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McNeese State men's basketball coach Dave Simmons had little to smile about with the deck stacked against him this season. With a more favorable schedule and the addition of a player or two, the Cowboys should stand a better chance to be more competitive next season. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

McNeese State men's basketball coach Dave Simmons had little to smile about with the deck stacked against him this season. With a more favorable schedule and the addition of a player or two, the Cowboys should stand a better chance to be more competitive next season. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Cowboys take lemons, make lemonade

Last Modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 11:40 AM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Each year, NFL Films packages a recap of every team’s season that has some catchy title, a handful of highlights and typically leaves you feeling optimistic about your team’s prospects, even if it finished 5-11.

If such a thing were replicated in college basketball, the name of McNeese State’s 2013-14 video is easy enough to come up with: “The Season That Had No Chance.”

The Cowboys were behind the 8-ball before the first ball was tossed up at midcourt, and never really had a chance to recover. With the schedule this team was dealt, finishing 11-20 with a 9-9 mark in conference play was not much less than anyone could have realistically expected. McNeese may not have reached its ceiling — there were three or four more winnable games that went the other way — but the Cowboys certainly made it up to their attic.

The nonconference season was crazy when it was printed out, but as things played out in reality it became downright deranged.

McNeese played one — one! — home game before conference play when the second had to be canceled due to NCAA rules about playing non-Division I opponents. Not that playing two nonconference games is all that much better.

The only thing worse than the volume of playing 11 of the first 12 games away from home was the degree of difficulty.

In addition to playing No. 2 Michigan State to get things started, the Cowboys faced three eventual regular-season conference champions in Georgia State (Sun Belt), San Diego State (Mountain West) and Louisiana Tech (Conference USA). Throw in a Southern Methodist (American Athletic Conference) program that cracked The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in three decades, and you’ve got a recipe for mass ugliness.

To top it off, the first eight games were played without leading rebounder Desharick Guidry, who was academically ineligible.

When that’s your launching point, it’s a little surprising the season didn’t more look like the disaster that took place down the interstate at Lamar.

Like many teams, the Cowboys took on the personality of their leading scorer. Of course, when that player is Ledrick Eackles, the end result is a team that’s all over the map in ways Lewis and Clark could only dream of.

Eackles’ game is one of peaks and valleys. When he was brilliant, everyone else seemed to be. And when he was off, so was everything else about the Cowboys.

Next season the onus will be on Kevin Hardy to guide McNeese with a steadier hand. The guard is a quiet, respectful type, but must not hesitate in asserting that the 2014-15 Cowboys are his team.

McNeese will have a solid core of senior starters in Hardy, Guidry and Craig McFerrin. All of them ranked in the top 12 in the Southland in rebounding. Combined with a more favorable schedule to start the season, they give McNeese a chance to get back over the .500 mark.

Granted, that’s no guarantee.

With Eackles gone, McNeese is missing a player who can truly catch fire from 3-point range. If the Cowboys want to have an extended stay in Katy, Texas, next year in the SLC tournament, head coach Dave Simmons will almost surely have to turn to the junior college ranks or find a fifth-year graduate school enrollee who is available to play — and shoot — immediately.

If Simmons finds that player, McNeese can go into next season knowing it has a chance at success.

Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at ahickey@americanpress.com

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