Fall Out of Love With Stephen F. Austin in Dance Date with Texas Tech

Rainman M.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 7:31 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2018 7:31 PM UTC

Texas Tech, seeded third in the East, battles 14-seed Stephen F. Austin on Thursday at 7:27 p.m. ET in Dallas. The Red Raiders are double-digit favorites, but the betting public is in love with an upset here.

Stephen F. Austin (28-6 SU, 4-1 ATS) vs. Texas Tech (24-9 SU, 14-16-1 ATS)Free NCAAB Pick: Texas Tech -11Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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ESPN has been hyping Stephen F. Austin as an upset candidate. The love derives from the 2016 NCAA Tournament in which the Lumberjacks achieved a double-digit upset win over West Virginia and nearly another one against Notre Dame. Three starters and the head coach from that team have since departed, but the positive image remains. Sometimes ESPN and the public are correct, but not here.

One aspect where the Jacks are notorious for thriving is forcing turnovers. They rank first nationally in turnover percentage because they employ an aggressive man-to-man defense that pressures the opponent in the half-court to speed it up, make it sloppy or otherwise make it uncomfortable. A proper comparison would be Oklahoma State, whose coaching staff holds deep connections to SFA.

SFA bettors might assert that bettors should back the Jacks because 14th-ranked Texas Tech went 0-2 ATS against Oklahoma State this year. Forget the second non-cover because senior point guard Keenan Evans was battling toe injuries. Evans is healthy again, achieving 61 points and a 6:4 assist-to-turnover ratio in three Big 12 Tournament games. In the first game against the Cowboys, TT failed to cover but not because of turnovers. In that game, the Red Raiders won the turnover battle but were outmatched by OK State's interior defense.

Despite the philosophical similarities between the Jacks and Pokes, they are apples and oranges. SFA's statistics are vastly inflated by playing a soft non-schedule -- ranked outside the top 300 in difficulty -- and in a non-name-worthy conference filled with schools ranked outside KenPom's top 200. The Jacks' defensive quality is unproven against any competition remotely as tough as Big 12 competition.

The Jacks were shredded in the interior by early season, major-conference competition. Against Mississippi State and Missouri, they allowed more than 60 percent from two. They rank 251st in height and 137th in block percentage, and lack the size and strength with which OK State, which ranks in the top 100 in both categories, could make the Red Raiders struggle on offense.

Texas Tech has improved its ball control since failing to cover with a healthy Evans at OK State on Jan. 23. In its past three games, including one against "Press" Virginia, the Raiders surrendered only 31 turnovers. A healthy Evans is a solid ball-carrier, ranking 356th in turnover rate despite facing Big 12 competition and a top-50 non-conference strength of schedule per KenPom.

The Raiders can own SFA inside. SFA ranks 351st in free throws allowed, the Raiders rank 31st in achieving free throws. They will drive down SFA's throat to utilize their strength and quality. Evans and forward Zhaire Smith rank in the top 300 in two-point percentage. SFA's weakest quality on defense is actually guarding the perimeter. The Jacks rank 232nd in proportion of opposing threes attempted. Guards Niem Stevenson and Jarrett Culver rank in the top 250 in three-point percentage. The Jacks rank 218th in opposing three-point percentage and will be vulnerable to these two in particular.

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Perhaps the most crucial difference between this year's SFA team and that of 2016 is committing turnovers. This year's Jacks rank 311th, more than 150 spots lower than the 2016 Jacks, in rate of turnovers allowed. The Red Raiders' stifling defense ranks 16th in forcing turnovers. So the Raiders will commit a few turnovers, but will absolutely achieve more.

With your NCAAB picks, look for the Raiders to slow the game down with their solid ball carriers (especially Evans), abuse SFA down low, win the turnover margin and, ultimately, the cover on the college basketball odds board.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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