if Delon Wright wants to show that he's the best player in the country, it starts here. A disappointing end to the season for Utah cost them seeding and cost Wright the conference player of the year award. Still, he does everything for Utah and is arguably the most valuable player in the South region. Want to win an NCAA title? Your best player must perform at a high level (Wright) and your shooters must shoot it well. Brandon Taylor is the gunner for Utah who will need to counter some SFA 3s with some deep balls of his own, and keep that going over the next few weeks.
Thomas Walkup is SFA's best player and the Southland Conference player of the year. He averaged 15.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and a partridge in a pear tree. Shoots over 57% on the season, but doesn't do much from deep at only 26.8%. Still, a very dangerous player that can take over a game in different ways. 5-9 point guard Trey Pinkney doesn't do much offensively at only 3.5 points per game, but does average 3.9 assists. The little guy takes only 2.8 shots per contest in 26+ minutes. Sophomore Dallas Cameron pitches in 4.8 points per game and shoots over 40% from 3.
This is the kind of game where Jordan Loveridge can shine. He'll be tough for SFA to defend in the post, and he'll be able to get his shot off outside. Chris Reyes' minutes should be very limited on Thursday (not that they weren't already). Brekkott Chapman, Kyle Kuzma, and even Dallin Bachynski are better options at the 4 for athleticism and matchup reasons against the Lumberjacks.
Jacob Parker is SFA's one 'big guy,' but he only goes 6-7 and tends to play on the perimeter a lot, shooting 47% from deep on 3.5 attempts per game. He was last season's conference player of the year and put up comparable numbers this season with 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. Probably the team's second best player. Ty Charles is more of a guard, but we'll slip him in at forward here. The freshman averages 8.4 points and 5 rebounds.
Advantage: Stephen F Austin
It's Poeltl's time to shine. If he has NBA aspirations after this season, all eyes will be watching and he can really make some money. Against a Lumberjack starting lineup filled with little guys, Poeltl should be able to control the paint on both ends as long as he's able to stay out of foul trouble (a big if).
Stephen F Austin doesn't really have a center, with their tallest starter going 6-6.
Chapman, Bachynski, Olsen, Tucker, Ogbe, Isaiah Wright, Olsen. They're deep. Deep enough to make a big run in the tournament. I've written about the depth so many times though that it's hurting my brain. Larry always has options.
The Lumberjacks have some depth with Demetrius Johnson, Jared Johnson, and Tanner Clayton all averaging 4+ points per game off of the bench. Johnson is a scorer with 8.6 points per game in under 14 minutes while Clayton's size (6-9) may force the Lumberjacks to use his more than they normally do.
The Lumberjacks can play. There's a reason they've won 28 of their last 29 games. They can score (79.5 points per game), pass it (lead the country in assists per game), and shoot a very high percentage (5th in the country). Brad Underwood is 61-7 in two seasons as the head coach and is destined for a bigger job soon (watch out for Alabama). They're tournament tested having shocked VCU in the first round last year before hitting a buzz saw in UCLA, but the experience is there. There are a million reasons you can pick Stephen F Austin to knock off the Utes. They won't. The behemoths inside for Utah should be able to control the paint (assuming Larry wants to go big to try to create mismatches), while the long arms of Delon Wright and the tight perimeter defense of Brandon Taylor make every outside shot tough. Unless SFA is able to get out in transition and knock down their 3s on the break, there's just too much size for them to deal with. It won't be easy for the Utes, but they'll do enough down the stretch to get the win and advance.
Utah 70 Stephen F Austin 64
NCAA Tournament Round 1: Utah vs SFA
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