Louisiana Tech Looking to Lead C-USA

15 Oct

When people talk about Louisiana Tech basketball, the women’s program comes to mind given their three national championships.  Coach Michael White is trying to change that perception in Ruston with the men’s program.

The Bulldogs have had very limited success in the NCAA Tournament having just one win in three tournament appearances since 1987 and haven’t made the March field since 1991.  But since White’s arrival the team has averaged 22 wins a season including a 17-game winning streak and a trip to the NIT last year.  Despite the post-season appearance, the Bulldogs season ended on a little bit of a down note losing their last two regular season games after starting the year 16-0 in the Western Athletic Conference and then being upset by Texas-San Antonio on the first round of the WAC tournament.

Junior forward Raheem Appleby wasn’t satisfied with the way last season ended, “The record shows we played pretty good, but we don’t feel we finished how we should’ve.”

With conference realignment hitting nearly every conference in the country, few conferences have had as much uncertainty over the last couple of seasons than the WAC.  After a decade in the conference Louisiana Tech has made the move to another conference that has seen a boatload of realignment changes, Conference USA.  In order to fill the spots vacated by teams leaving for other conferences C-USA welcomes schools from the Sun Belt, Colonial Athletic  Association and Atlantic 10 in addition to the Bulldogs and fellow WAC member Texas-San Antonio.

So after climbing to the top of the WAC White and his squad move to another conference with travel from West Virginia to Texas while getting accustomed to new teams and new styles of play.  Whether White’s style of pressure defense will be successful against teams that by and large are seen as an upgrade in competition remains to be seen.

Appleby definitely thinks that the Bulldogs will have to reestablish themselves moving to Conference USA, “it is a tougher conference and it’s bigger (and) better teams.  We may be picked at the top but we can’t go out like it’s going to be given to us.”

The 27 victories last season were the 2nd most in school history behind only the 1984-85 team that won 29 games.  Looking at LA Tech’s 2012-13 statistically it is not hard to see why the Bulldogs had such a successful season.   Their up-tempo offense that averaged 72.6 points per game ranked them 54th in the country.  As the old basketball adage goes it is a lot easier to run when you aren’t taking the ball out of your opponent’s basket and White’s group was good on the defensive end as well, ranking 87th in team defense (63.3 points), 26th in rebounds per game with 38.5 and 6th in the country in turnover margin forcing five more miscues a game than they commit.

Another successful aspect of White’s Bulldogs is its depth.  Last season they had 11 guys averaging at least 9.5 minutes per game.  Yet another key stat for the Bulldogs is the fact that for a team that averaged 73 points they only had one double-digit scorer, Appelby who scored 14.9 points per game.

For a team that likes to get out and run, the most important aspect of the team’s style is, “defense, I think that’s what makes our offense go.  We like to run and you gotta get stops to run.”

Of the 11 guys who saw substantial playing time last year nine of them return including Appelby, the team’s and WAC’s assist leader Speedy Smith who dished out five assists per game and leading rebounder junior Michale Kyser who pulled down 5.3 boards and his 92 blocks last season tied a school record.

That continuity should help Louisiana Tech as they adjust to life in Conference USA and Appelby thinks, “it will help a lot, we have a lot of chemistry and people who know the system so we won’t have to teach as much.”

Coach White thinks the team’s versatility, speed and depth and thinks the athletic Bulldogs will be even deeper this season with a lot of guys competing for minutes.  Louisiana Tech may have to relearn some new things moving to a new conference but the Bulldogs are looking to jump right to the head of the class.

Louisiana Tech is trying to reach its first NCAA Tournament in over 20 years, a fact not lost on Appelby and his team mates, “it would mean a lot, that was our goal ever since me and coach White got here, it has been our goal since day one and it would just be a great accomplishment.”

They came up just short last year but look for the Bulldogs to take another aim at the NCAAs this year and they hope to hit the mark.

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