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Sun Belt Semifinal Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Sun Belt Conference Semifinals Preview

Preview by Zach Van Hart

No. 1 Louisiana Lafayette verses No. 5 Middle Tennessee State
The Blue Raiders will have to hurry up and catch their breath after Sunday’s upset over Western Kentucky as they prepare for top seed Louisiana Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns have the benefit of an extra day’s rest after easily disposing of No. 8 seed South Alabama Saturday, 84-58. These teams only met once during the regular season, as Middle Tennessee State got the best of Louisiana Lafayette, 74-64, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. However, the circumstances are much different this time and all of the differences are in favor of the Cajuns. One, they are on a neutral floor. Two, Mike Dean as mentioned earlier is out with a broken hand. Three, the Cajuns have the look of a team determined on one goal – advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

In light of Dean’s absence, Michael Cuffee, Bryan Smithson and Marcus Robinson all stepped up in Sunday’s win against Western Kentucky. Cuffee scored a season-high 22 points, Smithson’s sixteen points was his highest total in two months and Robinson’s thirteen points was his second highest total of the season. The Raiders will need similar performances Monday, but even more so they will need a monster game from Tommy Gunn. The team’s second leading scorer on the season, he averaged 16.0 points per game, but had six games with 20-plus points. The Cajuns played an all-out team effort Saturday, with six players scoring in double figures and no player breaking the seventeen-point barrier. Their defense forced the Jags to shoot less than 40 percent. Monday expect Lafayette to keep it going and advance to the tournament finals.

No. 2 Arkansas-Little Rock versus No. 3 New Orleans
This could very easily be an Arkansas State vs. North Texas matchup, as both teams advanced with overtime wins. Instead, two of the top three teams in the Sun Belt will duke it out with a trip to the conference finals on the line. The Trojans will have an extra day of rest after playing Saturday night, while the Privateers will have to recover from a double overtime affair Sunday. It became evident during its win against North Texas that freshman Bo McCalebb has become the go-to guy for New Orleans. His 31-point performance was one of the best tournament performances ever by a freshman, but the Privateers may need a similar game to defeat Arkansas-Little Rock.

Their first meeting of the year was a high-scoring affair as the Privateers won in New Orleans, 100-95. Expect another up-and-down game, although the score will probably not reach past the 80s. Saturday’s win was in atypical fashion, as Brandon Freeman took on a heavy scoring load, matching McCalebb’s number of 31 points. Usually the Trojans are very balanced on offense; look for this balance to return. This balance will also be the key for Arkansas-Little Rock. While it should be able to get points from many different people, New Orleans will likely try to rally around McCalebb. But the Trojans are excellent at stopping a high scorer, just ask Arkansas State’s Dewarick Spencer. Look for the favorite Trojans to advance to the finals.

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