The release of the 2019-20 McNeese State men's basketball regular-season schedule means that the official start of practice will be here before we know it.
A team with a lot of turnover on the roster faces high expectations as head coach Heath Schroyer goes into his second year leading the program. Schroyer's first season in Lake Charles didn't go as he expected it to, but that's in the past. The roster has been constructed the way he wants it to be, at least I'd hope.
As I look at the schedule, my feeling about it as a whole is that it's good. Schroyer said the nonconference slate will challenge the team as they prepare for Southland Conference play, and I absolutely agree.
There are a number of aspects of the schedule that stand out. The major one being the clear distinction in quality between the home and road portions of the nonconference schedule. The Cowboys will travel and play Power Five schools Texas and Wisconsin, as well as highly regarded mid-major New Mexico in The Pit, one of the most raucous atmospheres in college basketball.
McNeese opens the season at Western Michigan and follows that by making the short trip east on Interstate 10 to play longtime rival Louisiana-Lafayette. For good measure, throw a road trip to Richmond in there as well.
The home nonconference games? Well, I mean, they're games against basketball teams. The home opener is against NAIA Southern-New Orleans. Then they'll host Arlington Baptist and Campbellsville Harrodsburg (you should remember them as the short but scrappy 3-point shooting team that played McNeese last season); both are members of the National Christian College Athletic Association.
Finally, the Cowboys hosts Division I Missouri-Kansas City as the Roos will bookend the home-and-home series that saw McNeese travel to Kansas City in 2018. The Cowboys will wrap up nonconference play against NAIA Paul Quinn College.
So if you're doing the math, that's two NCCAA teams, two NAIA teams, and one Division I team on the home nonconference schedule.
Schroyer explained the reasons why the schedule is the way it is. I'll quickly run through them again: an additional two conference games means two fewer nonconference games; the home-and-home against the Ragin' Cajuns meant that McNeese had to go to Lafayette this season; taking the trip to the Bahamas came with the stipulation of playing two nonconference games in Destin, Florida, in the 2020-21 season.
Additionally, scheduling can be difficult. Schroyer acknowledged that. Sometimes, you never know until the schedule is released. Even then, you really don't know until you show up the day of the game (I'm exaggerating, but you get what I mean).
But in the conversation I had with Schroyer, I asked him to look at the schedule from a fan's perspective. Unless you graduated from one of those small schools, or have a close personal connection (family or friend playing or coaching there), what is catching the average person's eye to go to a game on a weeknight when they might have work the next morning or their children likely have school the next day?
The fans who really want to go are going to go to the games regardless of opponent. Some may still want to see the Health and Human Performance Complex because of the newness and novelty of it. But for those on the fence, that home nonconference slate just doesn't whet the appetite.
It should give McNeese some wins. The Cowboys can't afford any hiccups like last season when they lost the home opener to NAIA Loyola-New Orleans. That simply can't happen this season, for any reason whatsoever. Truthfully, anything less than four wins out of the five nonconference home games should be looked at with raised eyebrows. The road schedule is a totally different ball of wax. If they can split the six nonconference road games, they'd have done well for themselves.
Taking a look at the conference schedule, there's not much to say because it's the same teams the Cowboys face every season. They only have to face perennial powers Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State once each, and both games are at home to start SLC play.
McNeese's lone road trip longer than two games for the entire season comes at the very end when they travel to Houston Baptist, Nicholls State and Lamar. It could be something or nothing. But if a berth or seeding is being determined for the conference tournament, ending the season with three straight on the road could be a challenge.
But that's why the nonconference road schedule is so tough, to prepare the Cowboys for that scenario.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled football programming for the next few months.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com