Louisiana Monroe Warhawks
Overall Rank: #133
Conference Rank: #3 Sun Belt
2006-07: 18-14, 11-7, 1st (t) West
2006-07 postseason: none
Louisiana Monroe returns five guards who averaged nearly ten points per game. None may be more important than Brandon Roberts. And, of course, that is who missed half of last season with a torn ACL. The 6-0 Van, Texas native had a tremendous freshman campaign, averaging 9.7 points and 4.7 assists in his 15 games. The recovery process is ahead of schedule for Roberts and having him on the floor for an entire season will make the Warhawks extremely dangerous.
Darien Bynum earned seven starts and was one of the big men coming off the bench during the 2006-2007 campaign. The experienced depth will be missed, but Bynum is the only contributing player that ULM loses from a team that tied for first in the West of the Sun Belt Conference. James Perkins, who saw limited minutes in 13 contests, is not returning to the basketball squad.
The Warhawks do not really need to replace Bynum. They can still go eight deep. Yet, if the injury bug strikes again, the incoming freshmen will need to answer the call. It may be difficult to keep the strength and size of Mitchell Hampton on the sidelines for too long. He is a good defender and soon will be able to handle anybody in the conference on the defensive end. Raphael Turner, at 6-8 and 260 pounds, does not lack in the strength and size department either. Turner will do the dirty work under the basket and Louisiana Monroe could definitely use a player like that. Sei Paye begins the next generation of guards that Coach Orlando Early loves to coach. Paye, at 6-3, has good size, is a great shooter and can handle the ball. The depth in front of him will limit his playing time this year, but he will fit right into the system when the team needs him.
Who to Watch:
And there are a slew of talented guards ahead of Paye on the depth chart. Tony Hooper was the leading scorer a year ago as a sophomore and will be even more dangerous as a junior. Hooper will make more long balls on the year, but it is Jordan Payne who is probably the most consistent shooter from long range. Payne, who averaged 12.4 points per game, came off the bench in all but four contests. Coming off the bench seemed to work quite well for Payne in his first season with ULM after spending two years at Meridian Junior College, and it should do the team just fine again in 2007-2008. Jonas Brown also flourished in the ULM offense coming off a career at the junior college level. Brown averaged 12.3 points and 3.1 assists last year and can do damage from anywhere on the floor. Senior Lance Brasher is not the biggest of the guards, but he may be the toughest. Brasher was second on the team in rebounding with 5.8 rebounds per contest and, even at 6-2, is a good choice to play the four spot.
If Coach Early needs a bigger lineup, he has that option. Afam Nweke spent most of the season as the lone big man on the floor. He is not a prolific scorer by any means, but is a good rebounder and defender. Gerard Jackson can bring some scoring to the frontcourt and the 6-5 forward is ready for a big senior season after missing much of last season due to academics. Dalky Melendez saw his playing time decrease as a sophomore, but will be a valuable big body off the bench. The team was full of junior college transfers last year and were picked to finish 7th in the league. The pundits know better this year. ULM can win the Sun Belt and make their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1996, if they can stay healthy.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Brandon Roberts, Sophomore, Guard, 9.7 points per game
Jonas Brown, Senior, Guard, 12.3 points per game
Tony Hooper, Junior, Guard, 15.4 points per game
Lance Brasher, Senior, Guard, 10.4 points per game
Afam Nweke, Junior, Forward, 5.1 points per game