Before the season, I wrote that anything short of a Southland Conference Tournament berth for the McNeese State men's and women's basketball teams would be a failure, or a disappointment to use softer euphemism.
The women's team was already eliminated from the tournament contention, but the Cowboys control their own destiny to make the trip to Katy, Texas.
This column will be written and filed before tonight's final buzzer sounds on McNeese's home game against Southeastern Louisiana, but I will lay out all of the scenarios that could have happened last night with the Cowboys and the teams around them in the in the SLC standings.
No matter what happened to other team, if McNeese won, it will hold the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament. With Central Arkansas idle and Lamar playing Incarnate Word, the best-case scenario for the Cowboys if they won was for UIW to have won. That would leave McNeese a half-game behind Lamar for seventh place and one game behind UCA for sixth.
But, if the Cowboys lost their seventh game in a row and inexplicably allowed SLU to break its own seven-game losing streak, they'd would've needed New Orleans to beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Lamar to beat UIW. At least then the Cowboys would still hold on to eighth place. However, if TAMU-CC and/or UIW won, that would create at least a two-way tie for eighth.
Fortunately for McNeese, if it finishes the season tied with TAMU-CC, it wouldn't automatically be eliminated because it lost head to head to the Islanders. That's because the SLC's tiebreaker rules are ridiculous and, if two SLC teams meet only once during the regular season, would only give the tiebreaker to the winning team if it was on the road.
To clarify, TAMU-CC beat McNeese 69-62 on Feb. 5, but the Islanders won't automatically win the tiebreaker because the game was in Corpus Christi instead of Lake Charles. How ridiculous.
And the tiebreakers for three-way ties are even more convoluted. Basically, McNeese needs to win and keep winning, only then can it assure itself of a trip to the conference tournament.
At this point, the Cowboys need to find any way to get to Katy. I like head coach Heath Schroyer and his coaching staff, and they have definitely improved the program and instilled a level of excitement.
But not making the SLC Tournament after starting conference play 7-3 would be an utter collapse.
McNeese has been fortunate from an injury standpoint, much more fortunate than the women's team. The Cowboys have had plenty of off-court issues, more than one team usually experiences in a season.
But this is essentially the same team that gave teams like Texas, New Mexico and Wisconsin all they could handle for at least a half. It's the same streaky team that, after losing three in a row against some of the better teams to start SLC play, won seven in a row. The Cowboys went on the road and beat Abilene Christian and beat Nicholls State in overtime.
I expect that by the time you read this column, McNeese will have beaten last-place SLU. A loss should really ring alarm bells.
I thought McNeese would take advantage of a four-game stretch that saw them take on the bottom four teams in the SLC standings. But they lost at Incarnate Word and at home to then-last-place UNO. Now, with three of its final four regular-season games take place on the road, this week has to be two wins out of two or else odds of making the conference tournament could be in jeopardy.
If the Cowboys can just make the tournament, anything can happen. Stephen F. Austin will be the favorite, and for good reason. But McNeese gave the Lumberjacks a game without the full services of leading scorer and rebounder Sha'markus Kennedy. It just needs to find a way to get there.
Anything else is a calamity, plain and simple.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com