Forward Jerekius Davis commits to the Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD BOWIE Louisiana-Lafayette men's basketball coach Bob Marlin

LAFAYETTE — There’s a set speed limit in Monroe that Louisiana-Lafayette is hoping to break in its Sun Belt Conference opener against ULM, but coach Bob Marlin knows it’s not as simple as mashing down on the accelerator.

“It’s always easier to slow it down than to speed it up,” Marlin said.

With that understood, Marlin isn’t expecting his team to reach its 96 points per game scoring average Thursday night. He’s hopeful his team is able to reach 80, but he even concedes that goal may not be realistic.

The Cajuns and Warhawks are stylistic contrasts on the basketball court. According to KenPom.com, the Cajuns rank 16th out of 351 Division I basketball teams in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes) with 75.3. ULM ranks near the bottom of that list with 66.9.

“This one’s going to be dialed down,” Marlin said. “We met this morning as a staff and I asked (assistant coach) Kevin Johnson, who’s got the scout, ‘What’s the magic number, 75?’ And he said, ‘I think that’s it to a T.’

“It’s not quite 96, or whatever we’re averaging, but we’re going to have to score enough to win and we’ve got to defend those guys.”

With ULM dictating the pace of the game, a couple key factors take on added importance.

Offensively, each possession carries a bit more significance than it does when the Cajuns operate at their normal frenetic pace. Turnovers and poor shot selection play a larger role when the team doesn’t touch the ball as often.

Through four games this season, the Cajuns are averaging 13.5 turnovers per game, a better rate than they averaged last season, but Marlin still wants to see improvement.

“(Monday), our thought for the day was to take care of the ball on offense,” Marlin said. “We had a couple bad turnovers against Loyola that I wasn’t really pleased with. We have to be strong with the basketball and we have to make each possession count.”

The defensive effort also takes on added importance in a game where it figures to be difficult to score points in bunches. And if the Cajuns are able to increase the pace of the game at all, it’ll likely happen through forced turnovers on the defensive end.

“It all starts with our defense,” Marlin said. “If we can get some stops, we’ll get some easy baskets.”

The Cajuns don’t have to go far back in time to see how difficult it is to push the pace against ULM. In two games against the Warhawks last season, the Cajuns scored just 55 both times, accounting for two of their three lowest-scoring outputs in conference play.

Those two games, both of which ended in Cajuns losses, played a big part in the conference standings at the end of the season. The Cajuns finished in fourth place, one game behind ULM and two games out of the conference title race.

With both the Cajuns and the Warhawks figuring to vie for the regular-season title again this year, the first league game in SBC play could loom large at the end of the season. Even if the pace doesn’t suit them, the Cajuns know they must find a way to make it work.

“They know exactly what we have to do,” Marlin said. “The guys are anxious to play. They know it’s a conference game, they know it’s a rival game and it’s the first game of our conference season.

“We only go to Monroe one time, so we need to make sure that we give our best effort and see what we can score.”