The UL-Lafayette men’s basketball team won’t need a lot of motivation to get ready for its first-round game in the National Invitation Tournament.
The Ragin’ Cajuns already have plenty after the NIT selection committee paired them with LSU and put them on the road to Baton Rouge for a Wednesday night matchup in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After learning of his team’s assignment when the pairings were revealed Sunday night, UL-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin expressed dismay at having to play at LSU — mainly because the Ragin’ Cajuns have a higher RPI and 10 more victories than the Tigers.
Marlin reiterated that Monday in a news conference in Lafayette, noting athletic director Bryan Maggard reached out to Sun Belt Conference officials to determine how the NIT committee came to its conclusion.
LSU, which is 17-14 and tied for ninth place in the Southeastern Conference, is seeded third in its eight-team NIT quadrant. UL-Lafayette, the Sun Belt’s regular-season champion with a 27-6 record, is the No. 6 seed.
UL-Lafayette appeared to be headed to the NCAA tournament just a couple of weeks ago.
But that was before the Cajuns closed the regular season with a loss to Sun Belt cellar-dweller Arkansas-Little Rock, then were upended Saturday by UT Arlington in the semifinals of the league tournament.
Still, Marlin believed his team deserved to host an NIT game.
“We would like to play this game at home,” he said. “Our athletic director reached out to the commissioner and to a couple others to get a read on the seeding and how that happened.
“Our RPI is much better, our record is much better, we feel like our gym’s better, there are a lot of things that say we should be a higher seed than we were. We’ve got the second-best record in the entire tournament out of 32 teams, but it is what it is.”
LSU had a final NCAA RPI of 94, while UL-Lafayette was 63rd.
The Tigers, however, recorded seven wins over top-50 RPI teams; the Cajuns had none. Will Wade’s team was 7-7 against 11 teams in the 68-team NCAA tournament field; Marlin’s team was 0-2 against NCAA participants.
“We haven’t gotten an answer yet,” Marlin said. “There’s a lot of the old-school guys on that committee that just think LSU’s better than we are. They haven’t seen our facilities or looked at the finer print about our team.
“But we’re excited to play a short trip, and I think LSU will be excited to play,” he said. “Sometimes, a team that tied for ninth in their league isn’t interested in playing. But they haven’t been very good for a couple of years, so the NIT is a big step for them.”
Marlin also said he has offered to play LSU in the past and inquired about meeting in an NCAA-allowed exhibition game in Baton Rouge last fall to aid Hurricane Harvey victims but never received a response.
“I called Will when he got the job; I didn’t ask him right then about playing, but I have since then and they’re not interested,” he said. “They probably didn’t want to play this game, to be honest.”
Wade was unavailable for comment late Monday afternoon after Marlin's comments.
At his regular media availability earlier in the day, Wade said he and his staff are excited about being in the NIT just one year after LSU dropped 19 of its final 21 games and finished 10-21 under coach Johnny Jones,.
“I know myself and our coaching staff are excited, and I expect our players to be excited,” Wade said. “They were excited when we talked about it before.”
He noted his team didn’t have a watch party for the NIT selection show.
“We don’t want to get real used to getting excited about the NIT,” he said. “It’s a great tournament, though, and we’re happy to be in it. We’re thrilled to be in it this year. It’s great, but in the future, we won’t get thrilled about this.”
Wade, whose team was eliminated by Mississippi State in the second round of the SEC tournament, said he didn’t know whether UL-Lafayette would be more motivated because the Cajuns weren’t awarded a home game.
“I hope they won’t be … I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure they will be highly motivated, and we’ll be motivated as well. It’s a great opportunity for us to keep playing, and keep playing in a competitive and highly charged game.”
Dan McDonald contributed to this report.