LAFAYETTE — Left without a date for the Big Dance, there wasn’t as much excitement for selection Sunday this year for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team as there was last year.
But while they fell short of their ultimate goal of gaining a return trip to the NCAA tournament, the Cajuns are happy for the opportunity to keep their season alive Tuesday against Incarnate Word in the CollegeInsiders.com PostseasonTournament (CIT).
“We lost out on the tournament, it was a bad feeling because we wanted to get to the big one like we did last year,” junior forward Shawn Long said. “But any game after this, like I’ve been saying lately, it’s just a blessing. Embrace it, work hard and try to do our best in this tournament.”
It was a whirlwhind 24 hours for the Cajuns, who found out late Sunday night where they’d continue their season and were on a chartered bus for San Antonio by Monday afternoon.
It left just enough time for the players to take care of some business in the class room and for coaches to watch what film they could on Incarnate Word.
A little film work and prior experience coaching against Incarnate Word coach Ken Burmeister was enough for coach Bob Marlin to know what his team is in for, though.
“They play fast,” Marlin said. “They score more points than we do, so it should be an up-and-down game.”
The Cardinals scored 79.6 points per game this season, ranking seventh nationally. The Cajuns led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring average with 77.4 points per game.
Both teams ranked in the top 20 percent nationally in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes), according to KenPom.com.
“They just try to push the ball after a make or a miss and get it up the floor,” Marlin said. “They play some one-on-one and get to the basket quick.”
It should make for an exciting basketball game, especially when considering the two teams will play with a 30-second shot clock rather than the normal 35-second clock used in college basketball. The tournament will serve as a test site for a rule that Marlin believes will be implemented across college basketball next season.
Marlin said the Cajuns should have an advantage against an undersized Incarnate Word lineup, but he also noted that is a two-way street.
“They’re small, so it’ll be some matchup situations for us I’m sure,” Marlin said. “I think they’ll have trouble with Shawn inside and Bryce (Washington) and (Devonta Walker). But on the flip side, we may have trouble with those guys on the perimeter.”
The Cajuns closed the season on a strong note, winning seven of their final eight games. That one loss happened to come in their last game against Georgia State, knocking them out of contention for the NCAA tournament.
But Marlin doesn’t think the 83-79 letdown against Georgia State, during which his team nearly rallied from a 24-point second half deficit, will linger over his team as it continues through the postseason.
“Our guys were frustrated by the way the game went the other night, especially the first half, but encouraged by the way we finished the game showing some fight,” Marlin said. “So I feel like they’ve put it behind them. We need to move on and try to win this game to put ourselves in position to win another tournament.”
Long said the team is trying to keep the season going as long as possible, especially for players like seniors Xavian Rimmer, Brian Williams and Aaron LeBlanc, whose playing days will end along with the Cajuns season.
When the Cajuns’ selection for the CIT was announced, Long said Rimmer wasn’t particularly vocal, but he could see his excitement in his body language.
“That’s what really got me excited; he gets another chance to play,” Long said. “His season is not over yet. Because after this it’s done for him. He goes home and moves on.”
Long may be playing in his final games as a Cajun, too. He’s been getting consistent looks from NBA scouts throughout his junior season, when he averaged 16.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Long said he’s not giving any thought to his future until after the season is over.
“The thought that I even have a chance to go play professional ball is a blessing, but it’s one of those things that I try not to let cloud my mind, because right now this is the only thing I can handle,” Long said. “This is the only thing that’s in my hands. Trying to get a victory.”