MHS cagers have huge tests upon return

By Steve Sell
January 02, 2014

Thursday’s thoughts...

• KEY GAMES FOR MHS CAGERS — There’s nothing like an intense rivalry to get 2014 started with a little extra kick.

The McPherson High basketball teams return to the court here Tuesday night to take on arch-rival Buhler and it is hoped the Roundhouse will be electric with excitement.

Both games will play a major role in shaping the AVCTL Division III races. While the MHS teams basically dominated the league last year with few challenges, the gap has definitely closed.

In fact, McPherson’s girls could be considered by some to be the underdog in their game. MHS is off to a 1-3 start and still has a lot of questions to be answered, such as who is going to emerge as the emotional team leader and can it score consistently.

Buhler has winged away to a promising 4-0 start and is brimming with confidence. Point guard Jessica Steffen has emerged as a potential All-Stater, scoring 20 points against Winfield in the Crusaders’ most recent outing and is a dynamic ballhandler. Taryn Torgerson is a four-year standout, while Alex Keller and Morgan Rohr are solid players. Rohr is a sophomore who has come on, including 10 points against Winfield.

Buhler coach Brennan Torgerson is no stranger to the Roundhouse, going back to his days when he brought some outstanding Hesston teams to town. He knows what it takes to win here, so the Crusaders will come in with no fear.

Before the season, I would have dismissed the notion that Buhler’s boys would give MHS some trouble at the Roundhouse. I thought the Crusaders were Jace Williams and not much else. Williams is without question one of the best athletes MHS will face. He’s nearly 6-5 and can run the floor like a guard and has thrown down a dunk or two.

Quentin Henricks is solid, while Shawn Davis and Noah Webster have matured quicker than the Bullpups’ coaching staff thought. And on the Crusaders’ bench, of course, is the wily Denny Wahlgren, who has scored a few impressive victories against McPherson during his time, dating back to his Salina South days. 

The Crusaders turned some heads in December with a win over El Dorado, then followed that up by scoring a double-digit victory over Winfield, the team believed by most to be MHS’ chief challenger.

Then consider the rivalry factor. MHS simply wore out Buhler last year in the major sports, but the Crusaders fired a salvo during football season this fall with a dominating performance, part of what turned out to be a 4A state championship season. 

There’s no school the Crusaders want to defeat more. Given the towns are about 15 minutes apart, I’ll be terribly disappointed if we don’t have a huge, old-time Roundhouse crowd on hand. People have cabin fever having been bottled up for the holidays, so what better way to get back into the flow of things?

• BAYLOR FLUNKED BIG TEST — The Baylor Bears slipped and fell on the big stage Wednesday night.

The Bears were a hefty 17-point favorite in their BCS Fiesta Bowl game with unheralded Central Florida, which was thought to be this year’s Northern Illinois — a school without a sterling pedigree that was in over its head.

Baylor slept-walked early in the game and spent all night playing catch-up. I really thought the Bears had settled down in the second half, but its defense simply didn’t show up. This certainly did nothing to enhance the Big 12’s image, which to many around the nation is a series of Wild West shootouts with defense only an afterthought.

Kansas State and Texas Tech recorded nice, convincing bowl wins, but losses by Texas and Baylor have leveled the conference’s record at 2-2. 

Two more key image-making games are on tap for today and Friday, with Oklahoma a decided underdog today against Alabama, while Oklahoma State tangles Friday with Missouri in a game that should have a lot of bad blood considering the Tigers bolted the Big 12 for the SEC, even though they had no ties to any of the teams (it was about the almighty dollar and not much else). Oklahoma might get a break in that Alabama is probably upset that it’s not playing for another national championship and could enter with some disinterest. However, this is not a great Sooner team and could get its head handed to it.

• CHIEFS CHANCES? — Raise your hand if you really believe the Chiefs have a chance to topple the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

That’s what I thought. 

The Chiefs’ chances are slim and none, with slim halfway out the door.

Indianapolis is perhaps the playoffs’ X-factor. It has defeated Seattle and San Francisco, arguably the two best teams in the NFC (I’m just not sold on Carolina). It also defeated Denver and Kansas City, with the Broncos the odds-on AFC favorite and Kansas City an 11-win team, those its total is bloated by fattening up on the AFC’s french pastries.

Kansas City is a nice story and hopefully it won’t relapse after its schedule-friendly season. It does have the most Pro Bowl players in the AFC, so no question there’s some talent (though how Brandon Flowers was named All-Pro is one of the great upsets to me. What were these people watching, or not watching as the case must have been).

The Chiefs are a couple of quality wide receivers away from being an offensive force, while the defense, so good early on, came back to earth and its secondary was exposed when the pass rush dried up due to injuries. Correct some secondary problems and the Chiefs could be a factor for a few more years.