McPherson High's boys are the small fish in the big pond.
But that's never stopped them before in the McPherson Invitational, as time and again the minnow has devoured the whale.
The 52nd edition of arguably the best boys basketball tournament in Kansas gets under way on Thursday populated by Class 6A and 5A schools along with the 4A Bullpups.
That’s the whole purpose behind the Invitational, to bring in high-powered teams that the Bullpups otherwise would not see. Other than Buhler, the Bullpups won’t face a lot of competition in league play in February that’s going to test their mettle.
This year’s tournament features two one-loss teams in the Bullpups and Lawrence Free State, then a cadre of teams with so-so records, but so capable of beating a good team on a given night, such as Blue Valley West as it recently trumped Class 6A's No. 1 team.
Blowouts don’t happen that much anymore in the Invitational since great pains have been taken to attract only quality teams and those that play tough competition before descending on the Roundhouse.
I think a huge game could take place in the semifinals when McPherson High clashes with Blue Valley West if my picks hold up. Jaguars coach Donnie Campbell has been around this tournament a long time and knows what it takes to win here.
If the Bullpups are to win the tournament, they’re going to have to play three quality games and not have an off night.
Here’s my predicted order of finish:
1. McPherson — The Bullpups are going to be tested, no question about it. If they play just as they have all year, they should be fine. I feel more secure about my pick now that Spenser Wine has returned to the lineup.
2. Lawrence Free State — Free State is battle-tested and has shown a propensity for winning close games.
3. Blue Valley West — The Jags recently knocked off Blue Valley Northwest, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 6A. Good enough for me.
4. Derby — You know there’s good depth to the field when Derby takes fourth place.
5. Carroll — There’s too much of a winning tradition in all sports for the Golden Eagles to finish any lower.
6. Wichita North — The Redskins will match up with their City League rival Carroll on Saturday.
7. Shawnee Mission East — You can bet this year is a rarity for East.
8. Junction City — The Bluejays own wins over Highland Park, Dodge City and Great Bend, so they are capable of finishing higher.