We continue our WAC men’s basketball preview with a look at #5 Louisiana Tech.
Team: #5 Louisiana Tech
Coach: Kerry Rupp, third season (21-42)
Last year’s record: 15-18 (6-10 WAC, T-6th)
Key losses: G James Loe
Why they’re here: With three proven double-digit scoring threats spread around the court, the Bulldogs have more than enough firepower to keep up in what should be a high-scoring, fast-paced Western Athletic Conference season. They upset Idaho in the WAC Tournament quarterfinals last year and fell just short of taking down Nevada in the semis. Returning five of their top six scorers, Louisiana Tech will be a very dangerous team this year.
There are two key issues the Bulldogs need to solve, though. One is their lack of effective point guard play. Louisiana Tech had the lowest assist total of any team in the conference last year, averaging just over 10 per game, and no player averaged more than 2.7. More than the numbers, the floor leadership was missing. The second (and probably related) issue is inconsistency. The Bulldogs were the WAC’s most schizophrenic team, finding a way to beat Nevada on their home floor but also losing ugly games to D-I transitional Seattle U. and even D-II Alaska-Anchorage.
Coach Kerry Rupp hopes the addition of juco All-Star point guard DeAndre Brown will solve the first problem — but it’s going to be down to his coaching and his players to solve the second. The pieces may all be there for a run into the top of the conference, but we’re not sold that Rupp can fit them all together in time to keep up with the WAC’s upper echelon.
Why they could finish higher: If DeAndre Brown can make the successful jump up from juco to Division I without the benefit of a redshirt season, his talent at the 1-guard slot should prove game-changing for the Bulldogs. With an undisputed floor leader dishing the rock to playmakers like Kyle Gibson and a bigger, stronger Magnum Rolle pulling down a double-double every night, there’s potential for La. Tech to make a run for the WAC Tournament title.
Why they could finish lower: Despite the presence of three solid double-digit scoring threats, the Bulldogs still finished last in the conference in scoring. La. Tech’s underwhelming bench was part of the problem, but the Bulldog starters deserve blame as well. Jamel Guyton shot an abysmal 38 percent last year, one of the worst shooting performances from any WAC starter. The Bulldogs’ combined shooting percentage of .436 put them firmly in the conference’s bottom third. Either La. Tech learns to shoot, or they’ll struggle for traction again this year.
Most Valuable Player: G Kyle Gibson (16.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 apg) — Louisiana Tech’s all-around star, Gibson was also the most consistent performer on a team marked by inconsistency. Only four times in 16 conference games did he fail to reach the double-digit mark, and he came on strong in the season’s final weeks to record four consecutive 20+ point performances, including upsets of Boise State and Idaho.
Most Important Player: C Magnum Rolle (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg) — As goes Rolle, may go the Bulldogs’ hopes this season. The bottom line? He must find a way to be consistent. As Parsing the WAC’s Kevin McCarthy expertly broke down, Rolle was alternately capable of going off for 25 points and 12 boards — or imploding for two points, two boards and four fouls. Those are off nights La. Tech simply can’t afford, particularly from a inside man who has the talent to own the paint.
Non-conference degree of difficulty: 2 — The Bulldogs won’t play a single team with an RPI higher than Arizona’s 62, and most of the schedule is far worse. Rupp is clearly trying to kindle local rivalries and control travel costs by scheduling games against Louisiana-Monroe, McNeese State and Centenary — but all three squads lost at least 20 games last year. Ouch. Booking a home-and-home series with a 10-win Texas-Pan American team is the final insult.
Fun fact: Among WAC teams, only Idaho has a longer tournament drought than Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were a power in the Southland and American South conferences in the mid to late 1980s, but haven’t made the Big Dance since 1991.
Predicted record: 16-15 (8-8 WAC)