Just How Good Are These Cajuns? – From the Bird’s Nest
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns are off to a 7-2 start and have won seven in a row. And, I get asked all the time how good I think this team is.
And, the answer is, I'm not sure.
The Cajuns returned only four players from last year's roster. Three of them, Bryce Washingon, Johnathan Stove and Jay Wright, have been starting for three years now. Only Wright is a senior. Redshirt sophomore Scott Plaisance played sparingly a season ago. Everyone else is new, including five freshmen.
Here's what we've learned so far:
Washington has picked up a great deal of the rebounding slack vacated by Shawn Long, one of the best players ever to don a Cajuns' uniform. He's averaging a double-double on the season. Stove has been battling injuries, but got a career high in scoring at McNeese State last Saturday. Wright has picked up as a scorer and is still one of the best assist men in the league. Plaisance has picked up minutes and had a career high ten points in the game against Nicholls State.
BYU transfer Frank Bartley IV leads the team in scoring and is a better shooter than anyone expected him to be. The freshmen have had their moments. Justin Miller has had his moments when he's been unstoppable and moments where he's been a bit lost. Roydell Brown has done a nice job overall filling in for Stove and has started the last four games. Jerekius Davis can rebound the basketball. He hasn't scored a lot but is capable. P. J. Hardy has been the real surprise. He's been an excellent outside shooter and plays under control. He can distribute the basketball and has been consistent.
But again, how good are they?
Part of the Cajuns' schedule was dictated by an exempt tournament. The Cajuns got four games out of that scheduling: home games against Delaware State and Texas Southern and road games at Montana State and James Madison. Those teams are a combined 11-23 on the season.
The Cajuns have two wins over non-Division I opponents. McNeese and Nicholls State are a combined 6-11. Only Minnesota, at 8-1 has had a good season so far.
So, again, the question is, how good are these Cajuns?
The answer is, probably better than we thought they might be, considering all they lost from a season ago.
But the next four games before conference play begins is a step up in competition...starting Saturday. Here's a look at what's coming up.
SATURDAY--LOUISIANA TECH--The Bulldogs are 5-3 and their losses have all been to respectable teams (at South Carolina, at Nebraska, at California). The Bulldogs haven't really beaten anyone of note, and all five wins have come at the Thomas Assembly Center. The 'Dogs suffered a couple of major losses from last year, but Erik McCree is a very good player. The 6-8, 225 pound senior averages 17 points and almost nine rebounds per game. Jacobi Boykins is a very good outside shooter. Louisiana Tech has balance, with five averaging double digits. The Cajuns squandered a ten point lead in the final ten minutes in Ruston a year ago. This will be the fourth straight year the teams have met, with the Cajuns holding a 2-1 edge.
WEDNESDAY 12/14--at GEORGIA--More Bulldogs. The SEC version is 5-3 with losses at Clemson, at home vs. Marquette and against Kansas in Kansas City. They've got wins over UNC-Ashville, Furman and George Washington. Yante Maten, a 6-8, 240 lb forward scores nearly 21 per game with 8.9 rebounds. Point guard J. J. Frazier averages 14.4 and will shoot the three (35%). Those two have combined to take nearly 45 percent of their field goal attempts. Georgia is not among the SEC Elite, but a road win in that conference will make people take notice.
SATURDAY 12/17--at NEW ORLEANS--Privateers are 4-3 with losses to some good clubs: Oklahoma State, Tulsa and USC. They've got a double digit win over Tulane and a road win at Washington State. Eric Thomas, a 6-5 forward averages 21 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest, while Christavious Gill is their other big scorer at 14.4. New Orleans has improved considerably over the last two seasons. This is a better team than either Nicholls or McNeese. It's the same day as the New Orleans Bowl and the Cajuns are hoping for a big crowd wearing red.
TUESDAY 12/20--PEPPERDINE--The Waves hammered the Cajuns in Malibu a year ago, but lost several key players. They're 4-5 with a game at USC before coming to Lafayette. Lamond Murray, Jr. has been the man for Pepperdine, averaging 22 points and shooting 52% from three. Two other players are in double figures. Pepperdine has, among their wins, a victory on a neutral court over defending Sun Belt champion Little Rock. They've dropped five of their last six, with their most recent loss at Long Beach State.
None of these teams are Delaware State, Panhandle State or Loyola.
The teams they're about to play are among the caliber they'll face in Sun Belt play. We're about to find out how good these Cajuns are.