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C-USA Team by Team Previews: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

The Rush's early tour of C-USA basketball foes continues with a newcomer that's not all that new to the Miners. The Bulldogs and Miners will renew their old WAC rivalry this coming season. Do the Dawgs have enough to win Conference-USA in year 1?

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

Those with an eye towards history know the many links between the Louisiana Tech and UTEP basketball programs. Our own Tim Floyd is an alumnus of Louisiana Tech and will certainly love returning to his old stomping grounds in Louisiana to recruit and coach. From 2001-2005, the Miners and Bulldogs were WAC enemies. The Bulldogs went 4-5 in those 4 years against UTEP. Miner fans no doubt remember Paul Millsap cleaning up the boards for the Bulldogs against the OT-Fili era squads. UTEP great and current assistant coach Greg Foster was a teammate of perhaps the greatest La Tech player of all time, Karl Malone during the Jazz's glory years in the mid to late 90's. With the 2013-2014 season upon us, the table is set for a rekindling of the Miner-Bulldog series. Both teams will enter the year confident and aiming for the NCAA Tournament.

5 NCAA Tournament apperances
4-5 NCAA Tournament record

Best Year
The best single season for the Bulldogs has to be the 1985 Sweet Sixteen run. Led by future Hall of Famer Karl Malone, La Tech went 29-3 on the season. They earned a 5 seed in the Big Dance and handled Pittsburgh and Ohio State rather easily in the first two rounds. In the Sweet Sixteen they lost an overtime thriller to Waymon Tisdale's Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners accounted for 2 of Louisiana Tech's 3 losses that season.

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance
La Tech last went dancing in 1991 when they won the America South Tournament's automatic bid. The Bulldogs received a 12 seed and lost in the first round to Wake Forest. That means this the program enters this season more than two decades removed from their last Tourney. The program is starving for another dance, and this group of players is eager to make it happen.

Best Stretch
The Bulldogs' 5 tourney appearances happened within a stretch of 8 years, from 1984-1991. Thus, Louisiana Tech's golden age of men's basketball coincides with UTEP's. The Bulldogs made it to the second round 3 out of the 5 times they made the field.

Notable Players
Karl Malone, Leon Barmore, Jackie Moreland, Randy White, Paul Millsap, P.J. Brown

Thomas Assembly Center, capacity 8,098
2012-2013 Avg. Attendance = 3,531

Head Coach
Michael White. The name may not be very familiar to college basketball fans right now, but after just two seasons at Louisiana Tech, Coach White has established himself as a rising star in the mid-major coaching ranks. In 2011, White inherited a team that earned only 2 wins in WAC play the previous year. In his first season, the Bulldogs went 18-16 and a respectable 6-8 in conference play. In year two, his team exploded with 18 straight wins at one point (second longest streak of the season nationally) and finished with the second best record in school history. Andy Katz recently tabbed White as the 15th toughest mid-major coach to recruit against:

Those who go up against White say he's extremely smart, knows how to evaluate and gets after it on the recruiting trail. He's obviously had success in a short time with the Bulldogs.

Last Year
27-7 overall, 16-2 in WAC play

The Bulldogs had one of their best regular seasons in program history, winning the WAC regular season title for the first time but ultimately missing the NCAA Tournament. Detractors may point to a questionable strength of schedule, considering their only marquee wins came against Southern Miss, New Mexico State and Denver. The only power conference team they played all year was Texas A&M in the season opener, and they dropped that one by 12. However, an 18-game win streak is nothing to overlook. La Tech was 16-0 in conference play headed into their final two games of the season before the wheels fell off the wagon. They lost those last two games by 18 at NMSU and at Denver by 24. They still managed the 1-seed in the WAC Tourney, but then were shocked by WAC bottom-feeder UTSA (another C-USA newcomer) in the first round. They earned an NIT bid and bounced back somewhat from their dreadful end of season by beating Florida State in the first round before losing a rematch to C-USA's Southern Miss Golden Eagles to end their season. A full recap of their record-breaking season can be found here.

2013-2014 Prospective Roster
G- Kenneth Smith, 6'3 JR
G- Raheem Appleby, 6'3 JR
G- Alex Hamilton, 6'4 SO
F- Chris Anderson, 6'6 SR
C- Michale Kyser, 6'9 JR

G- Cordarius Johnson, 6'5 SR
G- Kenyon McNeail, 6'1 SR
F- Isaiah Massey, 6'8 JR
C- Gilbert Talbot, 6'10 SO
F- Jaron Johnson, 6'6 SR
F- Stojan Gjuroski, 6'7 JR
F- Leo Edwards, 6'8 FR

La Tech loses just 2 seniors from last year's 27-win squad, and only one of them was really an impact player; the Bulldogs lose guard Brandon Gibson who played 20 minutes per game and was one of five players who averaged about 7 points per game. The variety of guards this team has is impressive. Guard Raheem Appleby was their most consistent scorer as a sophomore, and his 14.9 ppg are good enough to make him the second top returning scorer of all C-USA players this season behind only Marshall's Elijah Pittman. Guards Kenyon McNeail and Cordarius Johnson can shoot the 3-ball and guard Kenny Smith broke the La Tech record for most steals in a season and was their assist leader. That's without even talking about WAC newcomer of the year, Alex Hamilton. The Bulldogs backcourt is loaded to say the least. In the front court, Mike Kyser made the All-WAC defensive team and tied the Louisiana Tech record for most blocks in a season. Unlike many of the teams in C-USA, Louisiana Tech did not feature a single player who averaged more than 30 minutes per game. That balance in attack will make them especially difficult to contend with. Unlike other newcomers to C-USA, the Bulldogs have depth. This characteristic may separate them from the other newcomers in terms of being able to handle a step up in competition. The Bulldogs play a style of basketball not all that different from Old Coach Barbee's style: dribble-drive offense and intense man-to-man defense.

The Outlook
This team was ahead of schedule winning nearly 30 games last year. They bring virtually everybody back and the way their season collapsed at the end of last season will make them hungry and unsatisfied with early success. The big question will come with how this team will adjust to the step up in competition. This is not a slight against the WAC or an overvaluation of C-USA. In fact, the two conferences' teams were pretty evenly-matched at the top, as evidenced by the split in the season series between Southern Miss and La Tech. The big difference comes after those top-tier teams. The WAC saw a considerable dropoff in competition after La Tech, NMSU, Utah State and Denver. C-USA's second and third tiers feature teams like Rice, East Carolina, and Tulane that could get you on any given night if you don't bring the A-game. That being said, the Bulldogs will be a tough out for conference favorites Southern Miss and UTEP and will likely contend in their very first year in C-USA.