Cajuns Basketball: Nice Start, but Plenty of Work to Do – From the Bird’s Nest
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns have opened the season 2-0 for the first time in the Bob Marlin era. Scheduling has something to do with that. Marlin (smartly) scheduled two winnable home games to start the season and that will give this team some confidence heading into a brutal stretch where the Cajuns will play six of their next seven games away from the Cajundome. The only home game during that stretch is a very, very good Northwestern State team that is the odds on favorite to win the Southland Conference title.
No judgments can be made after two games, but observations can. And, here are my observations after the first two games:
1. Payton and Long are better - Both were all-conference selections last year but both have taken a step forward. Payton, of course, is no longer a secret after his overseas performance this summer. Long has reshaped his body and is going to have games where he totally dominates, as he did against McNeese in the second half Tuesday night.
2. Two new defenders will help - I'm already seeing how much the Cajuns missed Kevin Brown last year. The Tulane transfer went down after just eight games and his absence hurt the Cajuns, especially on the defensive end. Brown has a good guards' body, works hard and is showing leadership qualities. Meanwhile, junior college transfer Xavian Rimmer might be the best defender of the bunch. He's not gonna score much, but his man isn't gonna score much, either.
3. Jump shots, anyone? - The Cajuns have averaged 97 points over the first two games and that's good. Not many of those have come from the perimeter, and that's not so good. This team shouldn't have to shoot a ton of perimeter shots, but there will be nights they'd better make some. Tuesday night, the Cajuns scored 54 points in the paint. Add 16 free throws. That's 70. And, six threes (four of them rather late)...that's 88. That means the Cajuns hit two jump shots inside three point range. That's the stat that needs to improve the most.
4. The newcomers will get better - Only Rimmer played more than ten minutes last night. But I've seen why the Cajuns signed Kamber, Kande, Davenport and Register. I think all of these guys are going to improve and might be ready to contribute by the time conference play begins in January. Register can really help on the perimeter, but he needs to guard someone first.
5. We need to see the third man - Payton and Long are studs. But, for the Cajuns to win, they need scoring contributions from a third guy. Last night it was Elridge Moore. But Brown is capable of being that guy and so is Wronkoski. It doesn't have to be the same guy every time, but a third scorer has to emerge in each game for the Cajuns to succeed.
6. Mbamalu might be the missing link - But unfortunately, Bryant is missing. The senior is out indefinitely with a fracture in his foot, the same injury that sidelined Kevin Brown last year. There is no timetable for his return. If he is able to return, the senior, who has been starting since his freshman season, might just be the difference on this team. The silver lining is Mbamalu has not taken a redshirt year, so that would be a possibility if he is out long-term.
As I said earlier, it's too early to make judgments. And, none should be made after the next two games either. Those trips to Fayetteville and Waco will be very difficult. But I'm seeing some good things from this team so far. The potential of the new guys needs to become reality however, if this team is going to challenge for a Sun Belt title.