It’s still a little early yet to reduce McPherson College’s men to the role of spoilers in the KCAC basketball race.
There are still three games remaining before the conference schedule reaches the halfway point, then nine games make up the second half of the slate.
But if the Bulldogs are still to be considered contenders, they have to survive a monster week that includes a pair of road games, one far away and the other close to home.
The Bulldogs journey Thursday to Ottawa, then play Saturday at intracounty rival Bethany College.
“It’s a big week for us,” said Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber, whose team is 2-4 in the KCAC and 9-9 overall and realistically needs to go on a near-perfect tear if it harbors any hopes of catching 6-0 Friends.
“Ottawa poses a problem for us due to their size,” Swartzendruber said. “They start 6-9, 6-5, 6-3, 6-3 and 6-1. They are playing a different style this year with coach (Andy) Carrier, trying to use more ball screens and isolations. They have an outstanding guard in Julian Rose. Keys for us will be containing Rose and rebounding.”
The Braves are just a game ahead of Mac in the standings at 3-3. They just pulled off a surprising win on Saturday, knocking off Tabor 65-61 as the Bluejays also are now 3-3.
Swartzendruber said a key is for the Bulldogs to keep picking off teams ahead of them in the standings. Bethany qualifies as one of those teams, as the Swedes are 5-1 and coming off their first loss on Saturday. They were outscored by Friends 100-82 and figure to bounce back on Thursday against 0-6 Kansas Wesleyan.
“Bethany is having a tremendous season.” Swartzendruber said. “They’re extremely talented. They want to push ball on all possessions and will shoot quick. Idris IbinIdris is one of the top players in the conference. Biggest keys for us will be to get back in transition defense, and contest all shots.”
• MAC WOMEN NEED A WIN — The bloom has come off the rose for the McPherson College women since the calendar turned to January.
The Bulldogs were 7-6 going into the break and had the KCAC buzzing since they were picked to finish last, but have lost all five games of 2014 even though they’ve been competitive in all but one of them.
Mac is 3-3 in the KCAC after a 3-0 start and 7-11 overall. The Bulldogs put up a superb fight here Saturday against Kansas Wesleyan, only to come up just short when the Coyotes staged a late run.
Ottawa easily qualifies as the surprise team so far. The Lady Braves are 4-2 in conference play and were 15-point winners over Kansas Wesleyan. Their only losses are to 5-1 teams Tabor and Friends and they have to play at first-place Southwestern on Saturday.
OU is led by Amber Ramsey, the No. 4 scorer in the KCAC and the leader in blocked shots as she’s a candidate for KCAC Player of the Year.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will take on a last-place Bethany team that so far is winless in the KCAC and has a tough one Thursday at Kansas Wesleyan. The Swedes have lost 15 games in a row.
• Note — Thursday’s games at Ottawa will be aired beginning at 5:45 p.m., while Saturday’s starting time is 4:45. Catch all the action on 96.7 KBBE FM with the Voice of the Bulldogs, Nick Gosnell.