By most accounts, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks had a successful 2017-18 season.
The Lumberjacks posted an impressive record of 28-7, which made them just one of 14 teams this year with 28 or more wins. They won the Southland Conference title and returned the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years.
However, SFA’s second year head coach Kyle Keller looks back on this season with a big question mark and is left asking himself this: what if?
Keller said, “I really believed we were going to the Sweet 16.”
SFA entered the NCAA tournament as a 14 seed where they were matched up against the 3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders.
The Lumberjacks looked poised for an upset and gave Tech everything they had, but ended up falling short, 70-60.
The sting of the loss has yet to wear off on Keller and you get a sense that it will continue to haunt him throughout the offseason.
Keller has also come under some scrutiny following the loss to Texas Tech after his comments about millennials not watching college basketball.
Stephen F. Austin’s Kyle Keller: "I used millennials as an example. Our players knew the scouting report inside and out. They knew Texas Tech's personnel, but what I was saying is that during the season kids aren't watching games like they used to. They are on their phones now."— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 16, 2018
Keller says his comments were misconstrued. He pointed to the fact that Texas Tech had to run their second and third option offensive plays because his players had watched so much game tape in advance of their NCAA tournament matchup, and that they were extremely well prepared for the game.
He said, “I thought they had to dig deep to beat us and our kids tried really hard. They competed night in and night out and they are really proud of what they accomplished this year.”
When you work so hard towards to a goal, there is an inevitable feeling of crashing and burning once it doesn’t come to fruition.
“I’m really at the point right now where I can barely keep my eyes open, and you do think what if because we were so close,” said Keller.
Keller says he usually takes a trip to the Final Four by himself following the season to try and decompress from the stress of the basketball season, but said he will make it a family outing this year with the games taking in place in San Antonio, which is just a few hours west of Nacogdoches, TX.
He is also planning a trip to Napa with his wife at some point during the offseason, but says that he has already been busy this past week recruiting and working towards a return to the tournament next year.
Stephen F. Austin is set up for an excellent run over the next few seasons with a very young and talented roster, and they will only lose three seniors to graduation.
Keller said that one of the big takeaways from the experience for his players was that they realized how close they are to being one of the elite programs in all of college basketball.
The experience of winning the Southland tournament after finishing third in the regular season and being apart of March Madness will be excellent learning experience for the young Lumberjacks squad.