It will be a fascinating night of basketball on Friday at a hopefully packed McPherson High School Roundhouse, also known as the "Basketball Capital of Kansas."
For the second straight year, Derby will come to town and it promises to be two of the best games of the regular season.
In the girls’ game, it’s the irresistible force of McPherson High’s suffocating pressure defense against the immovable object of Derby’s 6-6 super center Kennedy Brown, who has signed to play at Oregon State, which is one of the top NCAA Division I programs in the country. She is ranked on some lists as one of the Top 100 players in the nation.
Something has got to give. The Panthers come in having won 24 games in a row, the last loss coming to the Bullpups in the Roundhouse last year.
MHS has rattled off 23 wins in a row, its last defeat coming a year ago at Bishop Miege.
Both are current state champions and return many of their key players, though the Bullpups’ graduation losses were far more significant as their two seniors last year are now playing at the Division I level.
Derby’s girls will come to town on a mission. Having lost to the Bullpups each of the last two years, the Panthers’ intensity will be on overload. Brown, who is super long and extremely skilled, has averaged 14.5 points in two games against the Bullpups, though she did sweep the glass for 17 rebounds last year.
The Bullpups were able to outlast the Panthers last year with All-Stater Mandi Cooks on the sidelines due to injury. Two years ago when MHS won at Derby, the Panthers were playing their first game of the year while the Bullpups had a game under their belt, and I thought that played a key role as the Panthers performed like it was a first game, scoring only 36 points.
MHS is nowhere near reaching its full offensive potential. In the season-opening wins over Andover and Andover Central, the Bullpups struggled mightily from 3-point though it’s the team’s trademark. Of course they don’t have anybody who can shoot it the caliber of Taylor Robertson, but this is a team that should make between 35 or 40 percent beyond the arc.
What is exciting is the number of weapons. The four players who scored in double figures on Friday with a combined 42 points managed only 11 on Tuesday. Yet, Maggie Leaf stepped up with a monster 17-point, 12-rebound effort while Kassidy Beam scored 11 after barely getting any clock on Friday.
Remember, the Bullpups have been without Andrea Sweat, as the versatile 6-1 junior has been out recovering from foot surgery. There’s a chance she might be back on Friday, which would be a plus given Derby’s length.
McPherson fans need to be in the house from the start on Friday and not straggle in after halftime. The crowd could be a deciding factor as the MHS girls can feed off the energy.
In the boys’ game, there’s plenty of intrigue as the Bullpups have started 0-2 and Derby lost its only game.
It’s way too early to hit the panic button. I said at the start of the year the first three games would be immense tests for a team with so little experience coming back. I also said it wouldn’t surprise me if MHS starts 1-2, but now it’s staring 0-3 in the face since All-State forward Jake Alexander may miss the game.
Just because it says “McPherson” on the front of the jersey, that doesn’t automatically guarantee 20 wins. This team is unquestionably a work in progress and if Alexander doesn’t play on Friday, it will have to scratch and claw with max effort. I can bet you the Bullpups will give it their best shot and won’t back down from the challenge.
Derby is a team of great athletes. Grant Adler is its best player, but it was 7-0 move-in Josh Osborn who led the team in scoring on Tuesday in the loss to Ark City. The Bullpups are going to have to play smart and try and find ways to score before Osborn can set up on the defensive end.
It’s the first Friday home game and the Roundhouse should be a rockin’.