The Southland Conference basketball seasons are months from starting, but both the McNeese State men's and women's teams have already scored major wins.
But with those wins come even more pressure.
You see, the SLC voted to reduce the number of league games from 20 to 16 for the 2020-21 season. This decision was made to cut travel expenses and save athletic departments money.
How this will work is that every SLC team will play eight other league teams twice, and they will not play the other four teams, at least not in games that will count towards the conference standings. As bad as the tiebreakers have been for the conference before, I'm sure they will only get more and more difficult with this added element in play for a season.
Even with that, both the McNeese men's and women's basketball teams stand to benefit greatly from this one-year decision. Neither team will have to play Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Let me first start by analyzing how this will affect the women's team. Head coach Kacie Cryer's contract was extended for one more season, meaning that the 2020-21 season is about as make or break as one can get for a coach. Her seat is hot, and she knows it. What it will take to see her contract extended beyond next season is unknown, but the Cowgirls have to improve their record, that much is certain. I'd venture to say that making the SLC Tournament is the minimum for Cryer keeping her position.
What better boost can a team get than not to face teams that it finished 0-4 against last season. Obviously teams get better or worse from season to season, but all we can go off is what we last saw.
That's four games that McNeese probably would have gone into as underdogs but now won't take place. McNeese's nonconference schedule should serve as a means of earning money for the program and preparing them for conference play. The whole goal needs to be making the SLC Tournament and seeing if March can do its madness thing.
If Cryer and the Cowgirls can't be one of the conference's top eight teams for the tournament, even with the benefit of not having to play any of the previous season's top four teams, that's not good.
For the men, they miss out on four good teams that finished first, third, fourth and eighth place in the SLC last season. I dare say that this development should put McNeese in the conversation as a conference championship contender. Replacing Sha'markus Kennedy and Roydell Brown is no easy task, but the Cowboys should have one of, if not the best backcourts in the conference with A.J. Lawson, Dru Kuxhausen and Myles Hutchinson proving he's a steady contributor.
The Cowboys will have to be more consistent, so no six-game losing streaks after winning seven in a row. Heath Schroyer's squad snuck into the SLC Tournament on the last day of the regular season thanks to an incredible last-minute shot by Kuxhausen.
Simply getting into the tournament won't be good enough. It wasn't good enough before the schedule change and it definitely won't be now. Top four should be the minimum expectation.
Again, let me stress, how a team finished last year isn't always the greatest indicator of how a team will do the following season. The SLC will be tough regardless of who McNeese has to play because it's just one of those conferences. It's hard to argue that the Cowboys didn't receive a boost to their efforts for next season.
But for both the men's and women's teams, it doesn't matter if they get the boost if they can't take advantage of it.
If not now, when?
David Berry covers McNeese State
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