Cowboys need perimeter shots to fall
Now it matters for McNeese State men’s basketball.
Did the nonconference mean anything? Optimists may point to the strength of schedule, which at one point, according to the Jeff Sagarin ratings, was as high as third toughest in the country. As of right now, the Cowboys’ SOS is ranked 86th. Still pretty tough, but they’ve clearly faced opponents that were not as tough as the ones they saw early in the season.
With that type of nonconference schedule, McNeese should definitely be ready to take on Southland opponents, right?
While the Cowboys won’t face many teams — if any — near as good as Mississippi State, St. Mary’s, or Arizona State during SLC play. They will face teams along the lines of North Carolina Central, Missouri-Kansas City, and Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
Even with a new coaching staff and a lot of new players, one win in nine tries over a Division I team during nonconference play just isn’t good enough. Worse yet was the home-opening loss to NAIA Loyola-New Orleans, but even that loss I’ll slightly put on being early in the season with nerves and whatnot. Still a game the Cowboys should have won, but one of those "it happens" type of games.
As a review of nonconference and a preview of conference play, McNeese’s biggest issues are easily apparent: 3-point shooting and turnovers.
Behind the arc, McNeese averages 4.5 made 3s per game (tied for 344th in the country); its 27.3 percent 3-point shooting is 337th. There are 351 Divison I college basketball teams.
For the most part, and at least from what I’ve seen, this is not a scheme or coaching problem. In fact, it’s the opposite. Because McNeese relies so heavily on getting the ball inside to its bigs, teams constantly collapse the paint and force the Cowboys to kick the ball out. So McNeese tends to wind up with a lot of really good, open 3-point looks. They’re just not going in.
Let’s put it like this: no one would confuse the 2017-18 team for the Golden State Warriors of the past few seasons. But if this current team shot the percentage that last season’s team did from 3 — 34.8 percent and 7.2 made per game — I’d feel much better about the Cowboys going into SLC play and they’d probably have another two wins at least.
The minimum amount of 3-point attempts McNeese has tried in a game was 13. In seven of those games, the Cowboys have hit four or fewer. In McNeese’s last four games, its hit 10 3s. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Malik Marquetti took over and hit seven by himself when the Ragin’ Cajuns came to Lake Charles and beat McNeese.
The open 3s won’t go away either. Teams have a scouting report on the Cowboys and know they want to send the ball into the post. They also know that the perimeter shooters have struggled to hit shots. Don’t be surprised to see the opposition throw zone defenses at the Cowboys. The best way to beat a zone is to shoot a team out of it and, well, McNeese hasn’t shown much proof it can do that. McNeese knows it. The opposition knows it. It’s up to the Cowboys to hit outside shots, otherwise SLC play is going to bear a lot of similarities to nonconference play.
The turnovers are obviously harmful, but it effects both ends of the court. Too often, McNeese players commit careless and unforced turnovers. The ball winds up in the hands of the opposing team on a fast break and the 3-on-2, 2-on-1, or 1-on-none winds up as an easy two points.
The 15.5 turnovers per game ranks 302nd in the country. McNeese also isn’t forcing many turnovers (11.6 per game). As Cowboys head coach Heath Schroyer says, however many turnovers the team commits in a game is however many times his team doesn’t even get a shot, whether the shot was good or bad.
Three of McNeese’s most turnover-prone games have been the most recent games. The 62 turnovers in the last three games was the most of any three-game stretch this season.
Teams will continue to throw some sort of press at McNeese because they’ve seen the team struggle with it throughout nonconference play. It’s up to the team to stop the silly turnovers. I estimate they’d cut at least two off their average just by limiting unforced errors.
The SLC has historically been a one-bid league to the NCAA Tournament. When McNeese has been at its best this season, it is a team that can definitely compete for that bid. But the weaknesses have shown far too much early on and the Cowboys will need to tighten that up to give themselves a real chance.
Let the (conference) games begin.
<em><strong>David Berry</strong> covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org</em>