The Southland Conference is set to have an absolute showdown on Saturday between Stephen F. Austin (14-5) and Texas A&M Corpus Christi (16-3). Both teams are undefeated at 7-0 in conference play and looking to get in position for the regular season crown on Saturday afternoon.
For Stephen F. Austin and head coach Brad Underwood, it's largely been a growing process since the start of the season. The Lumberjacks lost the team's first two games last fall but have lost just three games since then. Plus, considering that the losses on the road against quality Baylor and Northern Iowa teams, neither of those look too bad in hindsight. In fact, all of Stephen F. Austin's losses have come away from home
The key to the team's success for the Lumberjacks has been quality shooting, avoiding turnovers, and pressure on defense. Stephen F. Austin is No. 17 nationally in effective field goal rate, No. 48 nationally in three point percentage, and No. 134 nationally in offensive turnover rate. In short, the Lumberjacks shoot the ball well and avoid turning it over. Defensively, the team is No. 3 nationally in turnover rate, so Stephen F. Austin is really maximizing possessions.
On the other side, Texas A&M Corpus Christi enters the game having won nine in a row and 15 of its last 16 games with the only loss coming on the road against Wisconsin. Notably, that loss to Wisconsin came during Bo Ryan's final game as Wisconsin's head coach. Similar to Stephen F. Austin, the Islanders have yet to lose at home this season and all three losses came against top 60 KenPom teams.
Unlike Stephen F. Austin, the Islanders aren't necessarily an outstanding shooting team. However, the team is pretty effective inside and at getting to the free throw line. In total, Texas A&M Corpus Christi ranks No. 41 nationally in percentage of team points from the free throw line and No. 10 nationally in free throw rate. Undoubtedly, a huge part of this is Rawshawn Thomas who ranks No. 9 in the conference in his ability to get to the free throw line.
On top of the quality both teams, each has some star power as well.
Stephen F. Austin has relied on a handful of guys this season, highlighted by seniors Thomas Walkup in the backcourt, Demetrious Floyd on the wing, and Clide Geffrard in the frontcourt. Walkup has the highest usage rate on the team, but still manages a 123.7 offensive rate and is a force on defensive with a 3.3 steal rate, Floyd connects on 40.6 percent from three point range, and Geffrard ranked No. 10 in the conference in defensive rebounding rate.
For Texas A&M Corpus Christi, it's a much different story. The Islanders certainly have some quality players, but it's Thomas that is the bread and butter of the team. He uses an incredible 32.2 percent of the team's possessions and leads the team in field goal attempts, points, rebounds, blocks, and win shares. He gets inside, forces fouls, and is certainly the player to watch for Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Saturday.
The matchup to watch in this game has to be how Stephen F. Austin attempts to limit Thomas inside. If the Lumberjacks can slow him down, it would be a huge boost for the team. Realistically speaking, Stephen F. Austin has a pretty big advantage elsewhere on the court, so if Texas A&M Corpus Christi is going to come out on top, it's difficult to see it happen without Thomas having a big game.
Interestingly enough, Texas A&M Corpus Christi is also the only team to have beaten Stephen F. Austin since head coach Brad Underwood took over the program. Since becoming head coach, Underwood has an amazing 42-1 record with that only loss coming to the Islanders in February of last season. It's hard to think that won't had some extra sizzle to the game this time around.
Saturday is setting up to be a day of epic proportions for college basketball and in the Southland, it's no different.
The matchup will air on ESPN 3 at 3:00PM ET.