McPherson High boys basketball coach Kurt Kinnamon is perfectly fine with his Bullpups being ranked No. 3 in the most recent KBCA poll.
He knows this isn’t the same Bullpup team that flew through 25 games last year unscathed. In fact, Drew Pyle has been joined by a brand-new starting four so far, at least until Spenser Wine returns from injury after Christmas.
The two-time defending Class 4A Division I state champions, though, are off to a rollicking 3-0 start, which has mushroomed their winning streak to 43. The streak, though, hasn't really seemed to weigh on this team because you never hear them talk of it.
Basehor-Linwood and Bishop Miege flip-flopped in the rankings this week since Miege lost last week to Blue Valley Northwest. Ironically, one of those teams is assured of not making it to state since they are housed together in same sub-state hosted by Basehor-Linwood, which was 24-0 last year before losing to the Bullpups in the state championship game.
Because sub-states determine the eventual final eight for Salina, state rankings are little more than a conversation piece. It does make for fodder for we media types come March, though, when there are some sub-states with two or three ranked teams and others where maybe one team has a winning record and the rest are in single digits in victories.
This week is out of the norm even for the Bullpups — especially in December when the games have little bearing on what happens in March. They have a tremendous challenge ahead of them tonight when they return to the scene of one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory, Abilene. In the 2013 sub-state, the Bullpups were on the verge of blowing out the Cowboys with a 17-3 lead, only to collapse under the weight of fouls and cold shooting the rest of the way.
On Friday, the Bullpups make what is now an annual trek to Kansas City for the invitation-only Hy-Vee Shootout to take on defending Missouri Big-Class champion Blue Springs South. This has to be one of the most anticipated games of the tournament and will be televised in McPherson for those Cox subscribers. This game, although in December, will feel much like last year’s games with Miege and Basehor-Linwood in the state semifinals and finals, respectively.
If the Bullpups can somehow survive these two supreme challenges, they should be considered for No. 1 in the poll, even if it’s just window dressing.
Miege, by the way, is one of the teams in the Hy-Vee. Looking at its roster, it has the 6-11 Bol Bol (son of former NBA star the late Manute Bol), as well as a 6-8 freshman, two 6-6 players and another 6-5. The best player, however, is 6-2 guard Semaj Ray, who was a handful at Salina last year.
The week is no less important for Chris Strathman’s girls. Abilene will have an experience advantage, not to mention a homecourt advantage. It has all five starters back from last year and another player who scored 10 points last Friday. The Bullpups will be giving away some size as well, so it’s imperative 6-0 center Mandi Cooks stay out of foul trouble. This game should give us an idea just where the Bullpups are, as so far they have relied greatly on Cooks and Taylor Robertson for most of their points.
On Friday in KC, MHS plays Lee’s Summit, a good team but not the caliber of, say, a Miege. But it’s a great experience with the game being shown on TV and an atmosphere that draws a lot of college recruiters.
What a way to go into Christmas.