Swedes, 'Dogs better than predicted

By Steve Sell
November 18, 2016

We’re one game into the 22-game gauntlet known as the KCAC conference basketball schedule.

Already I can see that the KCAC preseason pollsters got it wrong when it comes to McPherson College’s and Bethany College’s men.

The teams played Thursday at the Sport Center and both showed they’ll finish higher than predicted, especially Bethany.

The Swedes were picked sixth by the coaches and eighth by the media. Remember, the conference has swelled to 12 teams, so sixth would be at the bottom of the upper division.

The Swedes played their first six games without the suspended Cody Harris and Joey Habtermariam, one reason they were a mediocre 3-3 heading into their clash with the Bulldogs.

Their impact was immediate. In their first 2 minutes on the court, the Swedes went from a one-point lead to 10-point lead. 

Maybe when picking the order of finish the voters forgot just what a talent Harris is as he sat out last year as a medical redshirt. You can throw out his 2-of-10 performance from Thursday, he was knocking off the rust. Once he’s incorporated into the flow he’ll be putting up 20-point games with regularity. I didn’t remember Habtermariam being such a prolific shooter, but had he not played on Thursday it would have been the Bulldogs who came away the winner. The slick guard scored a team-high 18 points and was money at the line down the stretch.

Veteran Bethany coach Clair Oleen has a fascinating team because he has so many players capable of contributing. The addition of versatile Khalid Washington was a huge import because he’ll assume some of the scoring leadership.

This is a Bethany team that I think will be the surprise of the KCAC. If Oleen can keep his players on the same page, they’re going to be a tough out.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, had started the year 4-0. Even though they didn’t defeat the Swedes, coming back from an 18-point deficit in the second half to take a 3-point lead showed me something about the determination of this team. It could easily have folded the tents, but toughened up defensively and forced Bethany into some ill-advised shots.

The Bulldogs are much stronger inside, even though they’re currently without starting center Reed Rowell. Thomas Butler and Careino Gurley are undersized, but use their bullish strength to make up for it. They also have some explosive offensive players in Chris Crook and Aaron Bachura, who can light it up from 3.

The conference schedule is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s hard to imagine a 22-game conference schedule, but for now that’s the way it’s set up.

Truth be told, I think my idea would definitely resonate with coaches. I would like to see a North-South setup, with teams in the same division playing two games, then playing teams in the other division once. That would make for 16 games, which is more than enough and allows teams more scheduling flexibility. The top four teams in each division could still make the playoffs with quarterfinals, semifinals and the championship game being played just as it has in the past.