LAFAYETTE — We’re roughly one third of the way through the 2015-16 regular season, and the next time the Louisiana-Lafayette basketball team takes the floor in a game that actually means something, it will come against a Sun Belt Conference team.
With that in mind, let’s take stock of the 4-6 Cajuns as they get set to begin their second season — what has been a strength of this team, what could be a strength, and what will continue to be an issue it must work around?
SHAWN LONG: Long’s decision to return for his senior season is looking like a fantastic one at this point. Through nine games, the senior forward is averaging 18.2 points and a career high 11.9 rebounds per game. He also turned in some of his best performances against the better teams on the Cajuns schedule, with 26 points and 16 rebounds against UCLA, 25 points and 14 rebounds against Alabama and 21 points and 13 rebounds against Miami. Long has always been productive, so the numbers alone won’t make him more attractive to NBA scouts, but what should help him the most is the testimonials from those around him. By all accounts, Long has greatly improved his attitude.
OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER: The Cajuns’ 4-6 record at this point of the season speaks to the team’s imperfection, but there’s one unassailable fact about this team: It can score with the best of them. Even after cooling somewhat over their last four games, the Cajuns are averaging 84.8 points per game, which is ranked 25th among Division I teams. If the Cajuns kept pace, that would be their best scoring average in more than a quarter century. The last Cajuns team that prolific was the 1989-90 team, which scored 85.2 points per game.
Home court advantage: The Cajuns are 4-0 at home, and the statistics tell why. They’re shooting 51 percent from the Cajundome floor (10 percent better than their road shooting percentage), they’re cleaning up on the glass with a +12.5 rebounding margin per game at home and they’re doing a good enough job defensively, holding opposing teams to a 34 percent clip from the floor. This can’t simply all be attributed to the gap in the quality of competition between home and road opponents, which is certainly considerable, but the Cajuns are clearly more comfortable on their home court.
HAYWARD REGISTER: The junior guard is known primarily for one thing, and he’s had an utterly miserable go of it at that one thing through 10 games this season. Register is a shooter first and foremost, which is why his playing time was decreased significantly when he started the season in an 8-for-39 funk from the 3-point line. But there’s signs he’s starting to break out of it. Register sank five of his nine attempts from deep on a two-game west coast road trip, then canned a pair of huge second-half treys in the Cajuns 79-69 win against UNO last week. Shooting funks happen to even the best shooters, but they usually don’t stay in them for long.
DEFENSE: Really, the Cajuns don’t have to be great defensively to win a lot of games this season. Just enough will, more often than not, do the trick. The problem is the Cajuns haven’t found a way to do just enough so far, and that’s why they’re 4-6. The Cajuns have faced a daunting road slate, but it isn’t so good as to think its 52.4 shooting percentage against the Cajuns is reasonable. The Cajuns have been even worse defending the perimeter on the road, where opponents are shooting 50.4 percent from the 3-point line. The fact that this has problem has been evident every time the Cajuns have faced a good team this season (Pepperdine was the only host team to shoot below 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3) shows that opponents have identified it as a weakness, and it’s one the Cajuns must strengthen if they want to play in March.
PERIMETER SHOOTING: Register isn’t the only Cajuns player who got off to a slow start from the 3-point line this season. The Cajuns officially closed the non-conference portion of their schedule shooting 28.4 percent from deep, which puts them in the bottom five percent of 346 ranked Division I teams in the NCAA. Coach Bob Marlin is confident his team will bounce back and find its stroke, since it’s essentially the same team that led the Sun Belt Conference in 3-point shooting percentage last season. But right now, the evidence does not support that confidence; the Cajuns have shot below 30 percent from the 3-point line in 70 percent of their games this season.