There’s a Lot to Like About Cajuns’ Basketball – From the Bird’s Nest
Before his fourth season as head coach began, Louisiana basketball coach Bob Marlin said he liked his basketball team.
He liked their work ethic. He liked their commitment. He liked their closeness. He liked their character. He spoke as though this might be the year the Cajuns took a major step forward after going 13-20 a year ago.
And, so far, he's been right.
Louisiana is off to a 7-3 start, their best since 1993-94. And, they've been impressive doing it.
The Cajuns' three losses have been at Arkansas, at Baylor and at defending national champion Louisville. No disgrace there, although Marlin insists they should have beaten the Razorbacks.
But the losses don't define this team so far this year. The wins do: Horizon contender Oakland on a neutral court. At Big South perennial power Coastal Carolina. At Conference USA favorite Louisiana Tech. Against Southland conference favorite Northwestern State.
And, this past Saturday, a win over the Houston Cougars...while missing two starters.
The wins (and schedule strength) have been enough to propel the Cajuns to a #47 ranking in the latest ratings percentage index (RPI), according to Jerry Palm of cbssports.com and warrennolan.com. By comparison, Duke is #60.
The Cajuns have done all of this with their only four-year starter, Bryant Mbamalu, on the bench. The senior from Houston has yet to take the court after suffering a broken bone in his foot three months ago. It is hoped he'll be ready for conference play on January 4th. Mbamalu was the Cajuns' best outside shooter a year ago.
The Cajuns' have done all this while being undersized again this season. Shawn Long, who at 6-9 has been a force for 1 1/2 seasons, is their only starter over 6'5. And, while junior college transfer J. J. Davenport and freshman Vieux Kande have added depth, the two players combined are averaging just over fifteen minutes per game.
And, now, senior power forward Elridge Moore is out at least until December 30th with a severely sprained ankle.
They've done it with outstanding play from Long and point guard Elfrid Payton, who have combined to average 41 points and 17 rebounds per contest. But they've also gotten solid play off the bench with junior college transfer Xavian RImmer (7.2 ppg) and Kasey Shepherd (8.2) giving the Cajuns a very good 1-2 scoring punch off the bench. The two are 29-52 (.557) from three point range.
The Cajuns have three games remaining before the New Year. Wins in all three would give the Cajuns ten wins before January 1. That has happened....never.
This team still has plenty of room to improve. They've been inconsistent defensively. They've probably had a few more turnovers than Marlin would like. And they need to shoot free throws better than they have been (.667).
But make no mistake...when the Cajuns get Moore back, and if Mbamalu can go by conference time; if the Cajuns play better defense...if they continue to improve, if they can continue to overcome their lack of size...that slogan "Our Mission is March" could be more than a moniker.