Can they do it without Elfrid?
This is the big question facing the Cajuns this year, as they’ll have to figure out how to replace the production of the Elfrid Payton, the national Defensive Player of the Year whom the Orlando Magic traded for after the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him 10th in this year’s draft. But ask those close to the program, and they think they’ll be just fine without Elfrid Payton this season. It’ll likely be up to double-double machine Shawn Long to be the star of the unit, but the Cajuns also added a pair of transfers in Brian Williams (Oklahoma State) and Devonte Walker (Western Texas). Both should provide scoring and a strong presence on the boards.
Is Shawn Long next in line?
NBA scouts are already making the trip to Lafayette to see how the Cajuns’ 6-foot-9 junior forward handles being in the spotlight — and that doesn’t bother Long. He spent last season as Payton’s roommate and saw how Payton handled the pressure brought on by extra attention. Long features an inside-outside game that might make him an ideal candidate as a stretch four at the NBA level, showing deft touch around the hoop and solid range from the 3-point line (42 percent on 78 attempts last season). If Long can just put up a similar season to last, when he averaged 18.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, he might be the Cajuns’ next first-rounder.
Who will be the breakout player?
The Cajuns are expecting big things out of Xavian Rimmer this season. He was lethal from 3-point range last year, dropping 43 percent of his team-high 132 attempts from deep. That number is likely to take a dip as Rimmer shoulders a bit more of the scoring load — his 8.8 points per game last season ranked fourth on the team behind Payton, Long and Bryant Mbamalu — but he still should help stretch defenses out to the perimeter. Keep an eye on Kasey Banks, who missed the end of last season with injury. He played mostly off the bench last season and could replace Payton as the Cajuns starting point guard.
Who will come out on top?
There is no love lost between the Cajuns and Georgia State — the unanimous preseason favorites to win the conference. The Panthers won the Sun Belt regular season title outright last season, but it was the Cajuns who had the last laugh, winning the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament. They’ll likely vie for the SBC’s regular season title and NCAA tournament automatic bid again this season, and that will likely result in some memorable contests. Earlier this season, when asked what he would eat for his final meal, Shawn Long responded by saying, “Georgia State.”
How will the Cajuns handle the first two weeks?
The Cajuns certainly don’t have it easy to start. After opening up at home, they hit the road for back-to-back games to face 2013-14 NCAA tournament team Tulsa and an Auburn team playing in one of its first games with heralded coach Bruce Pearl. Then they make a long trip west to Las Vegas for a tournament, where they’ll face Oral Roberts and Milwaukee. That means after tipping off its season opener against Louisiana College this Friday, the Cajuns won’t return to the Cajundome until Dec. 3 against Jackson State.
-- Luke Johnson