UL-Lafayette figures to field one of its deepest teams in recent memory as the 2017-18 men's basketball season begins, but one major question remains.
After a run of standout point guards that includes two Sun Belt Conference Defensive Players of the Year, a starter in the NBA and another who is looking to make that step out of the NBA G League, coach Bob Marlin wants to know if Marcus Stroman is next in line.
The Ragin' Cajuns will start getting the answer to that question when they face Ole Miss Friday in the season opener from The Pavilon at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.
The 7 p.m. game, part of a unique basketball-football doubleheader for UL-Lafayette and Ole Miss this weekend, will air on the SEC+ alternate network and will give Stroman a chance to show if he’s ready for primetime.
“We’ve been challenging him, and he’s kept stepping up,” said Marlin of the 6-foot transfer from South Carolina. “I think he’s probably a more pure point guard than either Elfrid Payton or Jay Wright.”
Whether Stroman can match those players’ success remains a question, but Marlin’s statement puts him in good company. Payton runs the point for the Orlando Magic, and Wright was the 11th player picked in the G League draft in October. Both made their reputations as fierce defenders, and both had the ability to score at close range despite their vastly different body types.
“We expect our point guard to get out there and be aggressive defensively,” Marlin said. “(Stroman) is different from those guys. Marcus is going to be different from Jay, but I think he’ll get as many steals as Jay did because he’s stronger and he’s not going to get knocked around as much. Jay got knocked around a lot when he took it to the basket, and that’s not going to happen with Marcus.”
Stroman averaged more than 20 minutes per game for South Carolina two years ago and averaged 4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. The hometown Columbia, S.C., product saw his numbers drop in his sophomore year, and he was one of three players who transferred to UL-Lafayette and sat out last season.
He had only two points and was saddled with foul trouble in the Cajuns’ easy 112-63 exhibition win over Millsaps College last week, but Marlin is hoping for a lot more against a Rebels squad that Stroman faced several times with the Gamecocks.
“This is an SEC game for him,” Marlin said, “and I expect he’ll play a lot better. He does have a lot of things going for him.”
The Cajuns had seven players in double figures against Millsaps, with Missouri transfer JaKeenan Gant scoring 14 in only 16 minutes. All four returning starters scored in double digits, including Bryce Washington’s 13-point, 10-rebound effort. Justin Miller had a team-high 15 points off the bench, last year’s Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year Frank Bartley scored 13 and senior Johnathan Stove had 11.
Ole Miss rolled past North Alabama 94-53 in a Sunday exhibition game. The Rebels have four starters back from a team that went 22-14 and lost only one key cog in post Sebastian Saiz. Ole Miss went 10-8 in the SEC last year and reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to Georgia Tech.
Starting guards Terence Davis and Deandre Burnett teamed to average almost 32 points per game, and fellow guard Breein Tyree also returns after averaging 7.3 per game. But it was much-heralded freshman shooting guard Devontae Shuler who shined in Sunday’s easy win with four 3-pointers among his team-high 18 points in 23 minutes.
Markel Crawford, Memphis’ second leading scorer last year at 12.2 per game, is also immediately eligible as a graduate transfer.
“They lost their big, but they’re really talented and deep in the backcourt,” Marlin said. “We’re going to have our hands full back there. It’s going to be a grind, because they can send a lot of guys in there and stay after our guards.”