It's a brand new year for Ragin' Cajuns Basketball. They lost career contributors like Shawn Long, Kasey Shepherd and a lot of other productive players, but Bob Marlin isn't looking backward. His eyes are on the 2016 season, and he likes what he sees.

Marlin is leaning on returning players like Jay Wright, Johnathan Stove and Bryce Washington to take hold of the team, and he loves the character of his team already.

"This is the best chemistry we've had since I've been here, without a doubt," Marlin said with a smile.

Wright, Stove and Washington will be team captains for the Ragin' Cajuns in 2016, which should come as no surprise. Washington wanted a leadership role since the minute he walked on campus, Stove is built like a full grown man and his maturity is starting to grow with his body, and Wright might be the best on-ball defender in the conference.

If the Cajuns want to win the Sun Belt, the rest of the team is going to have to defend more like Wright. Last season, opposing teams lit up the Cajuns from beyond the three point line, and Marlin wants that to change.

"We just got to get better defensively. That's our main focus. We weren't bad last year, but we were bad from the three point line," Marlin admitted. He explained, "We were letting opponents get way too comfortable last season."

The team is going to lean on Wright's leadership heavily, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He can't guard everybody though, so the rest of the roster has to step it up on that side of the court.

With so many new faces on the team, including Frank Bartley IV, Jerekius Davis, Kadavion Evans and several other freshmen, it will be key for the returners to set the tone.

Wright plays with a ton of heart, and he's a good example for the rest of the team when it comes to work ethic. Marlin is depending on his gutsy guard to take the torch in 2016.

"He's been vocal, he's worked hard, he's been first to the floor several times in practice," Marlin said.

He might not play a true point guard position, but that's because Marlin's system will basically be a dual guard setup with different players handling distribution duties.

One of Wright's buddies in the backcourt gets better every season. Stove's ability to get to the rim, and the free throw line, will be key for a Cajun offense looking to replace natural scorers like Long and Shepherd. His strength gives him a physical advantage, but Stove is spending a lot of time working on the finesse part of the game.

Marlin said his team needs to shoot the three better, and Stove's been working on his stroke all offseason.

"He's shooting the ball well, he's spending a lot of time at the free throw line and shooting threes," Marlin said.

Coach Marlin expects the Cajuns to be projected near the middle of the pack when the preseason polls come out, but polls don't mean anything when the season starts. It will be up to the players to determine where they finish, and it's their story to tell.

The Cajundome is getting a facelift, so the team will start playing their 2016 season in Blackham Coliseum. It's a history rich home for hoops, and it's an intimate setting for basketball fans. Get out and fill the seats, early and often. This team wants to take the Sun Belt by surprise.