Cajuns Begin Crucial Road Swing in Atlanta
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have already won 20 games.
They are undefeated in Sun Belt Conference play and their 10-0 conference record is the first time they have achieved that mark
But, as head coach Bob Marlin would say, they haven't won anything yet. And, while they won't win a championship this weekend either, a successful road trip will distance the Cajuns from the rest of the league.
The Cajuns make their crucial road trip to Georgia this weekend to take on Georgia State (18-6, 9-2) Thursday in Atlanta, before heading to Statesboro to meet Georgia Southern (16-8, 7-4) on Saturday.
Thursday's game can be heard on HOT107.9 (1079ishot.com) with pregame tentatively scheduled for 5:45, or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the women's game.
Louisiana and Georgia State has quickly become as intense a basketball rivalry as there is in the league, in part because the teams have been good and the games have meant something.
Georgia State leads the recent series 8-3 Fast starts have been the secret to their success against the Cajuns. In the majority of their wins, Georgia State opened up a big lead and then held off a furious Cajuns rally at the end.
This year's edition of the Panthers are nearly as red hot as the Cajuns. After dropping their first two league games, Georgia State has reeled off nine straight wins, the latest coming in a sweep of the Arkansas schools this weekend. And, while the Panthers still have stiff road tests at Georgia Southern, UTA and Texas State, a win puts them just 1/2 game behind the Cajuns in the Sun Belt standings.
A Cajun win gives Louisiana a three game lead over GSU plus the tiebreaker with seven games remaining and would put the Cajuns firmly in the driver's seat for the regular season title and the #1 seed in the Sun Belt tournament, a feat that has only happened once (2003-04) in the 27 years the Cajuns have called the Sun Belt home.
This edition of the Panthers is much like some of the others: Georgia State has multiple shooters and an individual star in D'Marcus Simonds. The sophomore is a solid candidate for Player of the Year honors. Simonds averages nearly 21 points per game and his strength and quickness enables him to get to the rim. He's not a great outside shooter, but gets to the free throw line on a regular basis. He's taken 34% of his teams freebies.
The Panthers love to shoot the triple. Nearly 41% of their shots have come from beyond the arc. Devin MItchell (44.2%) hit 10-13 against Little Rock last Saturday en route to SBC Player of the Week honors. Jeff Thomas (38.3%), Malik Benlevi (45.5%) and reserve guard Isaiah Williams (38%) have all been prolific from the bonusphere this season.
The Panthers will employ a zone defense throughout and it's been successful. Georgia State has given opponents just a 39% field goal percentage on the season and have held opponents to just 64 points per game on the average. They also don't turn it over much.
But the Cajuns have some power of their own.
Louisiana leads the league in FG percentage, scoring, scoring margin, free throw percentage, rebound margin, assists, steals and assist/turnover ratio. In league games, the Cajuns lead even more categories.
The biggest advantages the Cajuns have in the game is the ability to rebound and their depth. Georgia State is near the bottom of the league in rebound margin and, while they'll play eight or nine players, the Panthers have three players (Simonds, Benlevi and Thomas) who average more than 30 minutes per game. Mitchell and inside player Jeff Session all average more than 25 minutes.
The women's game between Garry Brodhead's Cajuns and Georgia State will begin at 4:00 pm on TalkRadio 960am. Pregame is at 3:45.