There was a time when the Mid America Classic was boringly predictable.
McPherson High dominated so much that it got to the point where it was hurting the popularity of the event. MHS won several of the championship games by double-digit margins.
Tournament organizers took note. Bigger and better schools were brought in. While the old format of having mostly area schools was charming and fan-alluring because it was in the day when teams like Little River and Moundridge could play with any teams in any class, once McPherson hit a tremendous run of players the tournament headline was which team advanced to the finals to lose to the Bullpups.
Nine years in a row MHS captured the championship before Andale finally ended the streak in 2008.
However since bigger-class schools have been brought in, MHS has won the tournament only once in the last eight years, that coming in 2012.
The Bullpups are the top seed this year since four-time champion Olathe South is on its “out” year of its rotation, to return next year.
But don’t believe the Bullpups will have it easy. On the contrary, the field is as strong as any time in the 21 years of the event.
The top four teams are a combined 34-5 and No. 5 Wichita Northwest is no slouch at 6-4. If the favorites advance, it will be a Final Four that could have the best combined records ever.
McPherson High can’t afford to look past 2-8 Shawnee Mission South. The KC school plays a tough schedule and won’t be intimidated coming into the Roundhouse. The MHS girls were in the stands when No. 8 seed Shawnee Mission East nearly stunned the Bullpup boys in their first-round game last week. Bullpup coach Chris Strathman has warned his team it must play to its potential to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
Here’s how I see the tournament finishing up:
1. McPherson — This is exactly what the Bullpups need. They’re going to have to rebound as they’ll probably give away size in most games. The big concern is having nine days off since their last game.
2. Manhattan — The 2014 champion has replaced a host of seniors with aplomb. It should make for a great final.
3. Olathe East — East was fifth in its only other Classic appearance. It should improve on that.
4. Shawnee Mission Northwest — It should be a good matchup of Kansas City schools for third place.
5. Wichita Northwest — Another team that should improve over its only other time in the Classic when it took sixth.
6. Andale — The Indians have Roundhouse experience already, having played here last week.
7. Shawnee Mission South — The tough schedule South plays should keep it out of the cellar.
8. Hays — The Indians have struggled here since taking second place in 2012.