The KCAC Men’s Postseason Basketball Tournament annually delivers with swerves and curves.
Of course, nothing probably will ever top McPherson College’s improbable run of last year when the eighth-seeded Bulldogs went on the road to knock off regular-season champion Saint Mary and a Friends team many thought would advance as the KCAC’s No. 2 entry.
Tim Swartzendruber’s team, of course, went on to defeat Sterling in last year’s title game at Hartman Arena, then gave a valiant effort at nationals by giving top-seed William Penn University all it wanted before losing down the stretch.
One reason for so much uncertainty in the tournament is that the top seed basically has nothing to play for. The KCAC champion, this year being Friends, already has punched its ticket to Point Lookout, Mo., and no matter how it plays this week nothing changes that.
If Friends wins the tournament, then Sterling goes by virtue of finishing second during the regular season. If Friends and Sterling meet in the finals, it amounts to little more than an exhibition game since both teams make nationals.
But after watching one of the most memorable years I can ever remember in the KCAC, I think a couple of teams have to rate as darkhorses.
First is Bethany. I know the Swedes collapsed with four losses in their last six games and coach Clair Oleen bemoaned to me how his team wasn’t playing “Bethany basketball” and not buying into the school’s tradition of “Hard 40” defense.
But this team is too talented and too deep not to make a serious run, even having lost Nathan Coleman and Vincent Roybal to injuries. Idris IbnIdris is one of those once-in-a-lifetime talents and he could hoist this team on his back for an emotional run. Oleen’s team is a candidate to score 100 points every time it takes the court, but also can give up 100. If it can regain its focus defensively, it’s a scary tournament out.
My second darkhorse is Tabor. These aren’t your grandfather’s Bluejays, a team that used to be built on small-town Kansas players with great skills and 3-point shooting ability. Tabor has expanded its recruiting base and, like Bethany, has backed up the truck for transfers. The Bluejays are long and athletic, their success is predicated on how well they shoot the 3.
Here’s a look at the first-round games:
• Southwestern at Friends — The Moundbuilders have a dynamic duo in Cameron Clark and William Tisdale, but not enough to go with them to beat a team the caliber of Friends. While Joe Mitchell and Colton Rausch get much of the praise, it’s Zach Nelson’s 3-point sniping that has been a recent key. Friends should win this one by double digits.
• Tabor at Saint Mary — Saint Mary has the advantage of being at home, but I really like how Tabor has been playing. The Spires’ Grant Greenberg seemingly has slowed down, but clearly is the top freshman in the conference. Tabor has an advantage inside with 6-7 Andrew Thomas, who is a physical specimen. I like Tabor getting out of Leavenworth in a mild upset.
• Ottawa at Bethany — Forget the Kansas Wesleyan debacle, the Swedes generally raise their game before the wild Hahn Gym faithful. I still can’t fathom how Wesleyan won there, all the stars must have been perfectly aligned.
I think this could be the best first-round game of all. Ottawa really impressed me with its performance against Mac and has the size to cause the Swedes some discomfort, especially if Roybal is out. Look for this to be in the 90s, but the Swedes holding serve at home.
• McPherson College at Sterling — The Bulldogs literally gave one away to Sterling at the Sport Center and shot the ball poorly in the return match at Sterling, yet it was still close. The Bulldogs have won three of four in the final two weeks and have shown they can put up a lot of points. Like Bethany, they’re a team that is having trouble getting stops and their lack of size is a concern. Sterling lives and dies by the 3-pointer and if it’s somehow experiencing an off night, the Bulldogs could spring the surprise. My heart says Mac is going to pull the shocker, but I think Sterling ends its “drive for five.”
• KCAC POSTSEASON TEAM — The job of picking the KCAC’s Top 10 players this year had to be incredibly difficult.
I saw every team at least once, most of them twice. It’s the best year I can ever remember in the conference, as transfers have made a big impact and it’s the trend of the future. The days of a Samson Shivers at Mac basically are over, as freshmen aren’t going to make the dent as they have in years past.
Here’s my first-team, Top 10 ballot:
1. Joe Mitchell, Friends — The nation’s leading scorer and one of the best — maybe the best — I’ve ever seen in the conference in my 35 years.
2. Idris IbnIdris, Bethany — An amazing talent who, like Mitchell, should be playing at a much-higher level. To me he almost looks bored at times because the game comes so easily.
3. Grant Greenberg, Saint Mary — Greenberg seemed to hit a wall at the start of February, but did unload for 35 points on Saturday against Ottawa to show there’s still something left in the tank.
4. Cameron Clark, Southwestern — An absolute beast. Any other year he would be a top candidate for KCAC Player of the Year, but not when there’s Mitchell and IbnIdris.
5. Julian Rose, Ottawa — Maybe the most physical specimen in the KCAC. Scores 20 every night just by stepping on the court. Maybe the most improved player in the KCAC.
6. Eddie Adesodun, Sterling — The heart and soul of the Warriors, always seems to get the big basket when needed.
7. Samson Shivers, McPherson College — Another solid year for the Mac senior, who if for nothing else deserves to be on first team because every opponent’s top priority is keeping him from going on one of his patented streaks.
8. Devirous Johnson, McPherson College — My gut feeling is that he’s going to get squeezed out since Mac was a seventh-place team. But he averages a double-double, leads the nation in rebounding and in double-doubles — 21 of 30 games is simply staggering.
9. Andrew Thomas, Tabor — Incredibly raw, but what a talent. When he gets the game totally figured out, he’s going to be a monster.
10. Colton Rausch, Friends — Tough call, but like Shivers he’s been a star for a long time and deserves a berth for lifetime achievement. For me, it was a close nod over Tabor’s Dewayne Biggs and Friends’ Zach Nelson.