For one night McPherson College men’s basketball coach Tim Swartzendruber dared to dream the dream.
It’s been a brutally tough year for the Bulldogs, who entered Wednesday’s game with Kansas Wesleyan just 2-11 in the KCAC and 6-17 overall. It’s an extremely young team — only one senior — and injury issues, cold shooting and defensive breakdowns have greatly affected the season.
It seems like only yesterday the Bulldogs were the program that everybody in the KCAC was trying to catch up with. They made it to the national tournament four straight years, including appearances in the NAIA Elite Eight in 2011 and the Final Four in 2012, a year they finished 33-4.
But it’s been a tough couple of years for Mac, with this season perhaps the toughest since they had high expectations coming in. On Wednesday, though, Swartzendruber saw what this team could be capable of in routing Kansas Wesleyan 83-66, a game it led by as many as 29 points.
In the Bulldogs’ defense, they have yet to play a game this year with their complete ensemble. This Saturday, though, Ryan O’Hara is expected back from a concussion and that would give Swartzendruber the team he had planned for at the start of the season.
A big plus Wednesday was the return of DeAndre Henson, who had debuted on Saturday with a cameo against Ottawa. He had to sit out the first semester, but it was evident the impact he makes on the team. He’s 6-4, strong, a good defender and brings maturity. He was solid last year in averaging 11 points a game.
The Bulldogs have a lot of pieces. Reed Rowell, who was off to a great start, injured an ankle in the third conference game of the year against Ottawa and missed eight games. He finally played like his early season form on Wednesday, dominating inside with 11 rebounds. At 6-8 and 240, he can be the inside presence the team needs.
It also allowed Ramon Martinez to play more on the perimeter as he’s had to play on the inside in Rowell’s stead. He had 17 points and nine rebounds and is better when he can be outside to use his creativity.
When O’Hara returns, that gives the Bulldogs a solid trio of players 6-6 to 6-8.
In the backcourt, Chris Crook has been the team’s constant and best player. Now that some of the other players are getting back, he won’t be under pressure to try and do too much.
An X-factor is Dee Roberts. A transfer guard, at times he can be instant offense as he averages in double figures. Consistency has been his biggest drawback, but there’s no questioning his talent for scoring.
Aaron Bachura is another streaky shooter. Freshman Grant Raleigh has started the last couple of games at the point, with Kyle Lakin now coming off the bench. Raleigh is a good passer and looks to score, while Lakin is one of the KCAC’s best on-ball defenders despite his size. He plays physical and has shut down some of the conference’s better scorers. Chris Lowe is a third point guard and has been explosive at times. He’s only a freshman with a big upside.
Louis Parker III is undersized on the inside at 6-2, but he’s a high-energy guy and knows how to block out to get rebounds. Jared Haury, the former El Dorado Wildcat, can provide 3-point shooting off the bench for a taller (6-5) player.
So that’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle. It may be too late to salvage this season to make the playoffs — there’s still six games left and it will take at least a 4-2 record to probably get in — but never forget 2013. The Bulldogs that year got in the playoffs on the last night of the regular season as the eighth and final seed, but then won the KCAC Tournament for their last trip to nationals.
Who says history can’t repeat?