December 15, 2008 11:10 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
Louisiana-Monroe at Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt)
Cajundome - Lafayette, LA
8:05 PM EST
Some schools had finals last week, some are heading into it now. The rolling parade of all-nighters and books means that the two middle weeks of December are a piddling pastiche of guarantee games, mid-on-mid "trap" contests, and tough decisions on what to feature as G!O!T!N!. The Louisiana university system is all over the map as far as academic calendars go -- Lafayette is just coming of finals, while Monroe took care of its exams by December 6. What do those kids do with the extra week?
The ULM Warhawks, who changed their name in preparation from "Indians" two summers ago in preparation for their move to the Sun Belt (and because the NCAA told them to), enjoyed some beginner's luck. With an undersized roster, Monroe surprised everybody by following up a 6-10 campaign in the Southland (10-18 overall) with a nice 18-win season and 11 regular-season wins and a first-place Western division finish in the tougher Belt. In 2007-08, the league was ready for the Warhawks, and buried them in the West with a 4-13 mark and a quick first-round exit. This season, the struggles look to continue for Orlando Early's crew, as they've begun 2-6 with three losses to equal competition and some of the worst shooting in the land. A lot of it has been a matter of principles over basketball, with All-Belt second team guard Tony Hooper (15.1 ppg last year) suspended indefinitely after a November team-rules violation.
College basketball has a short collective memory, mostly because of the four-year cycle -- most people leave. So few remember that Lafayette was the premier program in the Sun Belt for the first part of this decade, racking up 20-win campaigns, NCAA berths (three in six years) and engaging in a rough rivalry with Western Kentucky for the title each season. The Ragin' Cajuns haven't had a winning season since 2004-05, but flattened out the record last year at 15 before an embarrassing home loss to Troy in a 5-12 game erased the feeling of progress. The team has started out 3-4 (with a trio of wins in its last four), and has a potential Sun Belt star in lanky Travis Bureau, a 6-7 sophomore who averages 17 ppg and hits half his shots. In the good old days, they had two or three of those guys, and maybe they will again someday. As it stands now, a couple of UL's with tough seasons ahead.
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