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?

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.

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<em><strong>David Berry</strong> covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at dberry@americanpress.com</em>””<p>McNeese’s James Harvey drives in against North Carolina Central’s Reggie Gardner Jr. during a non-conference at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)</p>Rick Hickman

    d5b8fdd4-0cfd-11e8-8b65-870c8f52c0492018-02-08T19:00:00Zsports/mcneese,sportsHomecoming for HardinCoach returns with Virginia TylerNunezhttps://www.americanpress.com/content/tncms/avatars/2/ae/90e/2ae90eb6-3a68-11e7-9e29-2b5322bd0ff3.8e5459d6b5c789cac9b55255a225f7a9.png<p class="p1">The McNeese State softball team will open its season against a familiar face when it takes on Virginia in a doubleheader beginning at 5:30 p.m. today on Cowgirl Diamond.</p><p class="p1">The Cavaliers are coached by former McNeese head coach Joanna Hardin.</p><p class="p1">The doubleheader opens the Cowgirl Classic, which will run through Sunday and include No. 20 Tulsa, Houston Baptist and Southern University.</p><p class="p1">McNeese head coach James Landreneau said he’s looking forward to going up against Hardin and the Cavaliers.</p><p class="p1">“Any time you get to play against someone you have so much respect for, it’s fun and exciting,” Landreneau said. “We just appreciate Virginia coming in and playing in the tournament this weekend. It gives us an opportunity to play against a quality opponent.”</p><p class="p1">McNeese senior and preseason all-American Erika Piancastelli said she’s looking forward to catching up with Hardin. But more urgent is the Cowgirls’ desire to play a team that’s not wearing a McNeese jersey. </p><p class="p1">“We are stoked to play somebody else besides each other,” Piancastelli said. “It’s hard playing each other so much. We get in our own heads a lot. We’re just excited to see another team and be able to do what we do best.”</p><p class="p1">Piancastelli enters the season with little or nothing to prove, having earned the Southland Conference’s player and hitter of the year awards in all three of her seasons with McNeese and helping lead the Cowgirls to two consecutive SLC titles and subsequent NCAA Tournament berths. </p><p class="p1">She owns six school records with three career records and three single-season records. Last year she led the Cowgirls in home runs (13), walks (63), slugging percentage (.681), RBIs (49) and total bases (109). She also had a .375 batting average with 60 hits. </p><p class="p1">“I don’t really have a main goal this season,” Piancastelli said. “I just kind of want to enjoy the ride. This senior class has been thinking about how this is our last season, so we’re really just trying to enjoy every single moment, every practice, every hit, every meeting … everything.”</p><p class="p1">The Cowgirls will be led in the circle by sophomore ace Alexsandra Flores, who was 11-4 record with a 1.66 ERA in her freshman campaign.</p><p class="p1">Landreneau said the Cowgirls will also use redshirt freshman Caroline Settle and true freshmen Ashley Koncir and Amber Coons in the circle.</p><p class="p1">Flores said despite their youth, she expects the pitching staff to flourish.</p><p class="p1">“We’re going to have a really good pitching staff,” Flores said. “Every single one of us has something to bring to the table.”</p><p class="p1">McNeese returns seniors and all-SLC selections in utility player Carleigh Chaumont and catcher and outfielder Morgan Catron. </p><p class="p1">The game marks the start of Hardin’s second season with Virginia. She led the Cavaliers to their first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament since 2013 with more ACC wins (9) than any Virginia squad since 2010. </p><p class="p1">Virginia is led by senior pitcher and outfielder Allison Davis, who was second on the team with a .328 hitting clip last season. </p><p class="p1">The Cavaliers also return their top three pitchers in juniors Erika Osherow (15-19, 4.78 ERA in 2017), Lacy Smith (3-5, 7.61) and Lexi Mettler (3-6, 5.00), who combined for 215<span class="s1">2</span>⁄3 innings in 2017.</p>