That’s right, it’s “what does my favorite mid-major team need to do to get an at-large bid” season. Every few days, we’ll take a different team and dissect its resume to see what it needs to do to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Today’s featured team is the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, who are trying to get back to the tournament after an uncharacteristic year off, and have no shortage of people with loud, strong opinions about them.
Record: 25-3 (16-1 Southland)
Strength of Record: 47
Strength of Schedule: 337
vs. Quad 1: 1-2
vs. Quad 2: 0-0
Good Wins: at Duke
Bad Losses: vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Bracket Matrix: 13-seed, Auto Bid (2/27)
The nation is familiar with Stephen F. Austin. The same school that provided us with fond memories of Thomas Walkup during the Brad Underwood era gave us perhaps the greatest upset of this season — a win at Cameron Indoor over Duke.
Thus, we’ve reached the point in our programming where we must discuss SFA and its tournament resume. Smarter people have already considered it, and it’s well worth reading Ken Pomeroy’s exploration into the ‘Jacks at-large case or, more appropriately, how their resume can be re-evaluated within the context of bubble teams.
That re-evaluation is necessary because SFA simply doesn’t have an at-large case.
At least, that is, a case that fits within the objective criteria the Selection Committee is charged with deploying. Their schedule simply makes it impossible for them to grab an at-large bid this season. On top of that is a bad loss to Texas A&M Corpus Christi early in the conference season. Harsh as it may be, you can throw away the gaudy record and marquee win at Cameron Indoor because no team with a strength of schedule in the 300s and the bulk of their work done in Quad 4 (19-1) can seriously — and objectively — be considered for the tournament.
Is that fair?
That’s really the root of the question. The overwhelming odds are that the ‘Jacks will in fact suit up under the bright lights in three weeks because, as that record suggests, they are the class of the Southland Conference. All 78 brackets on the Bracket Matrix include them as the Southland winner, and with a reasonable average seed (12.73) to boot considering their weak schedule. Yet if they stumble in the league tournament, the ‘Jacks will almost certainly not be a part of March Madness and head to the NIT with that absurd record and one of the best wins of the season.
That isn’t to say they aren’t good enough to be in the mix. In a small sample size, they’ve proven just that this season. They obviously beat Duke, a team that will surely be at least a 3 seed and won 16 of its next 18 games after losing to SFA. In its other two quality games, SFA played right with Alabama — except for a brief stretch early in the second half — and lost at Rutgers, which every road team has done this season besides Michigan. As Pomeroy points out, a 1-2 record is not bad in Quad 1 road games and, from a winning percentage standpoint, more than other bubble teams have done.
Kevon Harris pouring in points from all levels and the country’s most disruptive defense playing in the NCAA Tournament — who could say no to that?
For SFA fans, it’s the cold, harsh reality of numbers that shuts that door. Bart Torvik’s resume comparison tool shows that no team with a resume resembling the ‘Jacks has grabbed an at-large bid.
With only games against Southland competition left, even winning four more games (three regular season games plus a win in the league semifinals) could add near enough heft to change SFA’s reality. But, as the chart above drives home, the program can take solace in knowing that similar teams in weak leagues have generally gone on to grab the auto bid.
None, however, won a game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s where SFA, and those that argue for the eye test to be given more weight, could be validated. The ‘Jacks may well zig where those teams have zagged based what the country saw in the Duke win and that they very much appear to be a team constrained by the strength of its conference.
Verdict: Objectively, it looks like it simply isn’t going to happen for SFA.