North Texas (16-13) vs. Louisiana (16-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, March 4, 7:15 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convention Center Court (6,000) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: UNT 10-4, Louisiana 10-4. Away Record: UNT 5-8, Louisiana 5-9. Neutral Record: UNT 1-1, Louisiana 1-1. Conference Record: UNT 9-7, Louisiana 10-6. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 19-15.
GAME NOTES: The fourth-seeded Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and the fifth-seeded North Texas Mean Green are set to square off in the quarterfinal round of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
Though North Texas stumbled at the end of the regular season by losing two of its final three games, it still earned a first-round bye in the tournament by putting together a 16-13 overall record and a 9-7 mark in conference. The Mean Green have been impressive in this tournament recently, going 13-3 with three trips to the finals in the last five years, including a championship in 2010.
Louisiana also earned a bye into the quarterfinals by having a decent campaign as well, going 16-14 with a 10-6 record in the Sun Belt, though it is coming off a disappointing loss to last-place ULM in the regular-season finale. The Cajuns have not had any success in this event the last several years, as they are hoping to snap a six-give losing streak. The team's last tournament win came in March of 2006 when it defeated Troy in double-overtime, 62-59.
Louisiana is clinging to a 19-15 advantage in the all-time series with North Texas, and the Cajuns swept the season series this year but only by a total margin of six points.
North Texas boasts one of the Sun Belt's most productive offenses and the league's top scorer. The Mean Green net an impressive 71.8 ppg and are led by freshman sensation Tony Mitchell. Mitchell put together a historic year, tallying 15.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 2.9 bpg, while shooting 58.1 percent from the field. The forward was named the conference's Freshman of the Year and to the All-Sun Belt First Team, was a Lou Henson Award finalist for the nation's top mid-major player, and was just the second player to ever win three straight SBC Player of the Week awards. Alzee Williams has been a solid outside complement to Mitchell this season, scoring 10.1 ppg, but he has been even better of late, averaging 16.6 points over the last seven games. North Texas has picked up its defensive intensity lately as well, holding each of its last four opponents to under 39 percent field goal efficiency.
While Louisiana's offensive attack may not be as potent as its counterpart today, it was still one of the better scoring teams in the conference, posting 68.8 ppg. The Cajuns are a well-rounded group, posting a positive rebounding margin (+3.2) and they also held opponents to just 39.8 percent shooting in conference play, including a lowly 30.3 percent effort from three-point range. Louisiana has just one player averaging in double figures on the year, as Josh Brown turns in 10.3 ppg to go with his team-high 6.5 rpg. The Cajuns rely on steady contributions from a number of different players, as seven guys average at least 6.3 ppg and four grab at least 5.0 rpg. They will be short-handed for the tournament however, as both Raymone Andrews (6.3 ppg, 2.2 apg) and J.J. Thomas (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) have been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
Though Louisiana took both meetings during the regular season, North Texas played both rather close to the vest, meaning this one could go either way. But with the Cajuns missing two important pieces of their rotation-based offense, Mitchell and the Mean Green will be able to continue their recent success in the tournament and advance to the semifinals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 75, Louisiana 68
03/04 10:37:31 ET