Louisiana (2-5) at North Texas (3-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 1, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: The Super Pit (10,500) -- Denton, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: Louisiana 2-1, North Texas 1-1. Away Record: Louisiana 0-4, North Texas 0-2. Neutral Record: Louisiana 0-0, North Texas 2-1. Conference Record: Louisiana 0-1, North Texas 0-0. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 19-16.
GAME NOTES: The North Texas Mean Green will begin their Sun Belt Conference slate as they host the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns at The Super Pit.
The Ragin' Cajuns suffered a 72-58 setback to Middle Tennessee in their SBC opener on Thursday. The loss was the third in a row for Louisiana, which will enter Saturday with a 2-5 overall record. Despite being on a losing slide, there is plenty of reason for coach Bob Marlin to be optimistic about his team's chances in the conference this season. The Ragin' Cajuns came up just short of upsetting Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing on Nov. 25. Despite being three games under .500 through seven games, the Cajuns are averaging just 3.9 ppg less than their opposition.
North Texas comes in on a two-game losing streak of its own after being defeated 72-59 by Texas-Arlington on Wednesday. The Mean Green were coming off of an 80-64 loss to Virginia, which snapped their three-game winning streak. The first season for coach Tony Benford at the helm of the program has not gone as smooth as expected. His team was upset by Alabama-Huntsville of the Division II after a 20-point loss at Creighton in his debut. North Texas enters with a 3-4 record. North Texas is 7-5 in Sun Belt openers since entering the league in 2000-01, including wins in three of the last four openers.
Although Louisiana holds a 19-16 edge in the all-time series between these schools, the Mean Green won the last meeting, 65-62, in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Last season's three encounters were decided by a total of just nine points.
Louisiana was in position to win its league opener at Middle Tennessee, as it held a 48-47 lead with 11:20 left in regulation. However, the Blue Raiders went on a 25-10 run from there to create distance on the scoreboard. Louisiana shot just 34.6 percent from the floor in the second half. It made only 4-of-17 three-point attempts and lost the rebounding battle, 40-31. Shawn Long registered a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Steven Wronkoski went 3-of-4 from the field to net 13 points while Bryant Mbamalu and Elfrid Payton tallied 11 points each. Payton also dished out six assists and swiped four steals. Long, a transfer from Mississippi State, is pacing the team with 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest. Payton is a solid contributor with 12.1 ppg, 4.9 apg, and 19 steals.
The Mean Green's current two-game losing slide has come courtesy of their ice- cold shooting from beyond the arc. In their last two games versus Virginia and UTA, they have gone a combined 7-of-42 from 3-point range. North Texas has not been stellar on the other end of the floor during its brief losing streak either. The Cavaliers converted 58.7 percent of their field goal attempts including 8-of-11 from long distance before allowing the Mavericks to finish with a 46.2 field goal percentage. Forward Tony Mitchell, who is projected to be an NBA lottery pick, is leading the team with 15.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest. Jordan Williams (12 ppg) and Alzee Williams (10.4 ppg) are also scoring in double figures.
The Long/Mitchell matchup at forward will feature two of the best the league has to offer. The Mean Green have struggled to knock down the deep ball over their past couple outings. Benford's squad is bound to either start hitting or realize that they are better off stepping inside. Louisiana is competitive, but it lacks the closer needed to win tough games on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 73, Louisiana 69
12/01 10:31:16 ET