North Texas (12-19) vs. Louisiana (12-19)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convention Center Court (8,000) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: UNT 8-7, Louisiana 10-5. Away Record: UNT 2-11, Louisiana 2-14. Neutral Record: UNT 2-1, Louisiana 0-0. Conference Record: UNT 7-13, Louisiana 8-12. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 21-16.
GAME NOTES: The ninth-seeded North Texas Mean Green and the eighth-seeded Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns square off at Convention Center Court in Hot Springs, Arkansas as part of the first round of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The winner will have the unenviable task of taking on top-seeded Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Considering North Texas has advanced to the SBC Tournament championship game in three straight years, its 2012-13 campaign has been a huge disappointment, as it finished the regular season 12-19 overall and 7-13 in league action. The good news for the Mean Green is that they are carrying a bit of momentum into this tourney, having won three of their last four, including their finale at home against Arkansas State (74-50).
Louisiana was also unimpressive this season, matching North Texas' 12-19 record, but it finished a game ahead of the Mean Green in the SBC standings at 8-12. The Cajuns too are somewhat high after winning their regular-season finale at ULM last Saturday, 71-63.
Louisiana swept North Texas in the season series to extend its lead all-time over the Mean Green to 21-16.
The Mean Green thoroughly dominated their last regular season game by shooting 48.1 percent from the field, while holding Arkansas State to just 25 percent. Pacing four players in double figures was Alzee Williams with 19 points, doing so on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 9-of-11 from the foul line. Jordan Williams netted 16 points, Roger Franklin had 12 and Tony Mitchell finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the triumph. North Texas has become accustomed to strong efforts from those four players as each averages double-digits in scoring, but the team still ranks in the lower-half of the Sun Belt with 66.5 ppg. Jordan Williams leads the way with 14.0 ppg, while Tony Mitchell earned Second Team All-SBC honors after posting 13.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg and a league-best 2.7 bpg. Franklin brings 11.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg and more than a steal per contest to the table, while Alzee Williams chips in 11.1 ppg.
The Cajuns went just 2-14 on the road this season, but they showed up at last- place ULM the last time out, shooting 42.6 percent from the field to hold on for the eight-point win. Shawn Long was a beast in the low post, logging 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, Alan-Micahel Thompson and Bryant Mbamalu each tallied 13 points, and Elfrid Payton stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Like the Mean Green, Louisiana has no shortage of talent. Payton contributes all over the court with 15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and league-bests 5.4 apg and 2.5 spg, and he was granted First Team All-Confernece honors earlier this week. Long ranks among the league leaders with 15.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 2.0 bpg, and he was deemed the league's Freshman of the Year. Mbamalu is a strong scorer in his own right, netting 13.7 ppg on 46 percent field goal shooting to round out the best scoring trio in the Sun Belt. While Louisiana rarely has an issue putting points on the board (70.9 ppg), it has struggled this season thanks to the league's worst scoring defense (73.5 ppg).
These teams are similar in the fact that, while they have underachieved, both have the talent to make a run in this tournament if they got hot. Given the Mean Green's strong play of late and the higher likelihood of them playing decent defense, they get the nod.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 73, Louisiana 70
03/08 10:34:50 ET