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Gazzolo Column: No laughers on Cowboys’ early schedule

Last Modified: Thursday, November 07, 2013 10:17 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It’s a good thing Dave Simmons has a sense of humor and not an inferiority complex.

A quick look at the McNeese State men’s basketball schedule and you will understand why both will be tested in the next few weeks.

Simmons, in his eighth year as Cowboys head coach, might have the toughest job on campus right now.

His team tips off the season Friday night at second-ranked Michigan State. It is just the start of a high-profile campaign that will see Simmons test his skills against some of the nation’s winningest coaches.

Tom Izzo is first up with his 412 career victories, five Final Four appearances and one national title.

“I guess he wants me to show him a thing or two,” Simmons joked before a recent Cowboys practice.

But that is just the start. He will also square off against SMU and Larry Brown (270 college wins, 3 Final Fours, 1 title, 1 NBA championship) and San Diego State’s Steve Fisher (718, 3,1).

As if that is not enough, if Simmons’ Cowboys win two games in the Preseason NIT, he could go up against the winningest college men’s coach of all time in Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and his 927 wins and four championships.

If that were to play out, Simmons will get to test his whits against four likely Hall of Famers who combined have won 2,327 games, seven national championships, two Olympic gold medals, one NBA crown and made 21 appearances in the Final Four.

“Is that all?” Simmons said with a smile after being told the numbers. “I might have to get some autographs before the games.”

That is how Simmons has decided to approach the challenge, not by complaining but rather rolling with the punches, or punch lines.

“I guess somebody thought I had a lot still to learn,” he said. “Or maybe they just don’t like me.”

Hard to believe anybody doesn’t like Simmons. He seems to have fun with whatever situation he is put in. Over the next two months he will be put in more than a few tough ones.

A strange quirk in the schedule has the Cowboys playing only twice at home before Southland Conference play begins. Both those games are against Division III opponents, meaning it will be hard for local folks to get a good look at this year’s club.

“If we play well or pull off a few upsets then they will hear about us,” said Simmons, who always finds the bright side.

McNeese will also play games at LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech, which spent a good portion of last season in the Top 25 after losing to the Cowboys at the Civic Center.

“We showed by beating Tech last year that we could play with some of the good teams,” Simmons said.

Yes, but every night?

This will be a test, one that rival Lamar sort of went through at the start of last year. The young Cardinals never recovered.

“We are a different team from them” Simmons said. “We have played in big places before.”

Last year McNeese traveled to Chapel Hill to play North Carolina, one of the country’s elite programs. And, after a brutal start, the Cowboys hung tough.

“I think that experience will help us,” Simmons said. “We got caught in awe of our surroundings. Now we know what to expect.”

He says this is good for the overall program, but does admit it is done for the money his Cowboys will bring home from such games.

“The exposure is good for the program and financially we have to play some of these games,” he said.

Simmons then pointed out there are fewer tickets available for his team’s game at Michigan State than the Spartans’ next contest against No. 1 Kentucky.

“McNeese is a hot ticket,” he said.

Good to keep that sense of humor.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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