LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin has a good problem on his hands this year, one that most of his peers would probably kill to have.
The problem is this: There are only 200 minutes on any given night to divvy up among his players, and he has plenty of players worthy of carving a significant chunk out of those minutes.
“It’s been a very competitive situation in practice,” Marlin said. “It’s exciting; we’ve got depth at every position.”
That they do. The Cajuns return eight of the 10 players who averaged double-digit minutes a year ago, and those eight were their most productive players by the end of the season when the Cajuns rode a hot streak into the conference tournament.
That group includes preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year Shawn Long, and up-and-coming point guard Jay Wright. It also includes forward Bryce Washington and swingman Johnathan Stove, both of whom enjoyed solid freshman years. It includes sharpshooters Kasey Shepherd and Hayward Register, who canned more than 300 3-pointers between them last year. It includes Devonta Walker, who averaged 9.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
They’ve only added to that mix with high-flying junior college transfers Jay Hedgeman and Tyrone Wooten.
They’re so deep that Marlin is confident he’s making the right move by committing to redshirt talented freshmen Kadaveon Evans and Jerekius Davis, because he’s not sure they’d get valuable playing time behind the established 10 in front of them.
Again, it’s a good problem to have. The challenge it presents is finding the best way to get all those parts working together and at their most efficient level.
It’s less like a puzzle than it is an engine that can be tweaked to run at a higher level. The only way to find the right tweaks are through trial and error.
“The guys can do different things and play different positions,” Marlin said. “Just try to get in a rhythm. We feel like we’ve got 10-to-12 guys that can play, any of those guys can start on any given night depending on matchups.
“It’s all about our team and how we respond. If we do like good teams do and share the wealth and different people drive the bus on different nights for us, we have a chance to cut down the nets in March.”
Getting back to the NCAA tournament is an established goal for this team, and it’s what’s expected of it by those who dabble in attempting to gaze at the crystal ball. Both the Sun Belt coaches and publications like Sports Illustrated and ESPN tabbed the Cajuns as the favorites to earn the SBC’s ticket to the Big Dance.
But the journey to that crucial time in March is a challenging one for this year’s Cajuns.
They have early season trips set up to Miami, Alabama, UCLA and Louisiana Tech. In fact, they’re on the road more often than not through the first half of the season, as five of their first six conference games will be played in opposing gyms.
There’s a chance that what could be a very good season for the Cajuns basketball team gets off to a rocky start, which makes games like Friday’s season opener against Louisiana College more important than they otherwise might be.
“There’s not a team on our schedule that we can’t beat, but with that being said there’s not a team on our schedule that can’t beat us either,” Marlin said. “We have to prepare and know this (Louisiana College) is an in-state game so they’ll be ready to go.
“We need to get off to a good start before we travel.”