Marlin’s Ragin’ Cajuns Gearing Up For Sun Belt Tournament [VIDEO]
The regular season is over for Bob Marlin's Ragin' Cajuns. It's tournament time, where ever game you play can be your last.
It's an experienced team, led by several seniors who won the Sun Belt Tournament with Elfrid Payton. They got hot enough to go on a nine game winning streak in conference play earlier in the year, but a cooling off period followed. Most of the time, March is all about momentum. Marlin was just glad his team got a win on senior day to carry with them to Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on Friday (5:00 pm vs Georgia Southern/South Alabama).
"I feel like all our strengths were in play the other night," Marlin said. He's also relying on his veterans. "The guys that are here are familiar with what the tournament is all about."
The players will be on the court trying to survive and advance, but it's Marlin's job to come up with the game plan.
When the shots fall for the Cajuns, they win. A team that led the Sun Belt Conference in three-point shooting last year somehow shot the worst percentage this season, but the shooters are still the same. If Marlin finds a way to tap the talent out of guys like Kasey Shepherd and Hayward Register, they could propel them to a deep run.
Postseason play always brings out the best in teams and their coaches. Marlin understands that winning sometimes demands adaptation. He has some tricks up his sleeve.
“We’ve got a few wrinkles that we’ve been holding, that we’ve been practicing on," Marlin said. "When you play someone two times during the season, you play them again in the conference tournament, it’s nice to have a counter to some of your offensive plays. We’ll mix it up, we’ll also gamble and take some chances.”
If Marlin's "wrinkles" work, the Cajuns could see a lot of open looks to get the momentum rolling.
The Cajuns carry a few advantages into the tournament. Clearly, nobody has an answer to Shawn Long aside from a triple-team in the post. Their dominance on the glass was displayed in their final game of the season, where Devonta Walker almost rebounded the entire Georgia Southern team. Walker's breakout performance on the final game of the season reminded fans (and opposing coaches) how many contributors lurk in the depth of this roster.
Walker's 16 points and 16 rebounds earned him the starting job for practice this week, but Bryce Washington still has a chance to claim the spot before Friday. Either way, Marlin wins. He'll take as many hot hands as possible, and Washington's passing ability and offensive IQ could provide a serious spark off the bench.
Compare the Cajuns to their rivals, the ULM Warhawks. The Warhawks play several starters 30+ minutes a game, some of them never leaving the court for the entirety...out of necessity. ULM stole the three seed from the Cajuns late in the year, saving them from having to play three games in three days. They needed it. The Cajuns might have to play that third game, but they also have a lot more left in the tank, so to speak. Not even Shawn Long averaged over 30 minutes a game for the season.
Matchups matter, and they're determined by your accomplishments in the regular season. Not to dismiss those realities from the past, but conference tournaments are determined in a series of days. Coaches love energy, and Marlin will have a full stable of quality contributors when the tourney tips off.
“What’s important when you play three days in a row is that you have some guys that can step up and play, and you have fresh legs," Marlin said.
When the Cajuns won the Sun Belt with Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long and went to the NCAA Tournament, they needed Bryant Mbamalu and Xavian Rimmer to help them get there. Can Walker be that late spark? What about Shepherd or Register from beyond the arc? Who knows, maybe Steven Wronkoski will hit the game winning three to keep playing for his senior season.
Coaches always say they take it one game at a time, but it's not a cliche during tournament time. The interpretation is literal. It will either be Georgia Southern or South Alabama standing between the Cajuns and the next round. Every game is a singular moment, with two very different outcomes. A win keeps the hope of cutting down nets alive, and a loss means a long ride home and an even longer offseason.
Let's see how many games we can play. Welcome to March, I hope you took your blood pressure medication.