McPherson College’s men’s basketball team is scoring 76.2 points a game, a figure that in some years past would have put it among the Top 3 in the KCAC.
This year, that’s only good for 12th. And there’s only 12 teams in the conference.
Forget the motto “defense wins championships.” In the KCAC, it’s about running up and down the court at breakneck speed and paying little attention to the defensive end. It’s damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Each player has the mentality, “if I score one more point than the man I’m guarding, I’ve done my job.”
Take the case of the York Panthers. The KCAC’s newest team leads the conference in scoring with nearly 91 points a game. But the Panthers are dead last in team defense, giving up an astounding 86 points. Yet when you look at the standings, there’s the Panthers who are the closest to conference leader Tabor as they are 8-2, a game back of the Bluejays.
Seven of the 12 teams are averaging at least 80 points. The five that aren’t are averaging at least 76.
The defensive numbers are shocking as Friends leads the way, but allows 76 points. Only four of the 12 teams are giving up less than 80 and one of those is McPherson College. Despite a 1-9 KCAC record, the 7-11 Bulldogs are the fourth-best defensive team (79.6) and their point differential is only 2.5, so that shows they have played a lot of close games.
We have had some mind-boggling games, none more than Thursday’s York-McPherson College point-fest. The Bulldogs broke the century mark with 103 points, but all that did was result in a 12-point loss as York hit for 115, 67 of those in the first half.
On Saturday, we had another two-team century-breaker as Saint Mary outscored Southwestern, 104-103.
Having covered the conference for close to 40 years, I can remember when teams would have a defensive average in the high 50s or low 60s. That, however, was before the advent of the 3-point line, which is the obvious reason for the explosion. And KCAC teams take full advantage of the trey line as few take less than 20 attempts a game from beyond the arc. On Saturday alone, McPherson College took 32 in its loss to Ottawa.
I think another reason for the scoring bonanza is increased athleticism in the KCAC. It used to be in the days of the 10-team conference (oh how I wish we could go back to that), the schools would recruit Kansas hard and then bring in a smattering of junior college players.
But Kansas-heavy rosters are a thing of the past (just like the conference being all Kansas schools). The influx of junior college players is staggering and the teams that seem to be most successful have a heavy reliance on JC transfers. Tabor and Bethany, particularly, have gone the juco route. When one or two teams do it and be successful, the others tend to follow.
Junior college players give teams immediate help because they’re experienced two-year players who have played in up-tempo systems. KCAC coaches very seldom recruit a JC player just to sit, they’re expected to start or play heavy minutes in the rotation.
While it does make for some exciting basketball, the lack of defense hurts the KCAC teams at the national level. The conference hasn’t done that well at the nationals, though McPherson College did finish as high as third in 2012 after making the Elite 8 the previous year. For a conference that qualifies two teams every year, you’d think they would regularly have teams in the Top 8, but it doesn’t happen that often.