The “‘Pup Cuts” have been artfully coiffed, which means it’s time for McPherson High’s boys basketball team to get down to business.
It’s become a ritual for the Bullpups to shave their heads to go “old school” for sub-state, which brings back the fond memories of the Jay Frazier era, which is where the historic state championship run began and then continued with Mike Henson on to Kurt Kinnamon — 13 state championships in all.
The Bullpups and their unique haircuts have been a staple at Salina for the Class 4A Division I State Basketball Tournament, making to the finals each of the last three years, going 2-1 with the only loss last year to Bishop Miege in a titanic struggle.
To make yet another trip to state, the Bullpups must survive one of the toughest sub-states in the class, arguably one of the top two or three. MHS is part of the Buhler sub-state where three of the four teams are ranked and the other has a .500 record as there are no easy outs.
The Bullpups for much of the season appeared to be headed for a third showdown with arch-rival Buhler in the first round, but some late stumbles by Hays as well as MHS’ late-season victory over the Crusaders vaulted it to the top spot.
Ulysses will be the opponent tonight and the Tigers will be nobody’s stepping stone. After a 5-10 start to their season, Ulysses has been lighting it up offensively the last 3 weeks by scoring nearly 70 points a game in winning its final five.
Make no mistake, though, the Bullpups would much rather open with the Tigers than Hays or Buhler.
Ulysses doesn’t play nearly as difficult a schedule as the Bullpups, as it’s mostly smaller schools except for Garden City and Dodge City. MHS, meanwhile, took on all comers this year with many strong teams making up its non-conference schedule to make up for what was a somewhat suspect AVCTL Division III schedule once you got past Buhler.
The senior-less Bullpups have won 10 straight after their head-scratching 6-4 start, but just look at the losses — 4A Division I favorite Miege, 6A power Derby, 4A D-II state contender Andale and the other loss was to Andover, a night where the lid never came off the basket.
MHS has some noteworthy signature wins, including the regular-season sweep of Buhler, Manhattan, Maize, Abilene and Shawnee Mission East. Those games will prepare it well for this week.
The Bullpups have buckled down defensively, which is where it all starts. My guess is they’ll be playing Buhler in the finals on Saturday and must do a good job on 6-7 center Grant Owens and sniper-shooter Tanner Lackey, who no way will go 1 of 12 from the field as he did at the Roundhouse. When the teams played at Buhler, he torched the Bullpups for 26 points.
If it is Hays, I think that works to MHS’ advantage. Teams seeing the Bullpups for the first time historically struggle against their pressure and length. No matter which team MHS faces, it will be like the state tournament opener.