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Men's Basketball: At 19-3, Cajuns are starting to turn some heads

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Jan. 30, 2018

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.
Click here for Troy Photo Gallery for game played on 1/27/2018.
Click here for South Alabama Photo Gallery for game played on 1/25/2018.

The UL basketball team has been enjoying its fair share of good times lately, and senior guard Johnathan Stove has noticed the response to it, even when he’s out and about in town.

Like when he’s in a store, for instance, and feels a pat on the back — which has happened more and more frequently with fans lately.

“They’re just telling us how good we are, which is kind of hard to ignore at times,” Stove said. “But we know we’ve got to keep getting better and better.”

They do, but the Ragin’ Cajuns indeed are off to an eye-popping start for 2017-18.

They are 19-3 overall, and 9-0 in Sun Belt Conference games with nine straight wins after Cajundome victories last Thursday night over South Alabama and Saturday over Troy.

That’s their cleanest start in Sun Belt play since joining the league — two better than its previous best.

They’ve also have won 15 regular-season Sun Belt games in a row dating back to last season, and 14 straight overall at home dating back to a loss to Troy last season.

More: Cajuns attendance, victory margin numbers are crazy

The Cajuns really are on quite a roll at the halfway point of the league schedule, and that play of late also is starting to draw notice even beyond local circles.

They received two points in the newest USA TODAY Top 25 Coaches poll, and when the rankings were updated Monday, only 37 teams nationally had received two votes or more.

They have an RPI rating — critical as at-large NCAA Tournament contenders are weighed — of 55, up from 58 previously.

And they’re ranked No. 4 in CollegeInsider.com’s updated-on-Monday Mid-Major Top 25, with only Saint Mary’s (29-2) and Gonzaga (17-4) of the West Coast Conference — ranked No. 12 and No. 14, respectively, in the coaches poll — along with New Mexico State (17-3) of the Western Athletic Conference ahead of them.

Even CBS Sports included the Cajuns on a graphic of four teams — along with Purdue, Arizona and Auburn — deserving of some “luv” during its college basketball coverage last Saturday.

It’s the sort of showing that, as Stove suggested, draws praise that’s hard to turn a blind eye to when offered.

It’s also the kind of play that potentially can make heads swell, something that coach Bob Marlin does not see happening at this point.

Perhaps that’s because the Cajuns have won a couple recently when not at their tip-top best, like when they beat South Alabama by 19 despite committing 20 turnovers, or when they beat Troy by 11 despite committing five turnovers in the game’s first five minutes and change.

Or maybe it’s just because they’re a motivated group that understands how to deal it.

Marlin seems to suggest that could be the case, combined with regular reminders that seem to help.

“Proud of our guys, the way they’ve handled the success to date,” he said. “We talk about it daily. They’re focused on the big picture.

“The guys are having fun. They’re enjoying the success, and winning by playing together. And if we continue to do that, continue to defend, then we’ll have a good opportunity to keep moving up.”

With that opportunity, however, comes greater demand, especially for what is shaping up as a potential NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

“We have certain expectations on our players, especially on the defensive end of the court,” said Marlin, whose Cajuns are idle Thursday night and visit on Saturday a 9-11 UL Monroe team that is 0-9 on the road this season but 9-2 at home.

“We demand that they do those, or they don’t play,” he added. “Sometimes they have to come out, and we have to remind them of those expectations.”

UL senior Bryce Washington, for one, would have it no other way.

“The coaches have been on us  more now than when we’ve been losing, to be honest with you,” said Washington, the Sun Belt’s leading rebounder.

“That’s good, because when you hit success you lose focus — especially with young guys.

“But I think we’re a very mature team,” Washington added, “and … I think we’ve handled it very well. We’re just gonna keep pushing.”

LAGNIAPPE: Marlin said reserve big man Justin Miller, who has missed two straight games due to a concussion sustained in practice last Tuesday, “is progressing nicely and should be cleared later this week to practice.” … Starting point guard Marcus Stroman sustained two scratches on his eye Saturday, but on Monday Marlin said, “I think he’s fine.” … Saturday’s game at ULM will be carried online by ESPN3, as will Cajun games next week at Georgia State and Georgia Southern.



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