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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Basketball: Getting to know the Lumberjacks

On Thursday, five-seed Utah will square off against 12-seed Stephen F. Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Moda Center in Portland. While the Runnin’ Utes have received a wide variety of national buzz this season, the same can’t be said for their opponent.

The Lumberjacks are known for upsetting VCU in the Big Dance last year, but how do they look this time around? To find out, The Daily Utah Chronicle caught up with David Fletcher of The Pine Log to get the inside scoop.

Q: How good are the Lumberjacks and will playing in a mid-major conference hurt them against Utah?

DF: The Lumberjacks are a very good and dangerous team because of the versatility of the players and the effort head coach Brad Underwood demands on both sides of the ball. The key to the team is coaching, Underwood knows the strengths of all his players and does a great job at creating lineups and targets the opposing team’s weaknesses.

Playing in a mid-major conference would have hurt them if this were last year, but their best players from that squad returned this year with experience. They will benefit from the schedule they played this year after the notoriety they received from last year’s tournament appearance.

They played UNI, Xavier, Memphis and Baylor this year. Although they lost all those games, excluding Memphis, they were competitive in them all.

Q: Who is the best player for SFA and why?

DF: Thomas Walkup, who was ranked in ESPN’s top 100 to start the season, is an undersized power forward who makes up for it in physicality and agility. He is able to put the ball on the ground and finish tough layups at the rim among the trees. Also, he can stretch the floor by knocking down the three-ball.

He is the calming force on the team, the go-to guy when things get tough and loves the challenge of breaking droughts for the Jacks.

Defensively, he is very active as well, as he likes to pick up and defend the biggest player on the opposing team by using his leverage and power to cause problems.

Oh, and he was also the Southland Conference tournament MVP this year.

Q: Much has been made of the high-powered offense and pressure the Lumberjacks use, will they be able to see success against a team like the Runnin’ Utes?

DF: The offense should be good against the Utes, again because of the versatility. The four and five both can put the ball on the ground and get to the rim and shoot the three-pointer at a solid rate. Center Jacob Parker was the best three-point shooter in the conference, shooting 47 percent with over 120 attempts from behind the arc. That is what made it difficult for teams with big centers. They will want to move the big men from the rim to open up the lane for back cuts for the guards. The ball doesn’t stick to any one player, they constantly swing it until they get someone a high-percentage shot, averaging 17 assists per game as a team.

They love to get out in transition as well, to make up for their lack of size. They run it to near perfection because the big men can push it the length of the court to finish or set up a guards for jump shots.

Defensively, regardless of the level of talent they faced this season, they have played the same – tough on-ball defense on the perimeter and collapsing defense down low. I expect the offense to be able to score, but defensively I don’t know what to expect because I haven’t seen much of Utah. What I can tell you is that the defense has made it tough for everyone. They stop the initial post moves of big men but give up a lot of second-chance points because of tip outs and putbacks.

If the Jacks lose it will be directly related to the rebounding battle.

Q: The tallest player for SFA is 6-foot-9, while the Utes boast two seven-footers. How can the Lumberjacks make up for the lack of size?

DF: I touched on this a little in my third answer, but they make up for lack of size by crashing the boards. The guards do a great job at coming down and helping box out to give their big men a better shot at the board. Also, they are very good at using their speed off the ground to tip the ball over to their big men before the opposing team’s bigs can even jump. Additionally, they like to force the ball out of the guards hands and make the big men hold on to the ball more than they would like to, to make teams get in their sets a lot later than normal, or not get into a set at all.

They also counter size with the zone, the Jacks are perfectly content with losing because a team was hot from the outside. They do a variety of things to kill penetration and limit bigs from getting good position down low, from doubling off of none shooters and trapping the ball.

Q: A lot of people have picked this as a potential upset this year, how do you see this game playing out and why? Score?

DF: I expect it to be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the end. I think the new shooters will demand more respect than last year, keeping the paint open enough for them to stay competitive and have a chance to win down the stretch. My Prediction – 85-82 Jacks.

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