I-10 NIT: Cajuns have what LSU has struggled against most of the season - talented big men
BATON ROUGE — It's a difficult statistic to ignore in comparing LSU and the Ragin' Cajuns, which meet in the National Invitation Tournament at 6 p.m. Wednesday here in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Even more so than the Ratings Percentage Index differential of 31 with the Cajuns (27-6) at No. 63 and the Tigers (17-14) at No. 94.
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In rebounding margin, the Cajuns are No. 17 in the nation with a plus-6.7 margin per game as they have out-rebounded opponents, 38.9 to 32.2 per game. LSU is 205 spots away at No. 222 with a minus-0.5 margin as it has been out-rebounded 33.9 to 33.5 per game.
"They are thick," LSU coach Will Wade said. "They are older. Rebounding would certainly be a concern. That is not one of our strengths. That would be a concern."
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Senior Bryce Washington of St. Augustine High in New Orleans is sort of a Charles Barkley type at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, who leads the Cajuns and is No. 12 in the nation with 10.6 rebounds a game while scoring 10.5 points a game. Jakeenan Gant, a 6-8 junior forward transfer from Missouri, is averaging 5.8 rebounds and 13.8 points a game.
"The kid Gant can really fly in there," Wade said.
Aaron Epps, a 6-10 forward from Tioga High, leads LSU with just 5.6 rebounds a game, while 6-11 forward Duop Reath is averaging 5.2 a game.
Wade has even noticed Cajuns backup Justin Miller, a 6-7 sophomore forward who is averaging just 3.7 rebounds a game.
"Big, thick, wide-bodied, he can get in there and rebound," Wade said. "Their guards rebound. So it is going to be an issue for us."
Shooting guard Frank Bartley, a 6-3 senior transfer from Brigham Young and Christian Life in Baton Rouge, is averaging 3.6 rebounds a game while leading the Cajuns in scoring with 17.7 points a game.
One of the new rules in the NIT could help LSU's size disadvantage as the free throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet as an experiment to see if it reduces physicality by creating more driving opportunities. Wade hopes it works in his case.
"They are very physical," Wade said. "I love their two guard (Bartley). The way he guards, chases screens, blows up every screen. Physical kid. I love him. He makes shots. They are good team. There's a reason they won 27 games. We are going to need to play well. Their physicality stuck out to me. I thought they were very physical on tape. They have a lot of like-size guys. A lot of guys who are 6-4 or 6-6 who are thick and they can switch. They are versatile in that way."
Marcus Stroman, a 6-2 junior point guard who transferred from South Carolina, is averaging 6.4 assists a game for 14th in the nation while LSU freshman point guard Tremont Waters is at 25th nationally with 5.9 assists a game while leading LSU with 16 points a game. Stroman is scoring 6.7 points a game.
While he was Virginia Commonwealth's head coach, Wade recruited backup UL guard Cedric Russell, a 6-2 freshman from Peabody High in Alexandria who is scoring 5.6 points a game. Russell at one time was LSU bound.
"He was supposed to visit VCU," said Wade, who recruited Stove and 6-6 sophomore backup Jerekius Davis of Jackson, Mississippi, when he was head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
"We know their roster," Wade said. "We know they have very good players. They have kids who have been around the block."
Wade, like many others, had an inkling LSU would be paired with UL in the NIT as soon as the Cajuns were eliminated from the Sun Belt Tournament on Saturday.
"I have watched quite a bit of tape of them these last couple of days," he said. "We started watching when they lost. We were pretty sure we were going to play them."
OTHER RULES CHANGES IN NIT: In addition to the lane being widened by four feet as previously mentioned, the 3-point shot line will be pushed deeper by one foot and eight inches to the international boundary of 22 feet and 1.75 inches.
Also, the shot clock will reset to 20 seconds instead of the customary 30 seconds after offensive rebounds. And instead of two 20-minute halves, there will be four 10-minute quarters.