Everybody loves Mardi Gras, but Bob Marlin's Ragin' Cajuns definitely needed their rest on top of the relaxation provided by the break.

Riding a eight game win streak, Marlin's Cajuns play two games in a row against the teams from Arkansas. One team got the better of them up in Jonesboro in a game the Cajuns thought they had in hand, and the other is the top team in the league. Heading into two of the most important games on their Sun Belt schedule, Marlin is happy to have some relatively fresh legs to work with.

"We needed the break," Marlin said. "It couldn't have come at a better time."

A win over Arkansas State would make nine straight wins, and it would wash a bitter taste from their mouths and memories.

Marlin said the loss to the Red Wolves earlier in the season actually motivated Bryce Washington to step his game up in the post, and since then he's been a solid compliment to Shawn Long's dominance night in and night out. Long is the leader of this team, and he's an emotional player.

Some coaches try to ignore the past. Marlin and his team aren't in any denial about what happened earlier this year.

"They remember...it was a tough loss," Marlin said. "We should have won that game."

Since picking up the pieces after that loss, the Cajuns have played their best basketball. Long and Washington are getting support from Jay Wright, Johnathan Stove, Kasey Shepherd and Hayward Register. Winning always boosts the morale in the locker room, and after weathering a tough road schedule, the Cajuns are enjoying the fruits of their labor.

"They've got a little pep in their step," Marlin said. Later, he added a plea to Cajun Nation, "We need our crowd, and we need to play well at home to keep ourselves in position."

If things play out in Marlin and the Cajuns' favor this week, they can emerge with the lead in the Sun Belt Conference approaching the tournament. It's not how you start your season, it's how you finish.

Speaking of finishing strong, not many other teams in the Sun Belt boast the Cajuns' depth.

Marlin mentioned that he can play about eleven or twelve players deep, which is a significant advantage as the year wears on. It surely helps when you have a player like Shawn Long (who Marlin casually stated would have his number retired by the university when he is done playing), but extra bodies and energized legs can be the difference in close games.

Washington's emergence as a true compliment to Long allows Marlin to bring Devonta Walker off the bench, and Steven Wronkoski's insertion into the starting lineup freed up some bench scoring at the guard position.

Defensively, versatility off the bench provides the coach flexibility with his matchups. If there's a top scorer, Marlin will be able to put the right man on him, with the right amount of energy left in the tank.

"These games are very demanding at this phase of the season in conference [play]," Marlin said. "It takes a lot out of you, mentally and physically."

Recharged from the Mardi Gras break and carrying possibly the hottest hand in the entire Sun Belt, the Cajuns can put themselves firmly in the driver's seat headed into the conference tournament.