4 keys to UL Ragin Cajuns winning 2021 Sun Belt men's basketball tournament
The Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team had a seven-game winning streak early this season.
They won four in a row in mid-to-late January and three straight late last month before losing their regular-season finale at Little Rock.
All the Cajuns need now to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 is three consecutive victories at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. The quest starts Saturday (5:13 p.m., ESPN+) at Pensacola State College in Florida againstSouth Alabama.
Here are some keys to getting it done for the Cajuns:
Kobe Julien making a difference
If 6-foot-6 forward Kobe Julien (knee surgery) can contribute after playing his first games of the season last weekend, everyone gets a little relief.
“It’s good to have him back,” coach Bob Marlin said.
Julien lost his 2019-20 freshman season to knee surgery coming out his Baton Rouge high school, Madison Prep, then got hurt again before league play started last season.
He was averaging 12.8 points per game at the time.
Julien had six points and two rebounds in 14 limited minutes in the first of two games at Little Rock, followed by six points and five boards in another 14 minutes.
“(Julien) definitely got his feet wet, and it got his confidence going,” Marlin said. “To step out there and have a little bit of success and get knocked down and stand back up and go at it again is very important.”
If Julien provides punch this weekend, it could do wonders for the Cajuns.
“We’d like to have Brayan (Au) back,” Marlin said, “but we’re comfortable with what we have going on.”
Jacobi Gordon delivering
Gordon (sprained ankle) was held out at Little Rock, but Marlin said “hopefully he’ll be good to go” in Pensacola.
The Cajuns must aim to shoot well
Perhaps the biggest essential is most simple. “We’ve got to make shots,” Marlin said.
UL finished conference play with the second best 3-point shooting percentage at 39.3%, trailing only Texas State. But the Cajuns were seventh overall including nonconference games (35.2%).
Marlin needs the hot hands from conference play to stay warm, especially since Sun Belt basketball is largely a guard’s game. That starts with Russell, whose 41% success rate on 173 attempts ranks third among SBC 3-point leaders.
“Hopefully we’ll make them this weekend,” Marlin said. “We’re confident we will.”
UL needs decent defense and more
It always starts on the defensive end in Marlin’s mind. This weekend is no different. But there’s more.
“We’ve got to rebound too,” Gueye said.
A little luck won’t hurt, either.
“The team that plays well together,” Marlin said, “plays good defensively, makes shots, catches a break, maybe wins a game where they don’t play their best.”
“If everybody buys in,” Gueye added, “we’re gonna do something special.”
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