Jimmie Tramel's Southland Insider
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2013
2/14/13 at 5:46 AM
Stephen F. Austin: How good are the Lumberjacks on defense? They're limiting opponents to 49.7 points per game. No team in Division I basketball has held opponents below 50 points per game since Princeton during the 1992-93 season.
Northwestern State: The Southland's hottest team has won six consecutive games. In two games last week, the Demons pressured opponents into 49 turnovers and converted them into 70 points. Next? Five consecutive road games.
McNeese State: Early in 2013, McNeese State was one of four Southland teams with a top-150 RPI. The Cowboys were positioned at 146, but have dropped 100 spots since.
News and notes
The race for eighth: Only the top eight squads in the 10-team Southland Conference will be invited to the league's postseason tournament. Because Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is ineligible for postseason play due to APR issues, that means nine teams are battling for eight spots in the Southland Tournament.
Who will be the odd man out? It looked to be Lamar, which was 0-10 in league play before last Thursday.
But senior guard Donley Minor hit a go-ahead 3-point basket with 2.7 seconds left to give the Cardinals a road victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
That result, plus a McNeese State slide, has created suspense at the bottom of the league. The Cardinals trail the eighth-place Cowboys by only two games. They will collide Saturday in Beaumont, Texas.
Schedule format changes: Southland teams are playing an 18-game round-robin schedule this season. But what about next season when the league will grow to 14 with the additions of Incarnate Word, New Orleans, Houston Baptist and Abilene Christian?
It was announced last week that the conference will not conduct competition in permanent geographic divisions in any sports, at least for the time being.
In men's and women's basketball, teams will play 18-game schedules that will include home-and-away series with five randomly selected opponents, single games against six other league members and single games against two schools (Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word) who are transitioning from NCAA Division II to Division I.
That, of course, means some league members will play tougher schedules than others, depending on which opponents you must play twice. But that's an unavoidable side effect of conference growth.
Playing for someone: Northwestern State senior guard Shamir Davis changed his jersey number from 0 to 3 this season in memory of a cousin. Robert "JaRod" Farmer died after a September shooting in Davis' hometown, Shreveport, La.
Davis and Farmer were teammates in middle school, church league and in high school and they used to speak almost daily. Farmer's favorite number was 3. Davis dedicated the season to Farmer and his family.
Player of the week: Taylor Smith. A senior forward at Stephen F. Austin, Smith averaged 21.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last week. Smith was 18-of-23 from the field in victories over Central Arkansas and Oral Roberts. He entered this week as the national leader in field goal percentage.
1. Stephen F. Austin: Lumberjacks secured seventh 20-win season (all under current coach Danny Kaspar) since moving to D-I in 1998.
2. Northwestern State: Crime pays. The Demons collected 39 steals in two homecourt victories last week.
3. Oral Roberts: Golden Eagles' RPI dropped only one spot (to 102) after losses to Southland's top two teams.
4. Southeastern Louisiana: Brandon Fortenberry matched career-high with 30 points to help Lions sweep arch-rival Nicholls State.
5. Sam Houston State: Bearkats are 6-5 in league play. Three losses came in overtime games.
6. Nicholls State: Still the only Southland team outside the top three to beat one of league's three best teams.
7. Central Arkansas: Still the only Southland team yet to face Oral Roberts.
8. McNeese State: Cowboys need to stop the bleeding. They've dropped five of their last six games.
9. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: Putnam North alum Joy Williamson came off bench and matched career-high with 15 points Saturday.
10. Lamar: Cardinals unveiling 2012 Southland Tournament championship banner before tipoff of next game.
Game of the week: Northwestern St. at SE Louisiana, 7:15 p.m. Thursday
The Southland Conference's biggest remaining game of the regular season will occur March 2, when Northwestern State visits Stephen F. Austin.
Will either team stumble before then? The Demons and Lumberjacks go on the road to face Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State this week. Southeastern Louisiana has been a thorn for Northwestern State, winning seven of the last nine in the series.