Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

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A breakdown of every college player at adidas Nations

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LONG BEACH, California — Since adidas Nations featured so many quality college basketball players, the CBT staff has received a lot of questions about how certain guys played that haven’t received a lot of publicity from the event. So Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips decided to give quick breakdowns of each of the college players in attendance last week.

Click here for CBT’s coverage from adidas Nations

Bryce Alford, UCLA: Thrived in catch-and-shoot situations but struggled as a point guard against good competition. (SP)

BeeJay Anya, N.C. State: Having lost nearly 60 pounds since the start of his freshman year, Anya was far more active on both ends of the floor. (RJ)

Jabari Bird, Cal:  The sophomore got stronger as a scorer as the week went and played hard at both ends of the floor. (SP)

Jonah Bolden, UCLA: Bolden had his moments on both ends of the floor, but the level of consistency will need to improve. (RJ)

Perry Ellis, Kansas: Tried to showcase his perimeter ability too much but when he operated extended elbow and in Ellis was tough to stop. (SP)

AJ English, Iona: English played well, knocking down shots and playing solid defense throughout the weekend. (RJ)

Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: One of the more disappointing players in attendance as Goodwin showed bad hands and not enough weight and strength to stop bigger post players. (SP)

Josh Gray, LSU: Gray had some issues finishing in traffic, but his ability to break down defenses off the dribble was on display and that will help LSU’s big men this season. (RJ)

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: The jumper wasn’t falling but the motor kept running for Harrell, as he showed an improved dribble-drive game from the elbow. (SP)

Zak Irvin, MichiganIrvin struggled to knock down catch-and-shoot looks, and there were also issues when it came to creating his own looks. (RJ)

Stanley Johnson, Arizona: The freshman ran through a bevy of tough pro and college wings and handled himself well because of his advanced skill level and college-ready frame. (SP)

Chris Jones, Louisville: Jones did a good job of getting his teammates involved, and he was also aggressive on the defensive end of the floor. (RJ)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky tried too hard to showcase his pick-and-pop ability for NBA scouts and wasn’t hitting shots while also neglecting his post game. (SP)

Shawn Long, Louisiana: Long struggled mightily with the athleticism of the big men he was asked to compete against. (RJ)

Kevon Looney, UCLA:  The only college counselor who didn’t participate in the three-day event due to injury. (SP)

Jordan Mathews, Cal: As with college teammate Jabari Bird, got better as the week went along and finally started to knock in some perimeter jumpers. (SP)

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews is still a work in progress when it comes to running the point, but he played well on both ends of the floor all weekend long. (RJ)

Jordan Mickey, LSU: While he had a quiet weekend offensively, Mickey did a good job on the boards and also as a weak-side defender. (RJ)

Austin Nichols, Memphis: Nichols is skilled as a pick-and-pop guy and showed more willingness to play against physicality, but he’s still largely a non-factor against tough interior presences unless he uses his face-up game. (SP)

Landry Nnoko, Clemson: Nnoko had a tough week in Long Beach, struggling on both ends of the floor. (RJ)

Kelly Oubre, Kansas: Only played for the last day of camp, but the smooth, lefty freshman had a great outing with Stanley Johnson guarding him (6-for-7 from 3PT) and appeared very confident on the offensive end. (SP)

Tony Parker, UCLA: One of the revelations of the weekend, Parker scored well around the basket and proved to be difficult for opponents to keep off the offensive glass. (RJ)

Terran Petteway, Nebraska:  Outstanding week for one of the Big Ten’s best players as he scored aggressively from multiple levels and defended hard on the perimeter. (SP)

Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell was the best performer at the camp, doing a very good job of finding looks offensively and keeping his man in check on the other end. (RJ)

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Looked like one of the best prospects in attendance at times but was prone to over-penetrating and getting himself into tough spots. (SP)

Shavon Shields, Nebraska: Shields got better as the weekend progressed, doing a better job of knocking down open looks and also passing the basketball. (RJ)

Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona: Just an average camp for the junior big man as he walled up well on the defensive end but wasn’t much of a factor on the offensive end. (SP)

Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow played hard but there were multiple occasions in which he struggled with the athleticism on the court. (RJ)

Derrick Walton, Michigan: Walton generally played good overall floor games and operated well in the pick-and-roll, but his shot went in-and-out for much of the week. (SP)

Elfrid Payton emerges as the 2014 NBA Draft’s biggest sleeper

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CHICAGO — Elfrid Payton is the most polarizing prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft.

If you’ve browsed through the litany of mock drafts in advance of Thursday night’s draft, you’ve probably seen the Louisiana-Lafayette point guard’s name everywhere from the top ten to the 20s — and every pick in between.

Plenty of scouts and draft pundits have called the 6-foot-3 Payton a sleeper in this draft — thanks in-part to his small-school upbringing and tremendous athleticism — but the soft-spoken point guard is confident about what he’ll bring to the team that selects him — wherever that may be.

“I think (I’m) the best point guard in the draft; just a leader,” Payton told NBCSports.com in Chicago. “(I’m) somebody that’s going to try to bring a winning culture and be somebody that is going to make other players around him better.”

As a sophomore, Payton put up good numbers for Louisiana-Lafayette, but many weren’t familiar with him in the college basketball world. That changed when Elfrid was a surprise addition to the USA U19 team that won gold last summer at the FIBA World Championships in Prague. Payton acknowledged that his star-studded supporting cast, filled with six McDonald’s All-Americans, had little idea about who he was or what he could do on the court, but the point guard won the starting point guard role for Billy Donovan’s squad and made a big impression on the team.

“It was cool, man. Everybody not to know me and just go in there and do well and wind up starting on that team. That was great for me. I think they were definitely surprised,” Payton said of his USA Basketball experience. “It helped a lot. Giving me a little bit of recognition. I learned a lot from those coaches and from my teammates that played there. It was big for me.”

While the basketball part of the equation came natural to Payton, Donovan worked with the guard to be more of a floor leader, something Payton credits for helping his game as a junior.

“The biggest thing (Donovan) taught me was about being a vocal leader and not just leading by example. I was able to take that back to my teammates this season and moving forward now,” Payton said.

Because of Payton’s leadership and overall play at the point guard position, the Ragin’ Cajuns made a surprise appearance in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, as they knocked off favored Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game.

Louisiana-Lafayette fell in the Round of 64 to Creighton, but Payton opened eyes with a 24-point, 8-rebound performance in which he also stuffed the stat sheet with three assists, three steals and two blocks. It was a typical effort from the junior as he averaged 19.2 points, 6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game during the 2013-14 season.

Because of his propensity to fill up a box score, coupled with his athleticism and inconsistent shooting, Payton has been compared favorably to Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. Payton shot 50 percent from the field as a junior, but he was only 25 percent from the three-point line and 60 percent from the free-throw line. As a former Kentucky point guard, Rondo was also a streaky perimeter shooter, as he shot 27 percent from three-point land and 57 percent from the free-throw line as a sophomore in his final season in Lexington.

Thanks in-part to his inconsistent shooting, Rondo slipped to No. 21 on draft night in 2006, but later blossomed into the starting point guard of the NBA-champion Celtics in 2008.

Payton takes pride in being compared to the four-time All-Star because of Rondo’s tenacity and willingness to make others around him better.

“The way (Rondo) plays defense, he gets his hands on a lot of balls,” Payton said. “He gets a lot of people involved. Most importantly, he gets other players around him better too. That’s what I really like (about him).”

Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog also sees some similarities between Payton and Rondo and because Rondo has thrived in the league, Isaacson believes Payton is not as likely to fall in the draft as Rondo once did.

“I’m not very big on comparisons, but this is a case where I can see where it comes from and agree in some ways with it,” Isaacson said to NBCSports.com. “Payton, like Rondo, is capable of doing almost everything his team needs from him. They both even have the same major weakness — perimeter shooting. I think where the comparison is at its best is on the defensive end, where both can be pests on the perimeter, force opponents into mistakes, and have no problem getting involved on the boards. I think the fact that Rondo turned out to be a very good NBA player has eased the way that many teams are looking at what Payton can do, and you won’t find the same polarization on his style of play.”

It also doesn’t hurt that another small-school guard, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, has found immediate NBA success after four years at Weber State. Payton acknowledges that Lillard is another guard that he admires and Lillard has even taken to Twitter to back Payton’s game.

“My coach gave me a lot of articles about him last year and even more this year. That’s definitely someone I look up to,” Payton said of Lillard.

The comparisons for Payton may be favorable, but he acknowledged that he still has a long ways to go to be mentioned in the same breath as those All-Star caliber point guards in the NBA.

“I think I’m ready to handle it. I think there’s going to be some challenges but we all have the same challenges ahead of us,” Payton said. “I always have a chip on my shoulder and coming from a small school, that makes it a little bit bigger.”

Reports: OK State transfer Brian Williams is headed to Louisiana-Lafayette

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Oklahoma State transfer Brian Williams will attend Louisiana-Lafayette for his final season of eligibility, according to multiple reports.

Williams averaged 6.2 points and 3.4 boards for the Cowboys this past season, but left the program at the same time as Marcus Smart and Markel Brown after seeing his playing tie cut down the stretch of the season.

Williams is a redshirt junior and graduated this semester, meaning that he will be able to play immediately for the Ragin’ Cajuns. That’s big news for head coach Bob Marlin. UL is coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament, and while they return center Shawn Long, who averaged a double-double his first two seasons, they lose Elfrid Payton, who declared for the NBA Draft and could end up being taken in the first round.

Williams isn’t going to be replacing Payton’s production offensively, but he’s a next-level athlete on the wing that will really help on the defensive end of the floor.

Williams is a native of Baton Rouge, La.

NCAA Tournament Primer: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Sun Belt Conference

Coach: Bob Marlin

Record: 23-11 (11-7 Sun Belt)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 118
– RPI: 100
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: As of Dave Ommen’s bracket update he had Georgia State, the regular season champion, as the automatic bid from the Sun Belt. The Panthers were projected as a 14-seed.

Names you need to know: Elfrid Payton (19.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 2.3 spg); Shawn Long (18.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg); Bryant Mbamalu (12.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg)

Stats you need to know: The Ragin’ Cajuns can score, averaging 81.4 points per game — good for 13th nationally. They are top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage while holding a top-30 offensive rebounding percentage rate according to kenpom.com.

Tendencies: Louisiana-Lafayette will run deep with nine guys averaging at least 16 minutes per game.

Big wins, bad losses: Louisiana-Lafayette lost to Baylor by nine, Arkansas by 13 and Louisville 39. In two losses to Georgia State, the defense let the Panthers shoot 16-of-31 from beyond the arc. In the Sun Belt title game, Georgia State only 5-of-19.

How’d they get here?: After beating Texas-Arlington by six in the conference quarterfinals, Louisiana-Lafayette saw its NCAA tournament hopes almost end, but T.J. Price’s couldn’t convert on the last-second shot as the Ragin’ Cajuns survived Western Kentucky, the two-seed, 73-72. Georgia State nearly went dancing as former Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow went off in overtime. However, offensive rebounding saved the Cajuns season when Mbamalu sent the game to overtime with a putback with 1.4 seconds left.

Outlook: The Ragin’ Cajuns will head into the tournament with a seeding somewhere in the teens, but look out, this team is dangerous.

How do I know you?: Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long are a great one-two punch and Payton can really play. He was a member of the the USA Basketball Under-19 team, which won the gold medal at the FIBA World Championship this summer in Prague, Czech Republic.

2014 Sun Belt Tournament Preview: Can Georgia State go dancing?

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There may not be a mid-major conference that has more potential NBA talent than the Sun Belt. Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette have two guys that will get scouted plenty by NBA front office types. Western Kentucky has a couple of players as well. Even South Alabama, who didn’t even qualify for the conference tournament, has a player on their roster — Augustine Rubit — who will make a living playing basketball.

Perhaps what’s more notable about the Sun Belt tournament is that they are one of the few mid-major leagues that do it the right way. Only eight teams are invited. The top two seeds get a double-bye into the semifinals. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds get a single-bye into the quarters. Reward the teams that won in the regular season.

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

The Bracket

When: March 13-16

Where: Lakefront Arena, New Orleans

Final: March 16th, 1:00 p.m. ESPN2

Favorite: Georgia State

The Panthers struggled early on this season, but turned things around when he coach Ron Hunter made the decision to move Ryan Harrow off the ball full time. Yes, Kentucky-transfer Ryan Harrow. He’s at Georgia State now, averaging 17.2 points and 4.4 assists, and he’s not even the best player on the team. R.J. Hunter, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, is. GSU is loaded with perimeter talent, and it showed, and they finished 17-1 in league play.

RELATED: How a transfer turned Ryan Harrow’s career around

And if they lose?: Louisiana-Lafayette

The Ragin’ Cajuns finished third in the league this season, but they may have the best 1-2 punch in the conference. Elfrid Payton is a name most diehard fans will know, as he starred on the USA’s U-19 team this summer and averaged 19.3 points, 6.0 boards, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals. Shawn Long’s numbers were equally impressive, as he averaged 19.2 points, 10.4 boards and 2.8 blocks.

Sleepers:

  • Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers finished second in the Sun Belt this season, led by T.J. Price and George Fant. They’ve won the last two Sun Belt tournament titles.
  • Troy: The Trojans finished eighth in the conference. But they are the only team to have beaten Georgia State in league play. So there’s that.

Studs:

  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: The leading scorer on the conference’s best team. Hunter is the head coach’s son and a 6-foot-5 sharpshooter.
  • Ryan Harrow, Georgia State: Harrow was eligible immediately this season after transferring in from Kentucky, and he’s been terrific in his new surroundings.
  • Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: I wrote a story earlier this year on Payton and how he exploded onto the national radar.

CBT Prediction: Georgia State over Louisiana-Lafayette

2013-2014 Sun Belt Preview: Star-studded league should provide plenty of drama

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Sun Belt was one of the conferences that had the most reshuffling during conference realignment, as four schools are headed out of the league while three new programs — Georgia State, Texas State and Texas-Arlington — come aboard.

Ironically enough, while the league loses powerhouse Middle Tennessee State, North Texas forward Tony Mitchell and Florida International head coach Rick Pitino, the Sun Belt will likely end up having more star power on their rosters than any mid-major league in the country.

It starts with one of the new additions, as Ron Hunter’s Georgia State squad seems primed for a huge year. Hunter’s back court will be loaded, as his son R.J., a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, returns after averaging more than 17 points as a freshman. He’s got a chance to be an NBA Draft pick down the road. He’s joined by Devonta White and Manny Atkins, who both averaged about 15 points, but the most notable name will be Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow. If Harrow lives up to his potential and Hunter can find some production on the interior, the Panthers have the chance to be really, really good.

(MORE: Ron Hunter channels his inner ‘Coach Dad’)

As talented as Hunter and Harrow are, however, neither will enter the season as the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year. That title falls to Augustine Rubit, a 6-foot-7 forward that averaged 19.4 points and 10.2 boards as a junior. In layman’s terms, he’s a beast, but if the Jaguars are going to improve on their 14-6 record in Matthew Graves’ first season as head coach, Rubit will need a supporting cast that loses two starters to step up.

No mid-major player had a bigger summer than Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. The 6-foot-3, do-it-all guard — he averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 boards, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals — not only managed to make the U19 national team, but he started for them over more highly-regarded players. Throw in the return of Shawn Long, and Bob Marlin’s club will also contend for the league title.

Then there’s Western Kentucky. They return four starters from a team that finished just 10-10 in league play, but they are also coming off of their second straight run to the NCAA tournament. T.J. Price is the Hilltopper to make note of.

And finally, Arkansas State. The Red Wolves lose three of their top five scorers from last season, but leading scorer Ed Townsel is back, as is sophomore Cameron Golden. The key will be transfers. Brandon Reed averaged 15.1 points as a freshman back in 2009-2010 before transferring to Georgia Tech while Melvin Johnson III averaged 13.0 points as a junior at UT-San Antonio in 2011-2012.

Arkansas-Little Rock and UT-Arlington both have enough talent to make a push as well.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Georgia State, Texas State, Texas-Arlington,
Out: Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Florida International, Florida Atlantic

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PRESEASON SUN BELT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Augustine Rubit, South Alabama

Rubit came within 18 points of averaging 20 and 10 a season ago, and he’s returning to school to play for a team with a real shot of winning the league title. I know how much talent there is in this conference; this decision was still pretty easy.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: Hunter averaged 17.5 points as a freshman and will be playing this season with Ryan Harrow.
  • Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: If he can refine his jump shot, Payton has a shot to follow the footsteps of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
  • Brandon Reed, Arkansas State: Reed averaged 15.1 points as a freshman with the Red Wolves, but tried transferring to Georgia Tech. That resulted in two uneventful season, so Reed came back under the graduate transfer rule.
  • Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette: The best big man in the league not named Augustine Rubit.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Georgia State
2. Louisiana-Lafayette
3. South Alabama
4. Western Kentucky
5. Arkansas State
6. Arkansas-Little Rock
7. UT-Arlington
8. Troy
9. Texas State
10. Louisiana-Monroe