NCAA Tournament Picks: (6) Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. (14) S.F. Austin Lumberjacks

Notre Dame finds itself an underdog against a nails-tough SF Austin team that isn't going quietly.
Notre Dame finds itself an underdog against a nails-tough SF Austin team that isn’t going quietly.

6 ND vs. 14 SFA
Time: 4:15 Central (CBS)
Spread: SFA -1
Total: 141

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks have arrived as a tournament favorite. SFA defeated No. 3 seeded West Virginia 70-56, definitively proving itself to be one of the strongest #14 seeds we have seen. The Lumberjacks are now favored against a No. 6 seeded Notre Dame team according to college basketball oddsmakers at 5dimes.

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In the victory over the Mountaineers, Thomas Walkup was sensational. He hit just 6 of 15 from the field, but he got to the line to knock down 19 of 20, en route to 33 points. He also had nine rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block, easily the best player on the court for either team. Walkup, a 6’4” senior forward, is powerful and quick despite his undersized stature. He averaged 18 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game for SFA this season while leading the team in all three categories.

Walkup’s supporting options include Demetrius Floyd and Clide Geffrard Jr. Floyd shot just 3 of 14 from the field and 2 of 8 from three-point range, finishing with just nine points. But he did come up with four steals and is averaging 1.2 steals per game this season. He had 30 points in the Conference tournament final against Houston Baptist, hitting 12 of 18 from the field and 6 of 10 from three. Can he replicate that performance against Notre Dame today?

The Lumberjacks went 18-0 in the Southland conference, and it is becoming something of a mid-major powerhouse after a couple of successful March runs.

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Notre Dame knocked off No. 11 seeded Michigan 70-63 to advance to the round of 32. The Fighting Irish overcame a 12 point halftime deficit to win the game by seven, easily outplaying Michigan in the second half to the tune of 41-22.

V.J. Beachem led the way with 18 points on 7 of 7 shooting from the floor including 4 of 4 from three-point range. He also snagged six boards and came up with a block. Beachem averaged 11.5 points and 3.9 assists for Notre Dame this season in 30.8 minutes a night. He had 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting against Michigan and he scored 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting in the ACC quarterfinals.

Notre Dame’s top player is Demetrius Jackson, who posted 15.4 points , 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, leading the team in scoring and assists. Jackson played the entire game against Michigan and he shot 4 of 8 from the field for 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal. He had nine points and four rebounds in the loss to UNC, shooting just 1 of 10 from the field.

On the season though he has been good: 44.3 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three on 4.7 attempts per game. Most importantly, the 6’1” junior shoots 80 percent from the free throw line, which will factor big if this is a close game.

Notre Dame is a good free throw shooting team at 73.7 percent and it turns it over just 10 times per game. The Fighting Irish averaged 76 points per game while assisting 13 field goals a night. The fact that the Irish take care of the ball and knock down free throws is clearly vital, but can Notre Dame slow Walkup?

He is a fantastic talent and has already displayed in this tournament that is more than ready to take on the pressure. SFA is not Cinderella darlings anymore; it has outgrown that title, and with a win over Notre Dame today the Lumberjacks will have become a lot like a VCU or Butler, a lower seed that absolutely has to be taken seriously.

SF Austin has become bettor’s favorites and the team has a premier talent. That should be enough to warrant serious consideration as an elite 8 or even a Final Four club. The Lumberjacks have adjusted well to the pressure of playing better teams and is clearly a small conference team that is outgrowing its britches.

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