Led by three seniors and a slew of players with experience, the McNeese Cowboys will open up the 2014-15 basketball season on Friday night against a Baylor team that is coming off a third straight NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.
Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 at Baylor's Ferrell Center. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Southwest Plus as well as joined in progress on Fox College Sports Pacific (channel 133 on Lake Charles Suddenlink digital cable). There will be no local radio broadcast.
The Cowboys, 11-20 a year ago, returns starting seniors Kevin Hardy (11.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Desharick Guidry (10.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg) along with senior Keelan Garrett (6.1 ppg), but missing will be senior forwardCraig McFerrin who will likely miss the season with a should injury.
Hardy is expected to move back to his original position on the wing after spending all of last year at the point guard spot. Sophomore Jamaya Burr and redshirt freshman Marcus Mathieu will take over that role as Burr is expected to get the start on Friday.
And along with McFerrin's injury, several other Cowboys have been banged up leading up to Friday's opener, but nobody else is expected to miss any playing time.
"Our biggest opponent is not Baylor," said ninth-year head coach Dave Simmons, "it's called injuries. Both Kevin and Desharick have been injured but they'll be back. Trying to stay healthy has been our biggest opponent."
Baylor (26-12 last year) will be fielding a new look with some different personnel. The Bears return two starters and just five letterwinners from last year's team but 12th-year head coach Scott Drew is expecting to build on the team's strength, and that's offense.
"He's done a very good job there," said Simmons of Drew. "They're always competitive. It's going to be a test for us and this will be a game to find out where we are."
Expecting to join Hardy, Guidry, Burr and Garrett in the lineup will be junior forward Austin Lewis who Simmons is hoping has shed the sophomore slump stigma and is ready to become a force under the net.
"He's really practiced hard in the preseason," said Simmons of Lewis. "He seems to be coming along nicely.
"I feel like we can run with anyone but the key is if we can rebound against them and match their physical play. Baylor is definitely a fast paced team and will run it. But if we can make our shots and match physical play, that is the biggest thing for us. We're going to have to be able to play with them on the glass."
Baylor's top player is senior guard Kenny Chery (11.5 ppg, 4.7 apg) who earned All-Big 12 honors as a point guard last year and led the Bears to a 12-3 mark in the last 15 games of the season. Friday's game will be third meeting between the two teams with Baylor having won the previous two (78-55 on Nov. 27, 1999 and 69-66 in overtime on Dec. 12, 1998).
The Cowboys open their home season on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when they host Louisiana College.