The Sun Belt Conference basketball schedules are different this year. Much of the challenge is effectively dealing with long stretches on the road.
On the men’s side, coach Bob Marlin’s Ragin’ Cajuns still have a big chore ahead of them.
It’s fair to say the Cajuns passed the first part of this most recent test with a split last week to settle at 9-8 overall and 2-3 in Sun Belt play.
After all, that one loss was to Troy – the only undefeated in the league and in competitive fashion 79-73 – before rebounding against an Arkansas State club riding a three-game home winning streak in league play.
Now UL must go to Texas State (7-10, 1-4) on Wednesday before traveling to South Alabama (9-8, 2-3) on Saturday. The Jags just knocked off Marshall on the road for the Herd’s first conference loss.
That two-game swing will finish off 9-of-12 stretch on the road. When it’s over, the Cajuns could have played six home games and 13 on the road.
“It’s a crazy schedule,” UL coach Bob Marlin said.
Making it even more of a challenge is the Cajuns aren’t healthy.
Blake Butler didn’t make the trip to Arkansas and Marlin said he won’t likely be available for this week’s games either with an illness, and Brandon Hardy is still in concussion protocol and remains questionable to play in either game this week.
The Cajuns only had eight available players in Jonesboro on Saturday.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit scary,” Marlin said. “You look down the bench and you’ve got three guys that you know you can put in the game. At least they’re different positions. I thought we did a real nice job of getting rest for guys at media timeouts. We logged some heavy minutes, but I thought our effort was fantastic. Our defense was good. We just have to use the eight we’ve got right now the best we can.”
A big part of solving that travel issue is the team being able to charter to Troy and Jonesboro – especially with the semester getting started last week – and again to Texas State on Wednesday.
“With our health, it was good that we were able to get that done,” Marlin said.
So if the Cajuns can at least get a split again this week on the road, the reward is a five-game league homestand over the next three weeks.
And actually there will be a sixth game in that stretch with the Sun Belt-MAC Challenge. For the record, both the UL men and women will learn of their MAC opponents next Monday.
Unfortunately for the men, that will be followed by another four-game road trip. Yes, UL is the only lucky team in America with two four-game league road trips this season.
As for UL’s women, coach Garry Brodhead’s team just finished off a 2-2 four-game road trip to stay afloat in the women’s Sun Belt race at 6-8 overall and 2-3 in league play.
The question with UL’s women, though, is, are Brodhead’s Cajuns truly ready to take advantage of a homestand?
While the men play very well at home, UL’s women’s team does not with four home losses already this season.
Even worse, the schedule doesn’t help matters with Troy coming to the Cajundome on Saturday – yes the same Troy team that just beat the Cajuns by 46 points in Alabama.
So while Brodhead certainly appreciates not having to do so much travel, the jury is out on how much playing at home will help UL’s conference record.
“I don’t know, man,” Brodhead said. “The thing about it is that we haven’t been in the Dome with Mardi Gras and all the other things. I can’t remember the last time we practiced in the Dome. Today, we’re practicing in Moncla. It’s almost like you’re on the road when you don’t get to practice in the Dome.
“But it’s good to sleep in your own bed for sure. That bus ride, especially coming back from Arkansas, was long.”