NEW ORLEANS, La. — Wednesday night pits two teams who are 2-0 in Southland Conference play against one another in an early match-up for first place in the conference.
Five teams in total have 2-0 records in conference play, with two of them having records that are below .500 overall for the season. One of those two teams, the New Orleans Privateers, will look to move to 3-0 when they host the Lamar Cardinals in the Big Easy on Wednesday night.
Lamar was projected to be a top contender in the conference in various preseason polls, and they’ve lived up to the billing early on this season. At 10-5 overall, they have the second-best record of any team in the Southland Conference.
As for the Privateers, they were expected to take a step back this season. Instead, they’ve knocked off a pair of talented teams to open conference play on a two game winning streak. Wednesday night will be a big test for both teams, as they look to extend their winning streaks to three games and score their first win of the 2018 calendar year.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Wednesday’s battle for first place between Lamar and New Orleans.
Lamar opened the season with one of the best starts in program history. The Cardinals won their first three games, and eight of their first nine games overall. They completed a home-and-home sweep of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, and picked up a road win over the UTEP Miners to boot.
Then, they took part in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. Lamar lost both on-campus games, and then fell twice in Las Vegas in the Visitors’ Bracket against the North Carolina A&T Aggies and the UC Davis Aggies. When they returned back to Beaumont, TX, the Cardinals were eager to reverse their fortunes. A win over the Houston Baptist Huskies at home, followed by a road win over the Texas A&M-CC Islanders has Lamar back on the right track, and at a perfect 2-0 in conference play.
At the forefront is senior forward Colton Weisbrod, who is averaging 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, both of which are team high marks. He is coming off a 26-point, 14-rebound performance against the Islanders, giving him two double-doubles over his last three games. Weisbrod is showcasing his versatility on the offensive end of the court, shooting 46.3% from the floor and 43.5% from three point range on the season. He forms one half of what is arguably the Southland Conference’s top forward tandem, alongside Josh Nzeakor.
Off the bench, scoring guard Nick Garth gives the lineup an offensive spark each time out. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.9 points to go along with 2.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He has four straight double digit point performances, and will look to make it five against the Privateers.
This season was expected to be a down year for New Orleans, given the personnel losses they had to overcome after last season. After a 3-8 start to the season, the Privateers have now won back-to-back games in conference play to sit in a tie for first in the Southland Conference standings.
Wins over the Abilene Christian Wildcats and Houston Baptist to close out 2017 have the Privateers riding a wave of positive momentum into the New Year and are looking to keep it going with a win over one of the conference’s toughest teams. Wednesday opens up a tough three game stretch for the Privateers, who head on the road for two games following their contest with the Cardinals.
Senior forward Travin Thibodeaux has taken on a starring role this season with the Privateers, and is the only main contributor back from last year’s team that advanced to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. He is averaging 16.1 points per game, which leads the team and is up from his 8.7 points per game average last season. Thibodeaux is the only player on the team to average more than nine points per game this season, but the Privateers have eight players who have played in all 13 games and average 4.5 points per game or more.
With holes in the back court, freshman guard Troy Green has enjoyed some early success in his collegiate career. He is averaging 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, and looks to have a bright future in New Orleans. Add in senior forward Makur Puou, who is averaging 8.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and the Privateers have an underrated roster who could catch a team or two napping on their home court as Southland play progresses.
Players to Watch
Lamar – Josh Nzeakor
Josh Nzeakor, the reigning Southland Conference Player of the Week, is one half of arguably the top front court in the entire league. In the Cardinals’ two wins to open up conference play last week, Nzeakor averaged 14.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals per game. He posted a pair of double-doubles in wins over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Houston Baptist, ending 2017 on a high note. Against the Privateers in the Cardinals’ first game of 2018, Nzeakor is looking to pick up where he left off and lead Lamar to a third straight win. The 6’8” junior is averaging 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest this season, and continues to make positive strides with each passing game.
New Orleans – Travin Thibodeaux
With the graduation of Christavious Gill, and the departure of other key pieces from last year’s Privateers’ team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, senior forward Travin Thibodeaux has taken on a starring role on both ends of the floor. Thibodeaux is the only player for New Orleans who is averaging double digit points per game, averaging 16.1 points to go along with a team-high 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Thibodeaux has three 20+ point games over his last five outings, and he is coming off his first double-double of the season against Houston Baptist in his last outing. While Thibodeaux will have his hands full with the front court of the Cardinals, he has performed well as of late and has his own positive momentum behind him. One of the streaks will come to an end, and the game will be won, or lost, in the front court.
Both the Cardinals and the Privateers hold their opponents to less than 72 points per game, so Wednesday night promises to be a low scoring affair. Lamar ranks 53rd in the nation in scoring defense, holding teams to an average of 66.2 points per game, while the Privateers limit their opponents to an average of 71.1 points.
Lamar’s offense has more weapons than the Privateers, both in the starting five and off the bench (Nick Garth). With the way that both Weisbrod and Nzeakor have been playing up front as of late, the Cardinals have seemingly put their four game losing streak behind them.
Wednesday’s contest will come down to the wire, but Lamar will do enough to escape with a close road victory, improving to 3-0 in Southland Conference play.
Lamar – 67
New Orleans – 64
– T. Bennett