After representing the Sun Belt Conference last year in the NCAA Tournament and being eliminated by North Carolina State, the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette (5-5) started a bit weakly but have improved recently. On Dec. 15 they extended N.C. State to the utmost, in Raleigh, before losing 78-72. Since then they have defeated Georgia State (67-50) and McNeese State on the road (71-70). They were embarassed in a 96-51 loss at Kansas on Dec. 11, and resolved to do better for the rest of the season. In earlier games, they defeated Louisiana Tech (84-63), Rice (75-61), and St. Mary's-Texas (79-63), all at home; and lost on the road to LSU (83-69), Georgia State (85-78), and Charlotte (84-68).
Louisiana-Lafayette is coached by Robert Lee, who took over in August under difficult circumstances. He had been an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette under two head coaches, most recently Jessie Evans, who moved on to San Francisco. Glynn Cyprien, who was hired to replace Evans, was found not to have the Bachelor's Degree he claimed on his resume, and was dismissed; Lee was chosen to replace him. The Ragin' Cajuns have good players, but it would be quite an achievement for Lee to guide them to a good season after the program's recent turmoil.
This will be only the second meeting between Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette. Indeed, the Cajuns were known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana Bulldogs when the Commodores defeated them in Nashville, Dec. 5, 1966, by a score of 101-68.
Louisiana-Lafayette's leading scorer is 6-6 junior Tiras Wade, who is no stranger to Vanderbilt and Commodore fans. As a freshman and sophomore at East Tennessee he scored 17 and 14 points for the Buccaneers in meetings with Vanderbilt. This year he is averaging 19.7 ppg, making 38% of his threes, and pulling down 6.6 rebounds, while playing nearly 36 minutes per game. He is a wing forward.
The second-leading scorer, Orien Greene, has also played against Vanderbilt, having spent two years at Florida before transferring. He is a 6-4 senior who is averaging 13.1 ppg, and leads the team in assists (about four per game). He missed the last three games with an injury, so it remains to be seen if he will be back in the lineup. In some respects the Cajuns might be better off without him and his five turnovers per game at the point.
Yet another transfer, 6-5 junior Dwayne Mitchell, will start. He played sparingly at Auburn as a freshman, and is presently averaging 8.8 ppg and 4.1 rebounds. Another big guard who will see a lot of action is 6-6 sophomore Ross Mouton, a good outside shooter (5.7 ppg and hitting 34.4% of his threes).
6-0 junior Anthony Rhodman, a JUCO from Louisburg College, and two freshmen, 6-1 freshman Derek Gray and 6-2 Cletis Fobbs, have all been seeing action, especially since Greene's injury. However, none of them have made much of an impact so far.
6-6 senior Brian Hamilton (13.0 ppg) is the team's leading rebounder (7.7 per game). He is the team's best defender, a tough-minded and gritty sort of player who does all of the little (and some of the big) things.
6-11 senior Chris Cameron is a 270-pound Australian who plays down low and scores 7.5 ppg. Like so many big men from abroad, he is a good outside shooter (55.6%), although his opportunities to shoot the three have been limited. However, he hit one nearly at the final buzzer to win the McNeese State game. He averages only 3.7 rebounds.
6-5 junior Spenser Ford, another junior college transfer, is scoring 4.9 ppg and snaring 3.6 rebounds. He plays about 18 minutes per game and will spell Hamilton and Cameron. Bulky freshman Adam James (6-9, 265) also helps out underneath, although his playing time has been limited.
Expect Wade, Mitchell, Greene, Hamilton, and Cameron to start, with Mouton taking Greene's place if he can't play. Especially without Greene, Wade will dominate the ball on the offense, as he wanted to do at East Tennessee, slashing to the basket and shooting it from outside. He looks like a good candidate for the attentions of Vanderbilt's defensive stopper, Jason Holwerda. Greene also shoots the three often and goes for the basket, and his size (and that of Mouton and Mitchell) might make for a difficult matchup for Mario Moore. On the other hand, whoever guards Moore will likely have his hands more than full.
The chief danger for the Commodores in this game is that they could be overlooking ULL for the first conference game on Wednesday vs. Alabama. If they keep their minds on the business at hand, they should defeat the Ragin' Cajuns by 10-20 points.