|Texas Tech meets Stephen F. Austin in dream matchup|
There might not be two happier teams in the NCAA Tournament field than Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin as they head to American Airlines Center in Dallas for the first round of the East Region on Thursday evening.
Even before the committee released its bracket Sunday, SFA coach Kyle Keller revealed his vision for the Lumberjacks' trip to the tourney.
"I had this dream this year that we would play in Dallas and somehow we could win two games and it would be lined up just like 'Hoosiers' driving back to Nacogdoches (Texas)," Keller said from the podium after his team won the Southland Conference Tournament on Saturday in Katy, Texas. "I'm not quitting on that dream, I just believe it."
The No. 14 seed Lumberjacks will challenge No. 3 seed Texas Tech, which has plenty of Dallas ties as well. The Red Raiders' roster contains six players from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including starters Keenan Evans, Norense Odiase, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith.
Evans, Texas Tech's leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, is from Richardson, a Dallas suburb less than 15 miles north of American Airlines Center. He said the Red Raiders' draw in Dallas will make for a smoother week of preparation.
"It would've been tough, not being able to know where you're going, families looking at flights and stuff like that and it's expensive," Evans said. "So it's just great to be able to play in front of them and make it easier for them to make it there."
Texas Tech (24-9) earned a No. 3 seed by finishing in a tie for second in the Big 12. But the Red Raiders can't afford to overlook their first-round opponent. SFA has won a pair of NCAA Tournament games since Texas Tech last moved past the first round.
The Lumberjacks (28-6) were coincidentally seeded No. 14 when they pulled off an upset of West Virginia in the first round in 2016. They were a No. 12 seed when they knocked off VCU in 2014.
Texas Tech earned a berth in the tournament two years ago under coach Tubby Smith. But the Red Raiders haven't advanced in the bracket since Bob Knight led them to the Sweet 16 in 2005.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard last appeared in the tournament when he guided 12th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock to a first-round upset of fifth-seeded Purdue in 2016. From the tenor of his press conference Sunday, Beard may again approach the matchup with SFA as if his team is a No. 12 seed.
"Stephen F. Austin will have our full attention and our full respect," Beard said. "It's a tournament game. I really think the seeds and the rankings and all this stuff that will go on around the March Madness is great for the game. But it means absolutely nothing when the ball goes up."
There will likely be a lot of Texas Tech red and black as well as SFA purple in the stands at American Airlines Center. Those fans can expect a defensive matchup as the Red Raiders yield only 64.7 points per game, tied for 17th nationally, while SFA leads the country by forcing 19.97 turnovers per game.