their conference brethren Gonzaga did a couple of years ago when they were an upset darling in the tournament. In his fourth year at the school, head coach Randy Bennett has a record of 68-55. The former assistant at St. Louis for Lorenzo Romar has also coached at Pepperdine, the University of San Diego, and Idaho. His team is 25-8 with a conference record of 11-3 and they are 1-3 on a neutral court. Their last game came last week in Santa Clara where they lost the WCC Championship Game to Gonzaga 80-67.

This season the Gaels have wins over Belmont 67-58. That is the same Belmont that beat Missouri early in the season. They also beat California 61-52, UNLV 64-54, Hawaii 84-77 and San Diego State 73-64. All those wins came on the road. They lost to Memphis 81-66, and to Mississippi State 67-54 in New York City in the Preseason NIT. They split with Gonzaga and posted wins later in the year over BYU and Air Force out of conference. This team is not to be flirted with. They shoot 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from three-point range, and 72 percent on their free throws. They allow teams to shoot 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arch.

They are led by Australian native Daniel Kickert. The 6-10, 240-pound Aussie is averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. Point guard 6-3 senior Paul Marigney is actually the leading scorer with 17 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. Other standouts include 6-2 senior guard E.J. Rowland (11.1 ppg and 3.9 rpg), 6-7 senior wing Jonathan Sanders (7.7/4.4), 6-5 sophomore Brett Collins (6.2/2.2), and 6-4 junior Jason Walberg (4.3/2.2).

St. Mary's will not be intimidated by playing a power conference team because they have become used to it and the West Coast Conference is starting to think of itself as a power conference anyway.

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