With a non-conference schedule that included only four home games, the Arkansas State Red Wolves begin Sun Belt Conference play with a pair of home games.
On Saturday, the Red Wolves (9-4) play host to UL-Lafayette (10-3) and on Monday they have UL-Monroe (6-7) at home.
“We are thrilled to be in conference play and part of it is to be home,’’ said coach Grant McCasland. “It is a great opportunity for us to get started at home; Lafayette is a tremendous team. They play hard, they play fast. They have a team that is ranked in several areas nationally
It is a great game and our guys are excited about playing in the Convo.”
The Red Wolves started 7-1 and were 9-2 before concluding a five-game road trip with loses at Alabama (67-52) and Minnesota (82-75).
“What you hope to do is learn on film through wins and not through losses,” the coach said. “Anytime you do have a loss you get to really evaluate, maybe in a more intense way so for us these last two games have exposed the fact that around the rim we need to do a better job defensively around the rim and inside the arc. We did a decent job on the perimeter. Part of that is you give up transition baskets because of turnovers.”
The two losses were the end of a five-game road trip that left the Red Wolves with just one home game in December. A-State is 4-0 at home with victories over Central Baptist, SIU-Edwardsville, Lehigh and Cleveland State.
“The fun part when we left the Convo was we had momentum and the crowd was excited about what we were doing,’’ he said.
Without a game in 8 days, McCasland said the Red Wolves have been strategic in their practice time.
“We have to get better defensively,’’ he said. “That is our number 1 priority, to continue to get better defensive thene to take care of the basketball. I think we have done a good job of addressing those areas this week.
“Where we are best, we can play a lot of different ways. Where we are best is when we are doing a good job of getting stops. I don’t mind playing fast as long as we are not giving up baskets then running down to the other end and shooting quick.
“The quicker we shoot and the longer we have to stay on defense is not a good formula for us. If we can get guys to shoot it quicker then go get easy baskets in transition that is they way we prefer to play. The longer you get in the possession the higher chance of a turnover and you shoot a higher percentage. That is what we have been able to do. Now we have to eliminate the turnover and still get a high percentage shot.”
ULL is tied with UTA with the best preseason record among Sun Belt teams and bring a balanced scoring attack to Jonesboro, where they have won two of their last three trips. Frank Bartley (16.6 points per game.), Jay Wright (14.9), Bryce Washington(14.7) and Justin Miller (10.5) lead ULL in the scoring and the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Washington leads the Sun Belt Conference in rebounds (11.8).
The Ragin' Cajuns lead the conference in scoring (86.7), scoring margin (14.8), field goal percentage (.482), rebound margin (8.4) and turnover margin (4.7).
ULL and A-State have two of the league’s best records along with league-favorite UTA (10-3) and second-pick UALR (9-4). Overall the league has been impressive in non-conference play with all but 3 teams posting winning records and two of those just one game under .500.
“Seeing and knowing a lot of the coaches in this league personally and being friends, I have a ton of respect for them,’’ said McCasland. “So it is not like it is a shock in it. You find the depth of this league is tremendous I mean there are some top end teams that have had some great road wins but all the games I have watched here is nobody like you are going to get two wins here.
Everybody is playing at a higher level and that is showing up in the RPI numbers across the country and we are in the top half. There is some depth to in and not just the high end teams that are great.”
After the home games the Red Wolves make the Carolina swing next weekend and visit UALR on Jan. 14.