Team: (4) Texas A&M–Corpus Christi Islanders
Location: Corpus Christi, TX
Record: 22-11 (7-7 Southland)
NCAA Tournament History: The Islanders’ lone appearance in the dance came in 2007, where they lost to second-seeded Wisconsin, 76-63. They made back-to-back conference title game appearances in 2016 and 2017 but lost both, including an overtime heartbreaker to New Orleans in 2018.
How they got here: The Islanders went 13-4 in nonconference play, and won their first two games before losing six of seven in conference play to fall out of the title race. However, they come into the final having now won six of seven. They received a bye to the second round, where they beat fifth-seed Houston Baptist, and then in the semifinals against regular season champion Nicholls, the Islanders surprisingly controlled the game from start to finish to win 71-64.
Team: (2) Southeastern Louisiana Lions
Location: Hammond, LA
Record: 19-13 (10-4 Southland)
NCAA Tournament History: The Lions also lost by 13 points as a 15-seed in their only tournament appearance, to Oklahoma State in 2005. Their only conference tournament final appearance came in 2019, when Stephen F. Austin beat them by four points.
How they got here: The Lions, by contrast, struggled through nonconference play, starting at 4-9, before winning the (technically non-conference) mid-season Southland Tip-Off tournament and finishing tied for second in league play at 10-4. As the second seed, Southeastern received a double-bye to the tournament semifinals, where it beat third-seed New Orleans by nine. They’ve now won nine of their last eleven games.
The teams split their two matchups in the regular season, with each winning on the opponent’s home floor. All-Southland first team guard Gus Okafor is a dynamic scorer, and he along with DPOY Jalyn Hinton leads a Southeastern team that is getting hot at the right time. Joe Kasperzyk is also a name to watch, having shot below 40% just twice in his last 15 outings. A&M-CC counters with Isaac Mushila, earned all-newcomer honors after two years in the JUCO ranks, averaging 14 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game, and Simeon Fryer, who has made nine of his 16 three-point attempts in the tournament.
Each team does something very well. Southeastern plays at a very high pace and led the conference in scoring in league play at over 83 points per game, and loved to get in shootouts – not a single game was decided by more than ten points. They play small ball, not having a player above 6-foot-6 that logs more than 13 minutes a game, but they spread out scoring nicely, with five players pitching in at least nine points. Meanwhile, A&M-CC plays fast but not quite as fast, and is a very physical team that gets to the line a bunch – fourth in the nation in free throw makes and seventh in attempts. However, they are also near the bottom of the barrel in surrendering free throw attempts, averages the fourth-most fouls per game in the nation. Southeastern is a slight favorite, but given the contrasting styles, it will be interesting to see which team is able to play their game more effectively and ultimately advance to the tournament.
Line: SELA -2.5
ML: SELA -140, TAMU-CC +120
Time: 9:30 ET
Site: Leonard E. Merrell Center – Katy, TX