North Texas (8-14) at Louisiana (7-15)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 31, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cajundome (11,550) -- Lafayette, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: UNT 5-6, Louisiana 6-4. Away Record: UNT 1-7, Louisiana 1-11. Neutral Record: UNT 2-1, Louisiana 0-0. Conference Record: UNT 3-8, Louisiana 3-8. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 20-16.
GAME NOTES: Two of the Sun Belt Conference's most disappointing teams will square off in Lafayette on Thursday night, as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns play host to the North Texas Mean Green.
North Texas is fresh off a two-game homestand that left it with a pair of losses to Middle Tennessee (72-64) and Arkansas-Little Rock (62-57). The Mean Green's struggles have been prolonged throughout the season, as it sits with just an 8-14 record and a 3-8 mark in the Sun Belt, and they've won just one of eight games on the road.
Louisiana (7-15, 3-8 Sun Belt) is one of the few teams in the league which has been worse than North Texas. The Cajuns are in the midst of their worst slide of the campaign, dropping three in a row and six of the past seven, including an 80-75 defeat at home to FIU last Thursday.
These two teams met earlier this season, with Louisiana winning in an 80-76 final on Dec. 1, 2012. That victory gave the Cajuns a 20-16 lead in the all- time series.
North Texas hung tight with UALR last weekend, never trailing by double- digits, but it ultimately fell short by shooting just 34.6 percent from the field, including 4-of-14 from 3-point range. Jordan Williams was stellar despite in defeat, scoring 22 points to notch his second straight game with 20 or more points. Roger Franklin tallied a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Tony Mitchell had 13 points and three blocks. Mitchell has been clearly been the Mean Green's best player this season, posting 14.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 2.7 bpg, but the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year has been underwhelming of late, averaging just 11.8 points and 5.5 boards in the last four contests. Jordan Williams' hot streak has allowed him to improve to 12.2 ppg, although he still shoots under 40 percent from the field. Franklin (10.8 ppg) and Alzee Williams (10.1 ppg) are also productive scorers, but UNT doesn't boast much depth behind its top four, as it ranks seventh in the conference in scoring offense (66.0 ppg), and 10th in field goal percentage (.405).
Trailing FIU for much of last Saturday's game, Louisiana was able to pull even at 72-72 with less than two minutes to play on a Shawn Long layup, but the Panthers responded with a 6-0 run to put the Cajuns away. It was a solid shooting night for Louisiana, which made 46.6 percent of its field goal attempts including 12 3-pointers, but it was plagued by 17 turnovers. Elfrid Payton stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals and two blocks, while Alan Michael Thompson wasn't bashful with his long-range launches (6-of-16), resulting in a career-high 22 points. It was another day at the office for Long, who tallied 21 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, as he ranks in the top-five in the league in each category (16.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg). Payton is also a consistent multi-category performer, recording 15.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg and league-best averages in assists (5.1 apg) and steals (2.3 spg). Bryant Mbamalu usually rounds out an outstanding scoring trio with 14.0 ppg, but he is out with a thumb injury. The Cajuns' scoring talent has been well-documented this season, as they rank first in the league with 69.8 ppg, but their losing record has come as a result of a scoring defense that ranks last in the Sun Belt (74.0 ppg).
Both teams have plenty of star power but have yet to play to their fullest potential, and it's getting to the point where a complete turnaround may no longer be in the cards for either of them. In front of the hometown faithful however, the Cajuns should be able to prevail.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana 75, North Texas 71
01/31 10:34:56 ET