The State Fair Community College men’s basketball team drew the No. 19 seed for the NJCAA tournament beginning next week in Hutchinson, Kan.
The Roadrunners (25-6) are seeded below several teams that have more losses, including No. 17 seed Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (22-10) and seven-loss teams Hill (No. 6 seed) and Paris (No. 8). In the 24-team bracket, the only teams seeded below SFCC are Highland (the team State Fair beat 74-54 in the district final on Saturday) and four teams that have each lost 12-13 games.
“I was a little surprised,” said Roadrunners coach Kevin Thomas. “I thought going in we’d get a higher seed than we got. I don’t agree with that. I just take it as motivation. I think our guys will, too, but that’s the committee’s choice.”
The Roadrunners will face No. 14 seed Shelton State, a team from Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Lady Roadrunners also begin NJCAA tournament play next week, facing Western Nebraska.
Last year’s men’s championship game saw a pair of Region 8 teams squaring off — Northwest Florida State and College of Central Florida. This season’s Region 8 champion Chipola is seeded No. 3. Vincennes (Ind.) — a semifinalist in 2013 — is back in the tournament and seeded No. 2 with Region 11 champion Indian Hills (Iowa) taking the top seed a year after Region 11’s Iowa Western was seeded No. 1.
Thomas said the perceived strength or weakness of a region does play into the seeding process, which could be part of the reason State Fair is seeded No. 19. Last year saw Region 16 champion Mineral Area lose in the first round to North Platte 76-50. In 2012, Three Rivers lost its first-round game to Spartanburg Methodist, and MSU-West Plains lost in the first round in 2011. Three Rivers was the last Region 16 team to win a game in the national tournament when it reached the championship game in 2010.
In order to break the region’s drought, State Fair has to get past a team with 18 players on its roster that likes to work at the same speed as State Fair.
“They play about 14 or 15 guys,” Thomas said. “They try to get up and down and push the tempo and press. It should be a good challenge for us.”
Three Shelton State Bucs average in double figures led by Albert Lynch III who averages 14.7 points per game. Brandon Moss averages 12.2 points and Jalen Houston averages 10.8 per game. The Buccaneers also like shooting the 3-pointer, attempting 26.5 per game and making 37 percent of them.
“It fits how we play,” Thomas said. “We like to get up and down. It’s a matter of who executes. We try to rely on our defense and get stops and run.”
For the Roadrunners in practice this week, it’s more about staying in shape than preparing for one particular opponent. Thomas wants his team focusing on what it needs to do.
They will also have to be focused to get ready for an early start. The first-round game tips off at 10 a.m.
“We’ve never played at 10 in the morning all year,” Thomas said. “We’re going to have to simulate that in practice just so they’re ready for it.”
The Lady Roadrunners will get an early start, too, facing Western Nebraska in the first round of the NJCAA women’s tournament at 10 a.m. Monday in Salina, Kan.
“They’re a pretty disciplined team,” said Lady Roadrunners coach Kevin Bucher. “They’re usually good shooters. We really didn’t have our legs there when we played them last. I think our speed and our depth is going to be a huge factor in this ballgame.”
SFCC lost to the Cougars 67-61 as Western Nebraska got 21 points from Lili Havili. The 6-1 freshman from Salt Lake City was a focus of the Western Nebraska offense most of the season, averaging more than 11 points per game and also hitting the 20-point mark in games against Phoenix, Eastern Wyoming and Northwest.
“What’s nice is we have three bigs we can go and attack her with,” Bucher said. “We utilize all three and try to get a post player in foul trouble early. We want it to be an uptempo game. I think the speed and transition will be in our favor. That is something we will be focusing on this week.”
Another thing they will be focusing on is the shooting backdrop. The Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center has a balcony and a wall fairly close to the backboard, while the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan., has seats behind the backboards. Bucher said he has seen many teams shoot a lot of airballs in their first tournament game.
“Rebounding becomes huge,” he said.
With a win, the Lady Roadrunners would have to turn around and face No. 1 seed Trinity Valley (Texas) on Tuesday. Though they are the No. 16 seed, Bucher thinks his team matches up well with some of the higher seeds in the tournament. The Lady Roadrunners have already faced No. 10 seed Butler, falling to them 62-59 on Nov. 2, and No. 6 seed Southern Idaho, falling to that team 90-89.
But this is a different State Fair team than the one that was on the floor in November. The Lady Roadrunners opened the season dealing with a series of injuries that limited their depth. Now State Fair is healthy and since the Southern Idaho loss has gone 17-2.