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There are two games in the books now, so we've got real numbers in file from which we can draw real conclusions. Actually, that's probably not true, but we are going to give you a full look at the pride of Nagadoches, TX. No, not Clint Dempsey, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. SFA is 1-1 on the year, having spanked a non-D1 opponent in Mississippi College before dropping an OT game against Northern Iowa.
Tiny. Not that the team leaves literal tiny fingerprints all over everything like a toddler, but that they are incredibly short for a college basketball team. Their effective height is a staggering -4.6"; the tallest player who has at least 5 minutes against a D1 opponent this year is 6'6" Jacob Parker.
Beyond the height thing, I'm not going to try to draw too much from the numbers right now. Just know that they avoided turnovers and shot well against UNI but lost because their defense could not force stops or kill possessions on the glass. Also, they played really slowly, which is not what you'd expect from such a short team.
The player: 5'9", 160-pound guard Trey Pinkney
The words: Pinkney led the team in assists despite coming off the bench last season; this year he is starting but has the same ball distribution mindset that he demonstrated in the past. He has 5 shot attempts in 2 games - including one against a D2 team - so far this season.
The player: 6'3, 180-pound guard Dallas Cameron
The words: Cameron has started both games, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him supplanted in the lineup at some point, maybe even against Xavier. He doesn't bring much to the floor on the offensive end, leaving him needing to play tough defense to merit his starting spot.
The player: 6'4", 195-pound guard Thomas Walkup
The words: Walkup makes a lot of the perimeter plays for SFA; he's a good but not great shooter and is most comfortable getting his points from mid-range or going to the basket. He's also an excellent offensive rebounder for a man his size.
The player: 6'6", 210-pound forward Jacob Parker
The words: Parker is probably going to be the key matchup for Xavier today. He can score inside and out, beasts the boards on both ends, and plays tough defense himself. Fours who can step out and shoot it have been problematic for Xavier in recent years; Parker gives them their first look at one this season.
The player: 6'5", 220-pound forward Clide Geffrard
The words: Geffrard is one of two players on the team who hasn't started both games, but I'm guessing he'll get the nod against Xavier. On his third school in three years after a trip through the JuCo ranks, Geffrard hasn't been a very good shooter for some time now, but that hasn't stopped him trying.
The obvious one to watch is senior big man Tanner Clayton. At 6'9", 210, he doesn't have the bulk to bang with Stainbrook, but he is the only player on Stephen F Austin within three inches of him in height. Reserve guard Demetrious Floyd came in from Chipola Junior College to provide scoring, and he did just that in hitting four threes in his first D1 game. Senior guard Connor Brooks is a depth option, and 6'7" forward Bobby King represents a bit of size but not much else.
-How does Xavier match up? Assuming Matt Stainbrook will take the biggest guy on the floor, Stephen F Austin's undersized lineup presents a defensive conundrum for Coach Mack. You would assume the PF would guard Jacob Parker, but Jalen Reynolds is foul prone and James Farr is perhaps not well-suited to defending the ball that far from the rim. If Trevon Bluiett takes Parker, who guards SFA's third guard? Or will Xavier go small in an attempt to make the matchups more sensical?
-Does the team need a lead dog? Two games into the season, Trevon Bluiett has set the scoring record for a freshman on his debut and then scored more his next time out. He has been smooth as silk in getting his shots in the flow of the offense, and his teammates have been more than content to keep the ball moving and let the shots sort themselves out. That kind of good feeling is easy to maintain where you're thumping opponents; it will be interesting to see how touches break out when things get a bit tighter.
-Where does Larry Austin, Jr. fit in? Austin's game management skills haven't been ideal early in the season, which is understandable given that he's a true freshman. What isn't as clear is where he fits on this roster with Brandon Randolph carving out a place for himself as the backup point guard and Edmond Sumner lurking in the ICE TUB wings. Guard minutes are hotly contested right now and the team figures to bring everyone but Dee Davis back next year. We're a long way from roster crunch talk, but opportunities to make hay don't figure to become more frequent going forward.
-Control the paint. Stephen F. Austin has one player on the roster over 6'7" and may feature a starting lineup with nobody over 6'6". Xavier, I'm sure you're aware, is a lot taller than that, and Matt Stainbrook is one of the most important cogs in the machine against any opponent. There's no reason the Muskies shouldn't dominate the area around the rim on both ends of the floor tonight.
-Force the matchup change. SFA is not as good when they bring in their tallest players, owing to the fact that their tallest players aren't that good. On the home floor and as the ostensibly better team, Xavier should be able to use their in height to make SFA play to their weaknesses to adjust. Any time you can make the other team adjust to you instead of vice versa, chances are you're going to do okay.
-Improve on defense. The Lumberjacks were a good offensive team last year and are showing all the signs of being the same again this season. Xavier has built an identity around defensive toughness but hasn't lived up to that billing the past couple of seasons (or earlier this week against Long Beach State). I'm not asking for 40 minutes of zipping up here, but steps in the right direction on defense from this young roster would be comforting to see.