McPherson High’s boys basketball team has lost as many games in December as it has the last three years combined.
Tuesday’s 51-48 road loss to Andover dropped the Bullpups to 3-3, a mark they have not been saddled with since Jan. 6, 1998, when they were defeated 74-66 by El Dorado despite 22 points by Chad Kline (now the head coach at Arkansas Tech) and 8 rebounds by Dustan Kanitz (now an MHS assistant coach).
All the Bullpups did after that loss was reel off 13 wins in a row.
So let’s not go off the deep end about the somewhat slow start, as rare as it is. MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, who has won 431 games and six state championships during his tenure, knew his team might struggle at the outset.
He’s having to replace four senior starters who were part of three Class 4A Division I state championship games, winning two of them. Two of his new starters weren’t even with the team last year. And it’s a team that’s now without a single senior.
Also, the Bullpups have definitely beefed up their non-conference schedule, including games with defending state champion Miege, 6A state contender Derby and perennially strong Abilene among the first four games. And while Andover had won just one game before Tuesday, it always plays the Bullpups tough at home.
Just because it says “McPherson” on the uniform, success isn’t guaranteed. It has to be earned. I have no doubt this team has considerable skill, but for most of the players they are playing more critical minutes than they’ve played at any point in their careers.
The losses to Derby and Andover were strikingly similar, though the Derby loss was much more convincing as the Panthers overcame a halftime deficit for a 17-point win. A common thread in the losses was that both teams played what many like to term “havoc defense,” which took the Bullpups out of their comfort zone.
What is separating this Bullpup team from the previous few is that it’s not getting points in transition or forcing nearly as many turnovers. There have been many times in the past where the Bullpups’ defense is their best offense, getting steals that lead to layups.
This is an MHS team that also shoots a lot of 3-pointers, though most coaches tell you that can lead to “fool’s gold.” Of MHS’ 45 total attempts from the field Tuesday, 22 of them came from beyond the arc. The Bullpups did make 8, but 4 of those came in the first quarter.
Over the last 10 years, the Bullpups have gone 47-3 in December, so this is unknown territory for them to navigate through. Division III is not overly strong, but I’m sure games at Buhler, Circle and Augusta will not be walks in the park. The McPherson Invitational Tournament field will be loaded with 6A and 5A teams, and there’s still some tough non-conference games to go, including the annual donnybrook with Andale.
The Bullpups have a lot of season left to iron things out and get on a roll. I have no doubt 2017 will see a team that steadily improves in time to make a postseason run.