The Sun Belt Conference Tournament second round will be played in New Orleans on Thursday.  Here is my preview of #5 Louisiana and #6 Coastal Carolina.  Louisiana will play the South Alabama/Arkansas State winner at 5:00 pm.  Coastal will take on the ULM/Appalachian State winner at 7:30.

#5 LOUISIANA (19-12, 10-8)  Coach:  Bob Marlin (9th season)

Leading scorers:  JaKeenan Gant 20.4, Marcus Stroman 11.3

Leading rebounders:  Gant 8.6, Justin Miller 7.6

Leading assists:  Stroman 6.5

vs. South Alabama W 88-84 (H), vs. Arkansas State L 83-94 (H), W 90-87 OT (A)

STRENGTHS:  JaKeenan Gant is probably the league's most versatile player.  In SBC games he's third in scoring, second in FG Pct., First in rebounding and blocked shots.  He's also an 80% free throw shooter and hit 40% of his three point attempts in league play.  He's the two time defensive player of the year.  Marcus Stroman is the first Cajun to notch 200 assists in each of his two seasons.  He's the best distributor in the league.  P. J. Hardy and Cedric Russell have picked up the scoring since the injury to Malik Marquetti.  And Justin Miller can rebound and is a very good post passer.  Cajuns shoot right at 75% from the free throw line.

WEAKNESSES:  This team is undersized.  Gant, Miller and Jerekius Davis are the only Cajuns 6-6 or bigger and that causes problems against big teams.  The three guards are all 6-3 or under, which can cause matchup problems against bigger wing players.  Their shooters have been hot and cold and when they aren't shooting a good percentage, this team struggles to win.  They've improved defensively down the stretch, but this is far from being Bob Marlin's best defensive team.

OUTLOOK:  The loss of Malik Marquetti in the final non conference game has caused this team to reinvent itself.  Marquetti was the team's best three point threat, best defender and best free throw shooter.  They miss him most on defense.  Miller can be dominant, as he was Saturday against Arkansas State, but there have been nights where he doesn't make much of a dent in the stat sheet.  He might be the key for the Cajuns.  But, in the end, it all comes down to perimeter shooting.  When the Cajuns make eight or more, they can be tough to beat.  It should be noted Stroman missed the second half with a hamstring injury.  His presence is paramount if the Cajuns are going to have a shot.

COASTAL CAROLINA (15-15, 9-9)  Coach:  Cliff Ellis (12th season)

Leading scorers:  Zac Cuthbertson 18.5, DeVante Jones 13.5

Leading rebounder:  Cuthbertson 8.1

Leading assists:  Ebrima Dibba 4.8, Jones 3.2

vs. ULM (2-0) W 92-81 H, W 97-91 A

vs. Appalachian State  W 89-72 H, L 79-88 A

STRENGTHS:  Zac Cuthbertson has been an outstanding player for Ellis.  He's a Swiss Army Knife that can do it all:  Score, rebound, good passer, good 3 pt shooter, good FT shooter.  Coastal got a lot better when Ebrima Dibba and DeVante Jones got healthy.  Jones can shoot it from the outside, but can also slash to the basket, something lacking earlier.  Dibba is a good distributor and helps this team with rebounding.  They rebound the ball well as a team and get a lot of second shots.  Tyrell Gumbs-Frater can light it up off the bench when he's feeling it.

WEAKNESSES--Their inside guys rebound well, but they don't contribute a lot offensively.  That forces Coastal to make a lot of shots from the perimeter to be successful.  Gumbs-Frater can be hit or miss and if he misses, he can't help this team.  Coastal can get turnover prone at times.  When you get down to it, the Chanticleers don't do anything great as a team.  But they aren't really bad at anything, either.  That makes them, well, a .500 club.

OUTLOOK--Now that the freshmen guards are healthy, Coastal can be dangerous on any given night.  If they're going to be successful in the tournament, they need for the freshmen to play like juniors.  It's imperative for CCU that they shoot it well from the perimeter, or have their inside guys make contributions they haven't made during the regular season.  They're capable of beating ULM or App.  They're also capable of losing to either one.  They've been inconsistent this year, but they're capable of beating anyone in the league on any given night.