Today begins the best two weeks of the year.
It’s “Tournament Time.”
The McPherson Invitational gets under way with four compelling games that would be headliners anywhere.
There’s been years the 3:00 game, Derby against Bishop Carroll, could be a championship game. The two schools have legendary football programs, Derby a 6A kingpin and Carroll a 5A dominator. They’re not too shabby in basketball, either.
I’m intrigued by the 4:45 matchup. Lawrence Free State brings to town a much-hyped reputation and No. 1 ranking in Class 6A, but I can tell you that Junction City won’t be backing down. The Bluejays always have a terrific collection of athletes and this, too, could be a championship game in some years.
Moving on to the evening, maybe the closest game of the day will take place in the 6:30 matchup involving Shawnee Mission East and Wichita North. East will be well prepared since coach Shawn Hair has brought a lot of Lancer teams into the tournament and knows what it takes to win it. I’m excited to see North freshman Jackie Johnson III, who is garnering a lot of attention for one so young. He’s not yet in the Conner Frankamp class at North, where he once scored 48 points in this tournament, but he’s well on his way.
Then in the 8:15 finale, the host Bullpups play an improving Blue Valley West unit that has won its last two games since a 1-5 start. The Jaguars have a young 6-8 sophomore center in O’mari Stanley, who has greatly impressed MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon on film. They also have a quality guard in Keaton Goodale, whom Kinnamon compares to Andale’s Easton Brown, who gave MHS fits last week.
Bullpup fans used to never worry about first-round games, but that was in the day when the field wasn’t as strong from top to bottom. But in recent years, with such an influx of 6A schools from the big cities, we haven’t seen as many blowouts, though last year we only had one close first-round game and that won’t be the case this year. It will be interesting to see what the average margin of victory is this year given I believe this is the strongest and most consistent field in my 39 years of covering the tournament.
Of course, you can follow the tournament at Midkansasonline.com as I’m going to have stories on every single game, not just the Bullpups. I’ll also have the box scores and updated schedules so everyone can keep track of when their team plays again. Kendall Shaw will provide his usual Sports Illustrated-like photos.
I’ll be looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces at the tournament. There are fans who have attended this tournament longer than I’ve been covering it and they always sit in their same seats. Many are there for all 12 games over the three days.
I really hope MHS fans turn out in full force all three days. I know fans tend to stay home on Thursday in anticipation of Friday and Saturday, but you can never take anything for granted. The Bullpup players feed off the energy of their crowd and Bullpup Nation is the sixth man for team.
Enjoy the tournament and I’ll enjoy providing you the insight of every game this week. Then we’ll turn around and do it all over again next week.