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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 23 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

A healthy Bulldogs team could be the key to bringing back a #2BidCUSA

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 28 Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky Photo by Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2018-19 record: 20-13 (no postseason)
Key returning players: DaQuan Bracey (G, Sr.), Amorie Archibald (G, Jr.), JaColby Pemberton (G, RS-Jr.), Derric Jean (G, Sr.), Oliver Powell (F, Sr.), Mubarak Muhammed (F, Sr.), Exavian Christon (G, Jr.)
Key losses: Anthony Duruji, Ra’Shawn Langston
Key newcomers: Cobe Williams (G, Fr.), Xaiver Armstead (G, Jr.), Kalob Ledoux (G, RS-Jr.)

We’ve heard this all before: Conference USA is back. Louisiana Tech is a tournament contender. CUSA is a two-bid league.

Then we forget about that by January as the Bulldogs fade and whatever quality teams remain in the conference beat up on one another. It was especially brutal last year when Derric Jean and Exavian Christon went down with season-ending injuries before conference play even started.

Let’s fall into that same trap this year, shall we? Just in terms of roster talent, Louisiana Tech has the makings of a top two or three CUSA team and should challenge for the league title. 11 out of the 15 players (walk-ons included) listed on their official roster are either juniors or seniors, so you shouldn’t expect this team to beat itself. That experience could make a difference too, looking back on a year where the Bulldogs went 5-12 away from home, ranked 324th nationally in free throw percentage, and lost 10 of their 13 games by single digits.

If they can clean up a bit and stay healthy, the Bulldogs will be playing meaningful games when the CUSA Flex portion of the schedule begins.

Key Non-Conference Games:

Hey here’s a thing: Louisiana Tech still hasn’t released its non-conference schedule. It’s October. What the hell?

Anyway, because just about everyone else in Division I has, we know most of the teams the Bulldogs will face. They don’t play in a traditional tournament this year, but are part of Indiana’s weird MTE that includes a game in Bloomington. Creighton and Mississippi State have also bought their services. If you’re into projections, our friend Bart Torvik gives the Bulldogs an 11 percent chance against Creighton, 15 percent against Indiana, and 16 percent against Mississippi State. Being super good at math, I can tell you that means Louisiana Tech has roughly a 36 percent chance of winning at least one of those games.

Nov. 16 at Creighton
Nov. 25 at Indiana
Dec. 5 at Mississippi State
Dec. 14 vs. Louisiana

Three Things to Watch:

The newcomers and their hair

Eric Konkol hasn’t spent his summers at the beach. At least not during the recruiting periods. He’s assembled a class of freshmen, JuCos, and transfers that should play an immediate role in 2019-20. Cobe Williams is a composite three-star guard who will come off the bench behind the DaQuan Bracey/Amorie Archibald/Jacolby Pemberton trio. Williams is only 5’11, but he averaged eight assists per game as a high school senior. Also, here’s his hair:

Louisiana Tech athletics

Not enough for you? Fine. Now look at Xavier Armstead, a 1,000-point scorer over two seasons at JuCo McLennan. ranked him as the 28th-best player in his class. He’s a volume scorer who can shoot from three, but more importantly, also boasts some incredible hair.

Louisiana Tech athletics

The other key newcomer is a little more familiar to mid-major college basketball fans. Kaleb Ledoux was third-team all-Southland at McNeese State two seasons ago and is finally eligible this year. His 356 points as a freshman is the most by any rookie in Cowboys history. Unfortunately his hair is incredibly average.

The front court

Louisiana Tech is loaded with guards and that makes for a fun team. But what sort of production can they expect from their front court? They lost leading rebounder Anthony Duruji as a transfer to Florida — can’t blame him there — leaving a gaping hole and some minutes for Konkol to dole out.

Oliver Powell is back. He started all 33 games as a junior and Konkol told the Blue Ribbon Yearbook that he has added muscle for his senior season. He and Mubarak Muhammed are around the same size and each contributed around six-and-five a night. Muhammed also led the team in field goal percentage and ranked third in CUSA in offensive rebound percentage. Add in a hopefully healthy Stacey Thomas and the Bulldogs will have the core of a front court that could at least hold its own while the guards run the show.

DaQuan Bracey

Bracey is the guy on this team. As a junior, he led the team in points, assists, and steals, while scoring in double figures 26 times. He could stand to get better from the line and from three, and if he does, he could be an All-Conference USA type player. Pemberton and Archibald could be counted on for serious minutes alongside him, giving the Bulldogs perhaps the best backcourt trio in the conference.

Last year’s team as a whole mirrored Bracey — it wasn’t a great shooting team, but the Bulldogs took care of the ball and played good defense. Expect that trend to continue on an even more experienced roster.

Now, please sit back and watch some highlights from Bracey’s junior season.

X-Factor: Exavian Christon

No, this isn’t because his name begins with EX (though it helps). We can talk about what Christon brings to the team (a lot) but we’re fortunate to be having that conversation at all. Christon didn’t just miss the bulk of last season with a run-of-the-mill athletics injury. He almost died. He talks about the incident — how he collapsed at a practice in late November, needed life-saving CPR and eventually a defibrillator, in this video.

Though it seems trivial to talk about basketball stuff now, it should be noted that Christon’s numbers took a leap early last year. The sophomore improved his shooting percentages across the board, highlighted by an 11-27 (41 percent) start from three. Archibald is the only returner who shot better than 35 percent last year on more than 50 three-point attempts, so if Christon can return to form (and that’s a HUGE if), he can play a major role. Once he’s cleared, look for Christon to come off the bench then challenge for a spot in the starting five.