LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team’s regular-season finale Saturday against Arkansas State doesn’t really mean anything — at least not in terms of the conference race.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (18-12, 12-7) can possibly tie for third in the conference, but they are completely locked in as the No. 4 seed in next week’s Sun Belt Conference tournament.
The Red Wolves (11-17, 6-13) were eliminated from postseason play with an 81-76 loss to South Alabama on Thursday.
While the game is — for most intents and purposes — meaningless, coach Bob Marlin is not approaching it any differently than he would any other game, and he’s certainly not going to hold out players to rest them for the conference tournament.
“We play to win,” Marlin said. “I think you cheat the game if you don’t do that. … I learned that from some guys that’ve been before me. We’re going to play to win, (but) we’ll play a lot of guys.”
Marlin didn’t have to go back too far to come up with an example of why resting players isn’t always the best strategy.
“Western Kentucky … rested their guys at Georgia State (in the regular-season finale),” Marlin said. “They took a big loss, and then lost as well.”
That loss came to the Cajuns in the Hilltoppers’ first game of last year’s SBC tournament.
Marlin is also factoring the last meeting between the teams into this matchup, when the Cajuns destroyed the Red Wolves 96-59 at the Cajundome in January.
The Cajuns shot 14-of-22 from 3-point range in that contest, and forward Shawn Long turned in one of his better offensive performances of the year, scoring 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting in 19 minutes.
The 37-point margin of victory was the largest in the history of the series, which started in 1964.
“That was a night where we made every shot,” Marlin said. “We’ll get a great shot from those guys.”
The Red Wolves have a trio of players averaging more than 12 points in Anthony Livingston (15.7), Cameron Goldon (14.0) and Sean Gardner (12.3), but they haven’t gotten much from the rest of the squad offensively. Arkansas State is last in the league in scoring margin (minus-7.5 points per game) in conference play.
The Cajuns, are third in the league in scoring margin (plus-5.6) and have been stout on defense of late.
Moreover, they are riding a five-game winning streak, and they would like to keep that going into the postseason — just like they did last year when they rallied for a last-second win on Arkansas State’s home court in the regular-season finale to vault them into the postseason on a positive note.
“We want to continue to play the best we can; we want to ride the momentum,” Marlin said. “Last year, we won in Jonesboro and it helped propel us all the way to the NCAA tournament. It’ll be a different game in Jonesboro.”
WOMEN HAVE MUCH TO PLAY FOR: The situation is not nearly as clear for the women’s team as it heads into its finale against the SBC’s No. 2 team.
The Cajuns (18-10, 10-9) are currently a game behind Texas State for the No. 4 seed in the tournament, and they would surpass the Bobcats with a win against Arkansas State (20-9, 15-4) and a Texas State loss based on their two head-to-head wins against the Bobcats.
The Cajuns are currently the sixth seed. They are tied with UT-Arlington, which they were swept by this season. But if a three-way tie emerges based on a Cajuns win, a UT-Arlington win and a Texas State loss, the Cajuns would be awarded the No. 4 seed based on a season sweep of Arkansas State.
The Cajuns can finish no worse than sixth in the conference.
The Cajuns upset Arkansas State 69-57 in the Cajundome earlier this season, getting 18 points from Keke Veal.