Ragin’ Cajuns Riding High Heading Into Sun Belt Tournament [VIDEO]
March Madness is here. Conference tournaments are beginning, and the Ragin' Cajuns are carrying a ton of momentum heading into the Sun Belt tourney.
Louisiana is playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. All the puzzle pieces are falling into place for a special run, and Head Coach Bob Marlin knows his team is in an advantageous position.
"We're the hottest team in the tournament. We've won six games in a row," Marlin stated. He also explained what led them to this win streak, "We made shots, we defended better, we continue to rebound."
The Ragin' Cajuns were picked toward the bottom of the pile in the Sun Belt in the preseason, but the team proved their doubters wrong all season. They were one win away from the #2 seed in the conference tournament, and Marlin expressed his pride in the way they performed.
"I could go on and on about this team but I'm extremely proud of how this team finished," Marlin said. "We have five guys that are averaging double figures in conference play. That's pretty impressive."
A lot of players on the team are pitching in down the stretch, but the lone senior is inspiring the rest of the roster with his play.
Jay Wright willed the Ragin' Cajuns to a win against Texas State with a herculean effort, and he made the most of senior night too to defeat the top team in the conference, UT-Arlington. Wright's relentless approach to the game and defensive intensity is rubbing off on the other players, and Marlin is leaning heavily on his gritty, gutsy point guard.
At this point, every game Wright plays could be his last. He's not ready to finish his college career yet, and Marlin thinks he can put on another show in Lakefront Arena and make it all the way through the bracket.
"I would love to see him do it Sunday. He's done it in that building before," Marlin said.
Wright's play has been incredibly consistent, along with Frank Bartley and Bryce Washington. The fourth key piece of the puzzle is finally joining the party too, just at the right time.
Ever since hitting the buzzer-beater against ULM, Johnathan Stove is playing his best basketball.
At points this season, Stove struggled to find his rhythm, but he's feeling it heading into the conference tournament.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence. He pulled his play up," Marlin complimented Stove.
Stove could be the x-factor in the tournament. If he plays with confidence and energy, the Ragin' Cajuns could make a lot of noise.
Overall, this might be the best Sun Belt Conference Tournament ever. The entire conference is playing well this season, and the separation between seeds is almost non-existent.
Marlin thinks it's a wide-open field in the Sun Belt, and his team has the hot hand.
"We're going to have a great tournament. It's the best week, leading up to the NCAA Tournament, in basketball," Marlin said. "Strap up, we're going to have a good ride."
Louisiana faces off with Little Rock at 5:00 pm on Wednesday for their first taste of tournament play.
Both teams got the better of the other at one point this season. The Ragin' Cajuns defeated Little Rock on the road (69-52) early in conference play, and they doubled down with an 88-82 win over the Trojans at the Cajundome. Louisiana is on a six-game win streak, but Little Rock is playing well too.
"They won two of their last three games. They're coming in at the right time with a little momentum," Marlin pointed out. "We were swept by Little Rock last year, and we need to repay the favor."
This is the most important month in college basketball. No matter what happened in the months preceding March, teams can create their own finish to the season by stringing a few wins together.
Marlin knows what it takes to reach the NCAA Tournament. He did it before with Louisiana, and he thinks this team can reach the end of the road and cut down the nets in Lakefront Arena.
It all starts this Wednesday. Can Louisiana keep riding their winning wave all the way to a conference championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament? Let the Sun Belt tournament begin, and may the best team win.