No matter which way you slice it, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team performed at an exceptional level last season.

A 26–8 overall record with no home-court losses, a Sun Belt Championship and a trip to the NCAA Men’s Tournament was enough to earn Head Coach Bob Marlin a new contract extension this offseason, keeping him in leadership through the 2026-27 season, per Louisiana Athletics.

The Athletic Department also added a new assistant to Marlin’s staff last month: North Carolina A&T’s Phillip Shumpert.

As a first-time interim head coach, Shumpert led the Aggies to a 13–19 overall record playing in the Colonial Athletic Association, a standout season by their standards. In conference play, his team had some noteworthy games, and according to Coach Marlin, Shumpert’s focus will be as a player’s coach first and foremost.

“[Shumpert] is an excellent recruiter and coach who builds solid relationships with the student-athletes,” said Marlin per Louisiana Athletics.

With the departure of stars Jordan Brown and Greg Williams, everyone on the roster, new and returning, will have to step up to maintain the program’s momentum. Luckily for the Cajuns, some of the most impactful players of last season’s run are actually returning.

Starting point guard Themus Fulks chose to make his return after a brief stint in the transfer portal. His anticipated production makes the allure of a larger program make sense; six assists per game and 35% assist percentage with only the fourth-highest usage percentage on the team means that his passing acumen could take a huge leap soon.

Sixth in minutes last season was junior forward and Carencro native Joe Charles. Some of Charles’ best performances started on the defensive end, and the stats bear that out, as he tied the team lead in total steals with 37 and was third in total blocks with 14.

The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Men’s Basketball team takes down the Centenary Gents at the Cajundome Monday, Nov. 8, 2022. Andre Broussard/ L’Acadien

In an offense so focused on inside scoring, 3-point specialists like seniors Kentrell Garnett and Kobe Julien are especially important to swinging the balance of a game. With so few minutes to go around, these two will have to improve at holding their own on defense and making the most of their outside shots.

There are also some exciting newcomers this time around. Freshman guard and Zachary native Brandon Hardy, whose high school exploits earned him Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year and a spot on the All-State First Team last season, will be joining the squad.

The Cajuns’ latest transfer, junior Hosana Kitenge, is a physical specimen at power forward. From West Sussex in England, standing at 6-foot-8 and weighing in at 270 lbs., Kitenge showed flashes of top-tier rebounding and two-way inside post play at Three Rivers Junior College after developing behind Essam Mostafa in Coastal Carolina for his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Finally, potentially the best incoming transfer this offseason is junior shooting guard Blake Butler. Simply put, he’s one of the 25 or so best JUCO basketball players in the nation, having averaged over 20 points per game last season at East Mississippi. He’s shown himself capable of two-way play and huge scoring nights at that level; translating that game to the Sun Belt would be a boon for this roster.

What should expectations be for this team? Given the sheer talent and scoring lost to graduation and transfers, this will almost certainly be a down year compared to 2022-23. 

That being said, the rest of the Sun Belt, with the exception of a couple of experiments bound to go right, are also taking a net loss in talent this year, but a realistic projection would be closer to 19 or 20 wins with a Sun Belt Championship semifinals appearance this go-round.

Cajuns basketball will begin its season on the road in the Gulf Coast Showcase against the University of Toledo Rockets on Nov. 11, and conference play will start against the Marshall Thundering Herd on Dec. 30.