College hoops starting earlier and earlier

By Steve Sell
October 30, 2015

College basketball in October.

What’s this world coming to?

I covered my first college basketball game of the season on Thursday as McPherson College’s women opened with an exciting —  albeit losing — effort against a Hillsdale Baptist team that competed in the NCCAA National Tournament last year and finished 24-3.

This was the first of more than 200 games I’ll be writing about until the middle of March, which seems light-years away.

Mac led the game by as many as 16 points in the second half before the Saints charged back and eventually won in overtime before an entertained Sport Center crowd.

I remember the old days when college basketball typically started on the first weekend of December and only a handful of games were played before Christmas.

Now, for example, McPherson College’s men and women are playing 17 — 17! — games apiece before January. 

And because the KCAC is becoming more bloated each year — there are now 11 schools competing for the title with another being added next year — 8 — 8! — conference games are being played prior to the teams going home for the holiday break.

I can’t wait to see what the KCAC does next year when the conference numbers 12 schools. I can’t imagine home-and-home series being played next year as that would mean teams would play 22 conference games.

I’m assuming the KCAC will be divided into North and South divisions, with teams in the same division playing each other twice (10 games) and then playing the other division once (six games). A 16-game conference schedule is more than enough to determine a champion, and then of course there’s the postseason tournament.

The only problem is the KCAC doesn’t have many true rivalries, with Bethany and Kansas Wesleyan easily topping the chart. You would think Bethany and McPherson College would be top rivals since they’re in the same county, but you ask any Swede fan their biggest rival and they’ll immediately say it’s the Coyotes. I’ll guarantee you the crowds at Bethany’s Hahn Gym have been bigger for Wesleyan than they have been for Mac.

Last night I also got a chance to see a couple of the new rules in women’s college basketball. The game is now divided into four quarters of 10 minutes each. Also, when a team reaches five fouls in a particular quarter, every foul after that results in an automatic two shots. At the start of the next quarter, the team fouls are wiped off the board and a team doesn’t shoot common fouls again until the fifth foul. 

The new rules certainly didn’t slow Mac or Hillsdale down. The Saints were called for 30 fouls and Mac was whistled for 28. A whopping 60 free throw attempts were taken, 30 by both teams.

As for the Mac women, I can say this with total confidence — they’ll win more than the four games they won last year.

Mac third-year coach Gordon Reimer definitely has upgraded the talent as guards Bailey Brown and Sunny Smart won’t feel pressured into having to carry the team.

McPherson High grad Ashton Bruner has returned to her hometown for her final season after playing last year at Emporia State, following a stellar career at Barton County Community College. Bruner, despite battling foul trouble, was the dominant player on the court with 14 points and 15 rebounds. She only played 28 of the 45 minutes as she fouled out, but there’s no question she’s a double-double machine waiting to happen.

Reimer also has added some other newcomers who are going to compete for playing time. He’s added quality to the backcourt as he has no less than six capable players there. The major shortcoming is 6-1 or 6-2 post player that most of the teams in the KCAC have. Bruner, Megan Acklin and Georgia Smart battle on the inside, but they give away some size. Yet, Mac had a 57-49 rebounding advantage against a Saints team that included 6-2 center Julia Robinson, a powerful inside presence.

Mac has a brutal early season schedule. Four of its first five conference opponents are regarded in the Top 5. While the record may not reflect the team’s improvement, I still think it can win at least a dozen games.