Louisiana (9-4) at ULM (3-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 4, 5 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fant-Ewing Coliseum (7,085) -- Monroe, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: ULL 6-0, ULM 2-1. Away Record: ULL 2-4, ULM 1-4. Neutral Record: ULL 1-0, ULM 0-0. Conference Record: ULL 0-0, ULM 0-0. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 48-19.
GAME NOTES: Intrastate rivals engage in a Sun Belt Conference conflict on Saturday evening, as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and ULM Warhawks battle in their league opener at Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
With wins in three of the last four games, Louisiana enters league play on a bit of a roll. The most recent victory was a 90-58 rout of NAIA foe Central Methodist, but the Ragin' Cajuns are 9-4 overall. That includes just a 2-4 mark on the road, and the team will take on Texas-Arlington next.
ULM has been in a free fall since posting a 3-1 start. The Warhawks were stomped by No. 3 Ohio State last time out, falling for the fourth straight time in a 71-31 final to the undefeated Buckeyes. They are now just 3-5 overall, although they do have two wins in three tries at home. Texas- Arlington is also ULM's next opponent, although the Warhawks will face the Mavericks two days prior to Louisiana's encounter.
Neither of these teams had much success in league play last season, with Louisiana finishing 8-12 against the rest of the Sun Belt, and ULM even worse at just 3-17. The Cajuns got two wins against ULM to add to their total, while also increasing their all-time series lead to 48-19.
Not surprisingly, Louisiana had no trouble with Central Methodist. The Ragin' Cajuns connected on 49.3 percent of their shots from the floor and scored 29 points off turnovers. Shawn Long piled up 26 points and 12 rebounds and Elfrid Payton tallied 17 points and seven assists in the winning effort.
Slowing down Louisiana will be a major challenge for the entire conference this season. The Cajuns lead the league in both scoring (83.9 ppg) and assists (14.1 apg), while ranking second in rebounds (38.6 rpg) and field goal percentage (.476). Long (21.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg) and Payton (19.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.6 apg) are the key contributors on the roster, with Long a constant double-double threat, and Payton a solid scorer and distributor as well as a rebounder out of the backcourt. The Ragin' Cajuns are a bit too reliant on the duo, with reserve Kasey Shepherd (8.8 ppg) the next-best option.
While Louisiana had no issues in its last bout, ULM had nothing but trouble against Ohio State. The Warhawks finished with only 10 field goals and shot a miserable 18.5 percent from the field. Jayon James only had seven points as the team's leading scorer.
Even though they aren't likely to be as ineffective offensively in this contest, it is also not a given that the Warhawks will be overly efficient. ULM is netting just 65.6 ppg and shooting at a 42 percent clip. The Warhawks are a decent rebounding team, ranking third in the Sun Belt with 38.3 rpg. Amos Olatayo (14.1 pg, 5.5 rpg) and Tyler Ongwae (12.5 ppg) are the team's top scoring threats, although the two combined for just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting against the Buckeyes. James (9.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.6 apg) is a solid performer across the board.
The Warhawks don't score enough or put forth enough defensive pressure to pull off an upset here, even at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana 75, ULM 65
01/04 10:45:26 ET