Small Conference Game of the Day – January 26

After a streak of great picks by the SCGD, we finally found a clunker last night, as Florida Gulf Coast completely dominated Stetson and cruised to an easy victory.  There are a ton of choices for today’s game, including a top battle in the Summit League between North Dakota State and South Dakota State, the rematch in the Ohio Valley between Belmont and Eastern Kentucky, a top battle in the WAC between Louisiana Tech and Utah State, and even a first place battle in the Great West between Texas-Pan American and NJIT.

However, today we will be turning to the Southland conference and focusing on a team that is starting to get some attention from Top 25 voters – the 16-1 Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin.  Despite their gaudy record, SFA sits only at 69 in the RPI and 55 in Pomeroy.  This is in part due to their choice to schedule four non-Division I foes this season.  However, they only lost one game (at Texas A&M) and scored a very solid road win back in December over Oklahoma.  The Lumberjacks have also already won at Oral Roberts, which was on paper their toughest conference road game this season.

This afternoon (4:00 PM Eastern), they go on the road to play the Demons of Northwestern State.  While the trip to ORU may have been their toughest game in league, today’s game is easily their second toughest.  Northwestern State is 5-2 in league and 11-6 overall on the season so far, including a win over WAC leader Louisiana Tech.  This may be the best chance for anyone to beat SFA in conference this season.  If the Lumberjacks get past today’s game, they will be heavy favorites in all conference games leading up to the Southland tournament championship game.  In fact, their toughest game left on their slate will be their Bracket Buster matchup, where they are slated to be a road team.  The Bracket Buster announcements will be coming Monday, and if SFA wins, it would be incredible to see them travel to play Wichita State, though a trip to St. Mary’s, Akron or Belmont would all be intriguing games as well.

As for the game itself, this has a chance to be a great matchup.  Stephen F. Austin leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 49.4 points per game.  On the other side, Northwestern State leads the nation in offense, averaging 85.0 points per game.  SFA is led by Taylor Smith who has had four double-doubles in his last five games and Desmond Haymon who had a double-double in his last game.  Northwestern State features DeQuan Hicks and Shamir Davis as their top two scorers, though both Jalan West and James Hulbin are also averaging double figures in scoring.

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