Stephen F. Austin (24-7) vs. Syracuse (26-9)
Friday, March 20th, 12:15 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: American Airlines Arena (19,600) -- Miami, Florida. Television: CBS. NCAA Tournament Record: Stephen F. Austin 0-0, Syracuse 48-31. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: In the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin clash with the Syracuse Orange in the first round of the 71st annual event at American Airlines Arena in Miami.
The 14th seed in the South Region, SFA won the regular season title in the Southland Conference for the second year in a row but is only now making it to the "Big Dance" after winning the conference tournament. The Lumberjacks, under the direction of head coach Danny Kaspar, won a total of 24 games this season, with none more important than the victories versus Southeastern Louisiana (67-56), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (63-60) and Texas-San Antonio (68-57) during the SLC Tournament.
As for the Orange, they earned a three seed in this event by playing all the way through to the Big East Tournament title game on Saturday versus now top- ranked Louisville. Despite the 76-66 setback to the Cardinals, Syracuse had one of the most memorable runs on record in the annual tourney at Madison Square Garden, staging an epic and instant classic six-overtime win against UConn on March 12th. The exhausting 127-117 win over the Huskies pushed the Orange into the semifinals against West Virginia and there the team survived another overtime affair less than 24 hours later with a 74-69 triumph. A staple in the NCAA Tournament the Orange, who won the National Championship back in 2003, have a record of 48-31 overall in the event.
The winner of this first-ever meeting will be back in action two days from now to face off against the winner of the Temple/Arizona State contest in the second round.
With plenty of firepower to lean on, the 'Jacks get much of their strength from Matt Kingsley, Josh Alexander and Eddie Williams, each of whom was named to the Southland Conference All-Tournament Team last week. Kingsley, who was named the tournament MVP, is also the first player in team history to be named the to All-SLC Tournament team in back-to-back campaigns. During the season Kingsley was responsible for a team-best 16.2 ppg, shooting an impressive 55.6 percent from the field. The top rebounder for the group as well with close to eight boards per contest, Kingsley had some issues at the free-throw line (.642) and could have used some direction when it came to getting his teammates involved with just 29 assists in 31 games. Alexander accounted for 14.5 ppg as he let loose with almost two-thirds of all his field goals from three-point range where he sank 35.1 percent of his chances. Not much of an offensive program with 66.3 ppg, Stephen F. Austin relied more on a defense that permitted a mere 56 ppg this season, just 53.5 ppg in league action.
With 16 teams in the monster that is the Big East Conference, some top performers were bound to be overlooked when it came to all-league honors which is the only way to explain how Jonny Flynn dropped to the All-Big East Second Team. Then again, the voting took place before the conference tournament, so if the poll were taken today the iron man would have to rank among the best in the league. Flynn, who was named the MVP of the Big East Tournament and became just the fourth player in the history of the event to earn such honors despite not being on the winning team, averaged an incredible 37.2 minutes per game this season, en route to his team-best 17.5 ppg. More than that, Flynn was also one of the nation's top passers with 234 assists in 35 starts. Eric Devendorf worked his way back from some off-the-court issues to record 15.9 ppg and 102 assists for the program, while Paul Harris tallied 12.6 ppg and a team-best 7.9 rpg. Andy Rautins (10.5 ppg) became the long-distance sniper for the Orange with his 96-of-256 effort out on the perimeter. The team as a whole made good on a modest 34.8 percent from three-point range, which was far beyond the 29.4 percent success allowed to opponents.
Even though the Orange may be a tired bunch and have a history of having trouble in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, this is not one of those years.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Syracuse 78, Stephen F. Austin 62
03/20 10:22:10 ET