UL’s blowout road win over ULM on Saturday was significant in more ways than most realized at the time.
Yes, it helped coach Bob Marlin’s Ragin’ Cajuns feel a little better about last Thursday’s home loss to the last-place Warhawks.
Less obvious, however, it made UL’s conference record 8-6. That means the Cajuns have gotten their required 14 leagues games in to qualify them for whatever seed their record in two weeks earns them.
In this COVID-19 season, a quick look at the standings may not be what it appears. The league passed a rule that teams must play 75 percent of their conference games to lock in their seed for the conference tournament.
Every indication is the unique Sun Belt Conference weekend scheduling because of the coronavirus is a one-year experiment.
If not, that team’s seed is automatically last place in that division, depending on how many teams fail to qualify.
On the men’s side, that means 14 games. For the women, that’s 13 games.
Currently, coach Garry Brodhead’s Cajuns enjoy the best league record in the Sun Belt at 11-1.
So his biggest concern right now is to get one more game played to get to 13, or that 11-game winning streak may not really matter when it comes to seeding for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on March 5-8 in Pensacola, Florida.
“The only thing I’m nervous about is the situation with the virus,” Brodhead said. “The conference came out and said you had to play 75 percent of your conference games.
“I’m more nervous about that part. I’ve never coached in a situation like this and they’ve never played in it.
I think they’ve really, really done a great job of isolating themselves and we’ve been lucky so far. My fingers are still crossed.”
So when UL returned home after finishing off a weekend sweep of ULM, Brodhead’s biggest message to his team wasn’t about improving its post defense or getting more consistent offensively.
“My meetings when we got back from Monroe are about taking care of (virus issues) – making sure we mask up, making sure we isolate ourselves,” Brodhead said. “If we’re in a car with somebody – and try not to travel with somebody. In your room, everybody’s got private rooms, so stay in your room.
“We’ve got to get through this week to get that 13th game. We can be anywhere from first to third, which is a lot better than going all the way to last (place).”
UL is scheduled to play at UTA at 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.
Currently on the women’s West side, Little Rock, Arkansas State and ULM have all played 12.
It’s likely a question asked more than a few times in Cajun Country since UL’s 72-66 home loss to ULM on Thursday night in the Cajundome.
In the East, Troy and Georgia Southern have played 12, Coastal Carolina is 0-10 and second-place Georgia State is also three games short of qualifying.
On the men’s West side, Arkansas State is 7-5, but Tuesday’s game against Texas State was canceled, as was the Georgia State vs Troy makeup game.
First-place Texas State is 9-3 and must get two more games in to qualify.
“Mathematically I guess we could still get first, but second is definitely an option for us too,” Marlin said.
On the men’s East side, Georgia State has only played seven games, so it’ll get a bottom side, which could be bad news for others as well.
“So they were picked second in the league and we were picked third,” Marlin said of UL’s bitter rival Georgia State. “If we wind up third, we could play them in an opening-round game.”
Elsewhere on the East, South Alabama (8-5) is one short, while second-place Appalachian State (6-4) and third-place Coastal Carolina (6-5) are multiple games away from meeting the 14-game standard.
With these examples arising, Marlin regrets the league’s decision to open conference play on New Year’s Day, leaving less time for makeup games to be played before everyone travels to Pensacola in early March.
Perhaps it’s fitting it came in the program’s history 50th season.
The benefit of finishing early instead of the Selection Sunday doesn’t seem as important this year.
“I think that helps us, but this year the way things are falling, our tournament’s going on and most people are still playing their regular season,” Marlin said.
“In hindsight, we should have moved up. We should have started conference games back before the first of the year. That way we could have had makeup opportunities.”