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McNeese State head coach Dave Simmons. (American Press)<br>

McNeese State head coach Dave Simmons. (American Press)

Gazzolo: Cowboys take step up in competition

Last Modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 6:54 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Beating Louisiana Tech is a nice feature in your cap, especially when it is the place your coach went to college.

Toppling local rival Louisiana-Lafayette, also a nice little perk. Good for recruiting and gives your fans the rights to brag for a year.

Those are two wins that you can take to the bank now, but the bill appears to be coming due for the McNeese State Cowboys. And they seem just fine with that.

McNeese stands at 5-3 after Wednesday night’s victory over La. Tech, a nice 80-72 triumph that showed this team has the potential to be pretty good.

Given this was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the start has lifted spirits and expectations.

“It is a good start, something we can build on,” McNeese head coach Dave Simmons said.

However, those and the three other McNeese wins over non-Division I foes are small fish. A bigger one is coming and after that, a whale.

The Cowboys are about to step up a level in competition.

Having yet to win on the road, their games away from Lake Charles have been against LSU, Ole Miss and Southeast Missouri, the Cowboys are about to go on the road again. And while there isn’t a gimme in the already played trio, the next two games are even tougher.

Six days and many miles will separate the next two games. So does the level of competition.

Sunday the Cowboys go to Lubbock for a game against Texas Tech. This appears to be a winnable game as the Red Raiders, despite being 6-1, have had their share of issues over the past few years. It is possible that the Cowboys will be the best team Tech has played outside of its loss to Arizona.

Then will come the real test, a week from this Saturday in Chapel Hill against mighty North Carolina, in the Dean Dome, named after the Tar Heels’ legendary head coach.

“We will find out a lot about ourselves in the next two weeks,” Simmons said.

Games like these, and in fact most of the early season this year for McNeese, is an effort to raise the profile of the program.

“I always believe in playing a tough schedule,” Simmons said. “It is great to show kids new venues and places to play. It is a great opportunity to play a team like Carolina, who will raise our profile.”

It is a chance for the Cowboys to find out just how good they really are.

“We will find out what we are made of,” Simmons said.

As for the players, they are ready for the challenge.

“Those games are exciting to play,” said sophomore guard Kevin Hardy. “We want to show that we can play with the big programs. We are not going to be intimidated.”

It is important for the Cowboys to at least show they can play on the same court with the big boys in these games. If for nothing else so that they can get invited to more games against similar foes.

“You always want to be competitive, especially when you play the good teams,” Simmons said.

Nobody is a bigger name than North Carolina.

You have to admire Simmons and company for being this ambitious this year, in a season when so many questions greeted the young Cowboys. You would love to have an experienced crew going into the Dean Dome at Carolina, but that is not the case.

“This is a great learning experience for our young guys,” Simmons said.

Some lessons can be tough to learn.

•••

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

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