From a pure records standpoint, the 24th annual Mid America Classic that begins today at the Roundhouse is loaded.
Six of the eight teams have a winning record and even the No. 7 seed, Wichita Southeast, isn’t far off from .500 at 4-6.
Only Valley Center, at 1-8, is lacking and the Hornets have lost three of their games by 5 points or less.
McPherson High’s girls, who won the Classic title for the first time since 2012 last year, are seeking their 20th appearance in the finals in the 24th year of the event. Only once has MHS not won an opening-round game.
There appears to be little separation among the Bullpups, Olathe South and Manhattan, a combined 24-4. Then you have 8-1 Ulysses, whose only loss was a 12-pointer to Colby and does own a win over Dodge City. However, the Tigers don't play a strong schedule, at least compared to MHS, South and Manhattan.
Here’s how I see the order of finish:
1. McPherson — Last year’s tournament served as a springboard to the state championship. I really believe if the Bullpups win the Classic, they’re going to run the regular-season table and finish 19-1. A showdown with Olathe South in the finals will be a tremendous test, but MHS finally ended the Falcons' domination last year and is over that mental barrier.
2. Olathe South — I think we could have one of the best semifinal matchups in tourney history when the Falcons take on Manhattan. I’m sure South is looking forward to the tournament because it has yet to be pushed this year, winning all its games by double digits. It’s a typical South team in that it doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, but is tremendous defensively. Dani Winslow, a 6-1 junior, may be the best player in the field.
3. Manhattan — You look at the Indians’ losses — powerhouses St. Thomas Aquinas, Washburn Rural and Topeka High — and you know they have played great competition. If Winslow isn’t the best player here, then it might be Manhattan’s Kia Wilson, a 6-2 senior who averages 16 and lit up Hayden for 27.
4. Dodge City — I was impressed with the Red Demons when the Bullpups played them in Dodge last month. They like to get up and down the floor and Kisa Unruh can flat-out score, as her 25 points against the Bullpups would attest. It’s a team without a lot of height, but certainly is athletic enough to play with the best teams.
5. Wellington — This is the most difficult team to figure. The Crusaders have been among the best teams in Class 4A, but this is their first time coming here. What caught my attention was a 59-57 victory over Circle in their most recent game, which for me bumps them past Ulysses. Freshman Ali Zeka, whose mother the former Anne Chartier was a former Bullpup star, averages 8 points a game.
6. Ulysses — The Tigers have a lot of experience back, led by Gina Ballesteros, who is tossing in 14 points a game. Riley Oglevie is back in the middle and is a long 6-2. What gives them an advantage is having played four games in the Roundhouse last year.
7. Valley Center — The Hornets certainly have played good competition. They lost by only 2 to a decent Andover team and also lost to Kingman by just 4 points. Another team that struggles to score.
8. Wichita Southeast — Four wins against City League competition is nothing to sneeze at, though two of them are against East. It’s a struggle for the Golden Buffaloes to put up points as they have no player averaging at least 7.