KCAC needs to shorten conference basketball season

By Steve Sell
November 20, 2015

McPherson College men’s basketball coach Tim Swartzendruber and Southwestern’s Matt O’Brien were in complete agreement after Thursday’s KCAC conference opener in Winfield, a wildly entertaining affair that went the Moundbuilders’ way, 96-84.

Both coaches already were lamenting the fact that their teams still have 19 more conference games to go and wonder what the toll that such a lengthy conference season will have on their teams.

Normally, KCAC schools play four conference games before Christmas. This year that number has been doubled to eight.

I talked with some coaches around the KCAC during our football visits this fall and I haven’t found any that are keen on this. The new format obviously favors the more-experienced teams as they should get off to better starts and there could be some teams out of conference title contention by the middle of December, which takes some luster off the 2016 portion of the schedule.

The KCAC this season expanded to 11 teams, with the addition of Oklahoma Wesleyan. Next year it goes to 12 with the addition of York and from what I’ve heard, and I hope I’m wrong, the double-round-robin format will continue, which would mean 22 conference games.

If this is indeed the case, I hope it’s revisited as I just can’t imagine a 22-game conference schedule. In an earlier post I recommended the KCAC be divided into two divisions, a North and South. Now I’m not a logistics master, but the North would include McPherson College, Bethany College, Kansas Wesleyan, Ottawa, Saint Mary and York College. The South would include Tabor, Bethel, Friends, Southwestern, Sterling and Oklahoma Wesleyan. Teams would play two games against those in their own division and then one against the six teams in the other division. That would give teams a 16-game conference schedule, more than enough to determine division champions and two automatic qualifiers for the national tournament. I would see no need for the postseason tournament, but if it was retained due to its popularity, I would reduce it to four teams, the top two in each division. 

It took only one night to make clear to me that the men’s talent level and parity in the KCAC is on the rise, which is the polar opposite of football as I believed this year’s season was as watered down as I’ve seen it for quite some time. Only four of the 10 teams won more than three games.

I believe the basketball teams have gotten better because so many coaches now beat the bushes at the junior college level. You very seldom see teams play freshmen, though McPherson College is the exception. It has a really nice freshman class that if it stays together, should be highly successful down the road.

Teams like Tabor, Bethany and Saint Mary rely heavily on transfers. I can remember the day when teams would take only one or two a year, but you look at the rosters now and you’ll see as many as seven or eight.

There’s already been a shot fired that was heard around the KCAC. Bethany, which has a collection of ridiculously talented athletes, lost in triple-overtime on the road at Kansas Wesleyan, the supposed 10th-place team in the league by the preseason polls. In fairness to the Swedes, they did play without All-American candidate Cody Harris, who was out with a bum ankle.

Also, prohibitive conference favorite Tabor was taken into overtime by Ottawa, at home no less. Generally, the Bluejays just have to show up in their home gym and a victory is virtually automatic. It may be one of those cases where Tabor coach Micah Ratzlaff has too much talent, as he has as many as 10 players who are starter-worthy.

Saint Mary, a team many believe will win the KCAC if Tabor doesn’t, was uber-impressive in rolling past Sterling. Even Bethel, which is picked last, put up 81 points on KCAC newcomer Oklahoma Wesleyan in a losing effort.