The top half of the bracket of the Class 5A State Girls Basketball Tournament is overcrowded with potential champions.
The tournament gets under way on Wednesday at the 79-year-old White Auditorium in Emporia as McPherson High goes back to its roots as it won its first two state titles in the venerable old barn.
The Bullpups are the top seed and 20-1 on the year. They have won 18 straight games since their only loss to expected Class 6A champion Derby.
They take on Topeka Seaman at 3:00 Wednesday. The Vikings were meandering along at 8-6 before catching fire as they have won their last eight games.
Should the Bullpups win, they would again play at 3:00 on Friday against the winner of Maize South and three-time defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas, the 5A version of Class 4A Bishop Miege.
The Bullpups are favored against Seaman and if they just play their game they should advance. They are coming off their most intense defensive performance of the year as last Saturday they strafed last year’s 5A runner-up Bishop Carroll, holding the Golden Eagles to just 32 points in winning in convincing fashion.
It’s Wednesday’s second game that has caught everybody’s eye and one that I know a lot of McPherson fans will stick around to watch.
Aquinas has four losses, but two of them are to Miege, which is going to make a mockery of the 4A tournament at Salina. The Saints also lost to Missouri powerhouse Liberty as well as Blue Valley North, a top 6A school.
You can bet the Saints are hardly ready to relinquish their championship. And Maize South comes in with a chip on its shoulder.
On the court the Mavericks are 22-0. The only close game they played was the regular-season finale against Goddard, winning 38-36. The Lions, by the way, are the No. 2 seed at Emporia.
The Mavericks just went through a wildly emotional week, as star player Zayda Perez was ruled ineligible, then eligible. They did have to forfeit six games, though one of the teams would not accept the forfeit apparently to make a statement that they didn’t agree with what KSHSAA was doing.
The mess apparently is resolved, but the end result was the Mavericks being the No. 5 seed, setting them up against No. 4 Aquinas. And the winner, of course, could get McPherson.
The bottom teams in the bracket probably believe they’re being overlooked, but clearly the power is upstairs.
For the Bullpup girls, it’s been a remarkable season when you consider they had to replace two NCAA Division I players, yet have won a majority of their games in overwhelming fashion. They don’t have that traditional 6-foot post player, but instead rely on quickness, shooting the 3 and their athleticism on defense, which often is their best offense. They give up only 32 points a game and have won by an average of 21.
To show the balance of this team as it’s the total sum of its parts, no player averages in double figures but seven average between 4.9 and 9.9.
The Bullpups also had to overcome the cancer scare of coach Chris Strathman, who missed the first six games due to colon cancer surgery. Thankfully, all appears to be well and they have yet to lose with Strathman at the helm.
They’ve also had to overcome the losses of energetic senior Riley Hett and Emma Malm to injuries. Hett has been one of the state’s best defensive players throughout her career.
If the Bullpups are to win their 10th state championship, they’re certainly going to earn it. This is a tremendous year for 5A basketball and any number of teams could be raising the plaque on Saturday afternoon.