Stephen F. Austin Hopes Taylor Smith's Impressive Season Continues in NCAA Tournament

By Ryan Darcy
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen F. Austin senior forward Taylor Smith is the best shooter in college basketball. OK, maybe not, but he is shooting 69.9% from the floor for the Southland Conference-leading Lumberjacks.

Impressive field goal percentage numbers are nothing new to Smith or his head coach, Danny Kaspar. Last season, Smith led Division I in field goal percentage by shooting a robust 70.1 percent from the floor in just over 19 minutes per game. This year, he’s out there around 33 minutes and his scoring is up nearly seven points per contest.

Smith averages 15.8 points per game thanks to his gaudy shooting percentage with little-to-no help coming from the free throw line, where he connects only 47.8 percent of the time. He’s failed to score double-figures only twice this season but was 8-11 combined in those games, so it wasn’t due to poor shooting.

And don’t think defense is just an afterthought for the 6-foot-6 Smith and his teammates–the ‘Jacks have held their opponent under 70 points in 58 straight games. His 2.9 blocks per game are good for 14th in the country while his 8.9 rebounds per place him 50th.

Kaspar’s defense-first style is why Smith chose them over North Texas and Northern Arizona.

The Lumberjacks went into the BracketBuster game at  red-hot Long Beach State and emerged with a 66-60 win and another solid road win to go along with their 56-55 win at Oklahoma.

Without a Southland Tournament championship, the ‘Jacks could be on the outside looking in. Thanks to a No. 321 strength of schedule and an RPI of 73, it’s highly unlikely they’d receive an at-large bid should the falter in Katy, Texas. A loss in the tournament would also deprive America the chance to see Taylor Smith play in March Madness, which would be a shame.

Thanks to a new format in the Southland, the top two teams will earn double-byes, meaning it’s likely SFA will pass right through to the semifinals as opposed to last year, when they were bounced in the Second Round by eventual champ Lamar, who is just 3-26 (1-15 Southland) this year. They need to win one of their final two to guarantee themselves one of the top two seeds.

Smith and the Lumberjacks hope to punch their ticket the day before Selection Sunday. It’d mark only the second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament for SFA and first since 2009, whose winning percentage over the past dozen years is second only to Texas in the state.

Personally, I’d love to see him get back to 70+ percent from the floor and lead the Lumberjacks to a dance party.

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