McPherson High’s boys and Buhler are a long way from being done with each other this season.
After watching Tuesday’s terrific tussle at the Roundhouse, there’s a good chance these two highly ranked teams could meet two more times.
One is a given. The Bullpups and Crusaders will throw down again on the final night of the regular season in Buhler.
Having seen the other AVCTL Division III teams except for Rose Hill, expect that Feb. 26 meeting to pit a Bullpup team 9-0 in league play against the 8-1 Crusaders.
I’ll be honest, and despite McPherson High coach Kurt Kinnamon’s constant warnings before the game of Buhler’s prowess, the Crusaders were far better than I imagined. They took the Bullpups’ best shot at the start of the game — MHS was up 9-0 as the Roundhouse roof was about to come off — yet lived to tell about it. The Crusaders worked their way back into the game and trailed by only three at the half. MHS was able to go up as many as 14 in the fourth quarter before Buhler charged back as close as five.
Buhler’s Noah Webster, while not quite in Blue Spring South’s KJ Robinson’s class, will be near the top of the guards the Bullpups have to defend this year. Webster has an explosive first step and MHS had a hard time staying in front of him. We get a chance to watch players’ careers develop while doing this job and it’s obvious Webster has worked hard to make himself one of the best guards not just in this area, but in Kansas.
The Bullpups were able to hold longtime staple Jace Williams in relative check. He did have one point-burst in the third quarter when he scored 10 of his 12, but the rest of the time MHS kept him from taking over. Williams is one of the last of the great three-sport athletes in this era of specialization as basketball is probably his No. 3 — that tells you how good he is in football and baseball.
MHS also did a good job of not allowing deluxe sharpshooter Tanner Lackey to get on a roll after he had made 6 of 6 3-pointers in his last game. He shook free for a couple of first-half treys and it’s obvious if you leave him open, he’ll make you pay.
The Bullpups proved they could overcome adversity. Not having Drew Pyle on the floor for half of the first half tested their mettle, but a key was the play of sophomore Ben Pyle, who has raised his game several rungs from his freshman season. He has wondrous skills for someone with his 6-6 height, the ability to shoot from long range as well as finish at the basket. With his long arms that make him seem more like 6-9, he’s a nightmarish defender for opponents. Once he develops more strength, the sky is the limit for him.
Spenser Wine is starting to provide the consistent third scoring option that was missing before Christmas. Jacob Loecker is excelling at the things he does best (defense and rebounding, he pulled down eight on Tuesday), while Marcus McDaniel plays with sheer toughness. Finally, Drew Pyle is simply MHS’ next All-State All-Class first-team selection. Of course I haven’t seen all the great players in the state, but there’s no way there’s five playing better than him right now. Did you happen to catch his show in KC? Case closed.
I don’t see either team hardly losing the rest of the regular season, unless it’s in midseason tournament play. And given how Hays, which moved to 7-1 on Tuesday, has played out West, there’s a very real possibility that we’re looking at three of the top five ranked teams in Class 4A Division I being in the same sub-state at Ulysses. As Kinnamon mentioned after the game, it wouldn’t surprise him if MHS and Buhler have to travel 460 miles round trip in order to play a game between schools separated by 15 minutes.
Once again KSHSAA’s insistence on releasing sub-state pairings early in the season will be criticized. To boot, No. 1 Basehor-Linwood and earlier No. 1 Miege are in the same sub-state, which means one of them will be at the Bicentennial Center in March as a spectator.
I keep wondering if someday there will ever be a different way things are done. I think it would be great to wait until after the midseason tournaments play out to announce pairings, and try to keep the top teams out of the same sub-states. You want the best eight teams at the state tournament, not three of them staying home which is now assured. I look at a sub-state like Wellington, where you also have Mulvane, Rose Hill and Winfield. If you take the combined records of those teams, it is below the .500 line. And Southeast Kansas has proven in the past to send some of the weaker teams, just look at Chanute last year when it played MHS in the first round.
The folks at KSHSAA have an unenviable job when it comes to figuring out postseason play. No matter what they do, somebody isn’t happy. That’s the way it’s been for years and will stay that way for years to come.