Cajuns to face 10th-seeded Little Rock in SBC tournament opener
The 2016-17 Sun Belt Conference regular season came to an end on Saturday, solidifying each team’s seed in the conference tournament and the bracket.
The SBC men’s basketball tournament will begin on March 8 with Louisiana as the seventh seed. The Cajuns finished the regular season with an overall record of 20-11, 10-8 SBC.
The tournament could not come at a better time for the Cajuns, who have won six straight after a concerning four-game losing streak. Louisiana rolled off eight straight victories in the beginning of the season, but any coach will tell you that a team should be playing with momentum entering the the tournament.
After questions of their defense began to grow, the men’s basketball team has responded by holding opposing teams to 74.8 points per game during their winning streak. This is an improvement after allowing a stretch of 100-point games to their opponents. The Cajuns have kept their offense on track with an average of 84.1 points per game.
The Cajuns have shown they can win in dominant fashion with nine wins on the season by at least a 15-point margin of victory. More importantly, Louisiana is able to execute down the stretch to win close games. They have won five games by six points or less, in addition to an overtime victory against Texas State in their penultimate game of the regular season. Their final game of the season ended in a 83-81 win over the defending SBC men’s champions and this year’s number-one seeded UT-Arlington Mavericks .
The Cajuns are scheduled to play the tenth-seeded Little Rock Trojans in their first game of the tournament. These two teams have met twice this season and Louisiana was able to win both games. The Cajuns won 69-52 on Jan. 2 and 88-82 in their most recent game on Jan. 28th.
The Trojans finished their season with a 15-16 overall record, 6-12 SBC. Two Cajuns players who have proved to play well against Little Rock are junior guard Frank Bartley and freshman forward Justin Miller. Bartley averaged 17 points and four rebounds against the Trojans, while Miller averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in both games.
Little Rock has one of the best scoring defenses in the conference. They hold opponents to 68.0 points per game. Despite holding opponents to low scoring outputs, they allow teams to shoot 44.4 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from the three-point line on the season.
With Louisiana’s number one scoring offense, the Cajuns will have an opportunity to put up their season average of 82.3 points per game against the Trojans.
One major advantage the Cajuns have on the Trojans is in the offensive rebounding department. These teams rank on each end of the spectrum when it comes to that aspect of the game. While Louisiana is first in the SBC in offensive rebounds with over 13 points per game, Little Rock ranks last with just over nine per game.
The winner of this game will move on to face the number-two seed Georgia State Panthers.
Georgia State ended the season winning just three of their lasts seven games, but earned a bye in the first round behind their strong regular season record of 19-11, 12-6 SBC. The Panthers rank fifth in scoring offense and defense. They are led in scoring by senior forward Jeremy Hollowell, 15.4 ppg, and freshman guard D’Marcus Simonds, 13.1 ppg.
The Panthers lead the conference in field goal percentage with over 47 percent shooting per game and allow the lowest percentage against them with 40.9 percent.
The Cajuns suffered losses in both of their meetings in the regular season against Georgia State with a 101-86 loss at the Cajundome and a 85-82 defeat at Georgia State.
Louisiana must focus all their attention on Little Rock in the opening round if they want to continue to face Georgia State in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship is scheduled to conclude on Sunday. The tournament will take place at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. The final game will tip-off at 1:00 p.m. and broadcasted on ESPN2.