For one of the few times since I’ve covered the McPherson Invitational, with my first one in 1980, I really can’t see a convincing, clear-cut favorite.
It’s always been relatively easy in the past since McPherson High has had so many dominant teams or Wichita Heights was star-studded.
But this year it seems to be a tremendously balanced tournament with any team capable of knocking off the other. There’s no “super team.” It definitely adds a level of intrigue.
I’m also not sure I can ever remember a No. 1 seed having three losses, which Maize does. Fortunately for the Eagles when the pairings were made last week they were a one-loss team, but since have been bounced by Salina Central and Wichita Heights.
The actual best record belongs to Wichita Heights, which returns to the tournament after last losing in the finals to McPherson High in 2015. The Falcons are 7-2, having lost their first game of the season to 5A power Kapaun and later a one-pointer to 6A titan Wichita East.
The darkhorses are two Kansas City schools, Shawnee Mission East and Blue Valley West. They typically have good size and like to play a lot of zone, with low-scoring games the norm.
I’ll be honest, maybe I should just flip a coin. The teams are of such similar ilk I could be lucky to get half the order right.
1. Wichita Heights — The Falcons could very well be 9-0. They don’t have a Perry Ellis or Darnell Valentine or Antoine Carr, but I’m sure they’ll be as talented and athletic as any team in the field.
2. McPherson — I would feel better about the Bullpups had they knocked off Andale in their last game, but maybe the tournament is what they need to bring out the best in their game. MHS’ Ben Pyle is probably the best player in the tournament, so he’s going to draw a lot of attention from opposing teams, so the other players need to step up.
3. Manhattan — The Indians have a two-point loss to Hays and also lost to longtime 5A power Highland Park, but other than that their sheet is clean. They have scored at least 60 points in four of their seven games, so it’s a team that apparently likes to get up and down the floor.
4. Maize — Speaking of getting up and down the floor, the Eagles have scored at least 66 points in eight of their nine games. Conversely, they also have given up more than 60 points in nearly half their games. I’m hoping Manhattan and Maize hook up at some point because the scoreboard would get a workout.
5. Shawnee Mission East — Shawn Hair does a great job with the Lancers, who are only 3-3 because they’ve had three games postponed. They haven’t played since Jan. 10, so they may have to knock off some rust. They won’t be intimidated by the Roundhouse crowd as they play a big-time schedule.
6. Blue Valley West — Lyons native Donnie Campbell is another veteran coach of the Invitational. The Jags have been under 50 points in four of their seven games. They’ll just try to outphysical teams with their plodding style.
7. Mill Valley — Mill Valley is the No. 8 seed, but I have a feeling its schedule will prepare it well. It will be competitive against everybody it plays.
8. Hutchinson — The Salthawks are much better than last year, even if their record doesn’t reflect it. But when I look at the field, I just don’t see a team they can beat.