March Madness Round 64 Preview
Stephen F. Austin vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech didn’t win the Big 12 regular-season or tournament title, but it did earn a favorable NCAA Tournament draw. The Red Raiders, third-seeded in the East region, will stay in the Lone Star State to open the Big Dance in Dallas, facing 14th-seeded and in-state foe Stephen F. Austin on Thursday.
Coach Chris Beard’s Red Raiders finished second in the Big 12 behind perennial champion Kansas and beat Texas 73-69 in their Big 12 Tournament opener before falling to third-seeded West Virginia 66-63 in the semifinals. Overall, Texas Tech enters the NCAA Tourney with a 24-9 record – its first 20-win season in 11 years and its most wins since a school-record 30-2 season in 1995-96. It also will be the second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last decade for the Red Raiders and their first since 2016 when coach Tubby Smith’s eighth-seeded squad was upended 71-61 in the first round by ninth-seeded Butler. Stephen F. Austin, located in Nacogdoches, Texas, also has punched its first Big Dance ticket since 2016 and got there by winning the Southland Conference tournament title as a third seed.
TV: 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV
ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (28-6): The Lumberjacks enter the NCAA Tournament – their fourth appearance in the last five years – with 10 wins in the their last 11 games, including a 59-55 upset win over top-seeded Southeast Louisiana in the Southland championship game. Forward T.J. Holyfield closed the Southland Tournament with consecutive double-doubles and averages 13.0 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. Guards Shannon Bogues (15.4 points) and Kevon Harris (14.6) also average double figures with the latter shooting a team-best 43.2 percent from 3-point range, which ranked second in the Southland.
ABOUT TEXAS TECH (24-9): The Red Raiders started 14-1 and were 22-4 a little more than a month later when they climbed to No. 6 in the national polls – the high-water mark in program history. But guard Keenan Evans, the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points, suffered a toe injury in a Feb. 17 loss to Baylor and totaled only 12 points in the school’s final four games in February, including a Feb. 26 contest at West Virginia where he sat out entirely, contributing heavily to Texas Tech’s four-game tailspin entering March. Evans has averaged 20.3 points in the Red Raiders’ three games since and is joined by freshmen guards Jarrett Culver (11.7, team-best 4.8 rebounds) and Zhaire Smith (11.2) in double figures on the season.
1. Texas Tech has won eight of the nine meetings over the last 21 years, but the two teams haven’t met since 2011.
2. The key matchup will be the Lumberjacks’ offense, tied for 35th nationally with 81.1 points per game, against the Red Raiders’ defense, which led the Big 12 and is tied for 17th nationally with 64.7 points allowed per contest.
3. In two of their last three NCAA tourney appearances, the Lumberjacks have notched first-round upsets as a 13th and 12th seed, respectively, beating West Virginia (70-56 in 2016) and VCU (77-75 in 2014).