Coach Brad Underwood's sales pitch for playing basketball at Stephen F. Austin could very well be - join the Lumberjacks and be in the Big Dance.
After all, Underwood in his three years as head coach of the ‘Jacks is 3 for 3 when it comes to making the NCAA basketball tournament.
As comedian Will Ferrell would say – "That's a pretty good percentage."
Indeed, before Underwood arrived in Nacogdoches, the Lumberjacks had been to just one NCAA Tournament.
Now, March Madness is as much a given as the Piney woods that surround the SFA campus.
The No. 14 seed Lumberjacks (27-5) take on Big 12 runner-up and No. 3 seed West Virginia (26-8) in a first round game on Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Tipoff is set for 6:10 p.m. (TV: CBS). Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce are calling the game on TV.
The winner of the SFA-W.Va. game will meet the winner of the Notre Dame vs. Michigan/Tulsa game on Sunday.
The Lumberjacks have won 27 of their last 29 games, including a 20-game winning streak entering NCAA play. They won the Southland Conference Tournament for the third straight year, an 82-70 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the final on Saturday in Katy. The SLC tournament championship earned SFA an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Thomas Walkup, the Southland Conference Player of the Year, has helped lead the Lumberjacks to their fourth straight Southland Conference regular season title and their third SLC Tournament crown. The forward from Pasadena (Deer Park High School) is averaging 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.1 steals.
Also, Underwood won his third straight SLC Coach of the Year honors. He was Director of Basketball Operations under Bob Huggins, current West Virginia coach, when the two were at Kansas State. Underwood is 88-13 at SFA.
This is the fourth trip to the NCAA's for SFA. In 2009, the No. 14 Lumberjacks lost to No. 3 seed Syracuse. Then in 2014, the No. 12 squad scored a memorable 77-75 overtime victory over No. 5 VCU before falling to No. 4 UCLA 77-60. Last season, SFA was the No. 12 seed again, dropping a tough 57-50 decision to No. 5 Utah.
West Virginia is making its 27th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mountaineers have been in two Final Fours – (1992, 2010).
This will be the first meeting between the two schools.
Joining 6-4 Walkup in the probable starting lineup for SFA are 6-5 sophomore forward Ty Charles (9.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), 6-8 freshman forward TJ Holyfield (7.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg), 5-11 senior guard Demetrious Floyd (13.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg) and 5-9 senior guard Trey Pinkney (2.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg).
Probable starters for the Mountaineers are 6-9 junior forward Devin Williams (13.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg), 6-8 freshman forward Esa Ahmad (4.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg), 6-9 junior forward Nathan Adrian (4.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg), 6-2 sophomore guard Jevon Carter (9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and 6-3 sophomore guard Daxter Miles Jr. (9.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg).