Scouting Report: The 5 Keys to Victory for Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns Against Tennessee
As the University of Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns basketball team prepares to take to the floor in Orlando, there is every possibility that this could be one of the upset stories that everyone loves during March Madness.
The NCAA Tournament is one of the most highly-anticipated parts of any sports season in the country, in large part because once you make it there, the playing field is a lot more level. We've seen No. 16 seeds make a run and we've seen No. 1 seeds tumble. Unless you're a fan of one of those top-seeded teams, you like the Cinderella story.
And there's every reason to think the Cajuns have that potential. They've had a pretty successful season, capped off, of course, with a conference championship. Now, as they head to the Big Dance, there are a few things that definitely make a successful opening round possible for the Cajuns.
1. Tennessee's Injury Problems
A top guard for the Volunteers, Zakai Zeigler, is our with a torn ACL. His season, which featured an average of double-digit scoring, is over. But it's not just him. It's several key players for the Vols.
Senior guard Josiah-Jordan James has been dealing with a sore ankle and knee. Freshman forward Julian Phillips has a hip flexor problem that's slowed him down. Senior guard Tyreke Key also has a sore ankle. Senior guard Santiago Vescovi's left shoulder issue has affected his shooting, especially after bumps with other players.
The Cajuns, on the other hand, are pretty healthy. They can also go pretty deep on the bench if need be. That alone is a big factor here.
2. Keep Jordan Brown Free
The standout junior, Jordan Brown, has been a phenomenal leader on the floor. He's averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game this year. The Cajuns' biggest struggle in the Sun Belt Conference championship game was South Alabama slowing the Cajuns' offense down by doubling up on Brown, taking away his ability to move the floor as much as he'd like.
Luckily, he's a solid athlete, and breaking into the paint is still a strength he can take advantage of. Tennessee will have seen that film, and Brown could very well end up a target if the Vols struggle. But Tennessee's defense has been good this year, and they'll be a formidable test for the Cajuns. If Brown can stay free and move the ball, penetrate, and score, that Cinderella story may just happen.
3. The Cajuns Have Momentum
Going 3-for-3 in the conference tournament is a big, big boost for the Cajuns, who are riding high but are rarely undisciplined under Coach Bob Marlin.
Tennessee, meanwhile, was upset in the quarterfinals of the SEC conference tournament. In fact, they're 5-7 since the beginning of February. Sure, that can definitely make them more motivated, but that kind of a slump for a team otherwise seeded No. 4 in their division can also make them sloppy.
The Cajuns have their work cut out for them, but their level of discipline is a very big help to their cause.
4. Win the Rebound Game
The Cajuns are behind Tennessee in a couple of key statistics. One of the big ones (and often overlooked in a sport that loves flashy scoring) is rebounding. The Cajuns are averaging 36.8 rebounds per game. The Volunteers are averaging 38.7 rebounds per game. That's something the Cajuns will have to really fight for, considering Tennessee is shooting worse from the field than the Cajuns are.
The Tennessee offense puts up a lot of shots, but doesn't score well. That's where the Cajuns can take advantage and possibly even win in transition.
5. Make Every Offensive Possession Count
While the Tennessee offense is not high-octane, their defense is their bread and butter. The Cajuns have to be able to work the gaps and penetrate into the paint to try to collapse that defense if they want to take the lead. Basketball is a game of runs - one minute, you're on a 12-2 point run, the next your opponent is.
The Cajuns have the weapons, and they have the energy. But, as mentioned earlier, they need the discipline to break the Vols' defense down. If they can do that, it's on to the second round.
It's not going to be easy, but even the oddsmakers are saying there's a chance. This isn't the long-shot chance that many may think it is just given the seeding. The Louisiana Ragin Cajuns will have to be on top of their game in every regard if they want to advance.