There’s a lot of quality college basketball games coming up this weekend, but there’s one in Ruston, La. that you should play close attention to.
Louisiana Tech welcomes Louisiana-Lafayette this Saturday in a matchup between the state’s two best mid-major programs. The game features two squads that have NBA-caliber talent on their rosters and are capable of winning their respective conferences this season.
Tech (7-1) enters the matchup in the midst of a hot start that includes wins over the Big Ten’s Ohio State and fellow mid-major power UT-Arlington. The Bulldogs have exceeded expectations so far under first-year head coach Eric Konkol, who had the difficult task of replacing half of the team’s scoring production and minutes from last year.
Meanwhile, ULL (3-3) has been slow out of the gate after being picked to win the Sun Belt Conference this season. The Ragin’ Cajuns squandered early season opportunities to pick up wins against power-conference schools Miami and Alabama, as well as in-state conference rival Louisiana-Monroe. Even so, ULL still features on the best big men in the country in future NBA draft pick Shawn Long, as well as a host of other talented, experienced players that make the Ragin’ Cajuns a dangerous team.
This is a big game for both teams for multiple reasons. Besides state bragging rights, the winner will also get what will likely be considered a quality win come March. With conference play about to begin and few remaining nonconference games on the schedule, both teams need this game to help pad their resumes.
But which team needs it more?
Tech already has a couple of quality wins, and has the chance for a couple more against beatable opponents — at Ole Miss and at FGCU. At 7-1, the Bulldogs have put themselves in a good position as they near C-USA league play.
On the other hand, ULL has only beat bad teams, and has fewer chances to earn more quality nonconference wins. The Ragin’ Cajuns do play at UCLA on Dec. 15, but that game all of a sudden looks a lot tougher now that then-no. 1 Kentucky fell at Pauley Pavillion last week.
ULL also plays in a weaker conference, so there are fewer chances to boost its resume in league play. With conference juggernaut Georgia State facing a rebuilding year, this is ULL’s best chance at winning the conference and making a March Madness run — so in those regards, it appears this game is more important for ULL.
If the Ragin’ Cajuns are going to escape Ruston with a win, they must figure out how to contain the Bulldogs’ dynamic inside-out duo of Alex Hamilton and Erik McCree. Hamilton and McCree have combined to average 31.6 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 6.8 apg, and 3.4 spg so far this season, making them one of the best all-around statistical duos in the country.
ULL, of course, has its own star in Long, who put off going to the NBA for a year to come back for his senior season. Regarded as one of the best centers in college basketball, the senior forward is averaging 19.8 ppg, 11.2 rpg and 2.0 bpg this season, while also shooting an efficient 58 percent from the field.
Who will win Saturday? Tech will be tough to beat at home, but this is a must-win game for ULL if it wants to get something higher than a 13 or 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs are playing well and want to keep their momentum going, so it will be up to ULL to stop them. The question is, can it? The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t been able to pick up a win against any quality teams so far this season, but now is their chance to change that.