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This week in the Southland: Could the Lamar Cardinals become a sleeper hit by spring?

The Lamar University Cardinals are the only Southland team ranked in the top 100 of NCAA Division I programs. They won their conference last season and will get their rings tonight.

NCAA Basketball: Southland Conference Tournament- New Orleans vs Texas A&M-Corpus
The 2018 Southland champion Lamar Cardinals hope for a repeat in 2019, with dreams of emerging from the conference with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the teams in the Southland Conference with potential to make it to the NCAA Tournament, the Lamar Cardinals lead the way. Ranked No. 98 according to the NCAA Division I RPI, the Cardinals sit in near distance, but just below, some schools in the bigger conferences, including No. 94 Alabama (SEC), No. 89 Kansas St. (Big 12) and No. 86 Fordham (Atlantic 10), and the Cardinals are ranked higher than No. 102 Auburn (SEC), No. 104 Iowa State (Big 12) and No. 108 Wake Forest (ACC).

Lamar went 22-7 in the 2017-18 season, won all of its home games and all of its matchups against non-division rivals, and finished with a road record of 8-5.

The Cardinals won the Southland Conference regular season and will receive their rings before tipoff of Saturday night’s game against McMurry University; they were also picked in a preseason poll to take the Southland Conference this season, too.

Lamar won its 2018-19 season opener against the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette, 79-77 — on the road, in overtime. It was Lamar’s first time being forced into extra minutes in 61 games. For the win, four Lamar players scored in double figures: Chastadie Barrs, with a game-high 23 points, Moe Kinard (13 points), Jadyn Pimentel (12 points) and Briana Laidler (10 points). Barrs also grabbed a game-high seven steals.

But the Ragin’ Cajuns put up an equally solid offensive performance, with Skyler Goodwin tallying a team-high 18 points and Ty’Reona Doucet matching Goodwin in scoring but also grabbing 15 rebounds for a double-double. But Lamar got the win because its bench outscored Louisiana 16-4 and the Cards also scored 38 points off turnovers (to Louisiana’s 15).

Lamar will have to keep up its defensive pressure to get away with wins against top-tier teams like the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who they play on Nov. 15. It will also be important for them to reduce turnovers (they had 21 against Louisiana) and shore up three-point shooting (they went 5-of-12 from behind the arc) if they wish for a chance to follow in the footsteps of conference rival Nicholls State, who made it to the NCAA Tournament last season (though Nicholls suffered a first-round blowout loss against Mississippi State).

The Cards get their next opportunity tonight, against the McMurry University War Hawks, who lost their season opener in blowout fashion (but whose field goal percentage of 38.8 in their season-opening loss exceeded the Cardinals’ 36.4 percent from the field against the Ragin’ Cajuns).

Game information

Lamar University Cardinals vs. McMurry University War Hawks

When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Montagne Center, Beaumont, TX | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN+

Elsewhere in the Southland

Teams that won their season openers:

  • A&M-Corpus Christi
  • Abilene Christian
  • Central Arkansas (2-0)
  • Lamar

Teams that lost their season openers:

Eight other teams in the conference, including Nicholls, with Incarnate Word starting the season 0-2.

Team yet to play:

Houston Baptist kicks of its season against McMurry on Sunday, Nov. 11.

Southland TV schedule