McPherson High basketball fans are being given a mulligan.
After a regular season in which the crowds for Bullpup teams that are ranked No. 1 and 6 in the state, respectively, were embarrassingly sub-standard, there’s a chance all can be forgiven this week.
McPherson High will be hosting a Class 4A Division I sub-state beginning tonight at the Roundhouse. The girls kick things off with a pair of games, with the boys’ semifinals on Friday. The championship games are set for 6 and 7:30 p.m., respectively, on Saturday.
Chances are Ulysses will bring virtually no crowd, considering it’s practically in Colorado. But Abilene and Buhler certainly will more than make up for it.
Remember the atmosphere last year when the favored MHS boys played Abilene in Abilene in the first round? Even when the Bullpups blazed out to a 17-3 lead and still were up by nine points in the third quarter, the Cowboy fans literally willed their team to the victory. It’s amazing how much difference a vociferous crowd can make.
When McPherson played at Buhler recently, it was virtually standing-room-only, aided greatly by the best Bullpup road turnout of the year. Buhler’s boys, a huge underdog, received an emotional rush from their fans to take a 10-2 lead before the Bullpups’ superior talent level kicked in.
Abilene will bring a huge following and all you need to know about Buhler is that it has replaced Newton and Hutchinson as the Bullpups’ biggest rival. The towns are separated by 15 minutes and for whatever reason, the Crusaders always seem to play with a chip on their shoulder when they face McPherson.
McPherson fans always pride themselves on being "the best in Kansas.” I talked with a former player from 30 years ago recently and was told the fans can actually make a difference between a team winning or losing.
So let’s pack the place this weekend, especially on Saturday. Let’s turn back the clock to the old days when the Roundhouse was full and electric and people were standing around the top. Let’s live up to our reputation of “the best fans in the state.”
• UNDERWOOD’S TEAM MAKES USA TODAY — McPherson native Brad Underwood could probably run for mayor of Nacogdoches, Texas.
That’s the home of Stephen F. Austin University, whose basketball team— in Underwood’s first year as head coach — has become known nationally.
In fact, a USA Today story entitled “Is Stephen F. Austin this year’s Florida Gulf Coast?” hit the stands this week and also is on line. Florida Gulf Coast, of course, was the high-flying unknown team that made a splash nationally last year with a deep and unexpected run in the NCAA Tournament, capturing the nation’s fancy in the process despite being a No. 15 seed.
The story details Underwood’s coaching career and his stops along the way as he's certainly paid his dues. He was one of the best players in McPherson High history, graduating in 1982. After a year at Hardin-Simmons University, he played at Independence Junior College his sophomore year, helping the Pirates to the national tournament championship game. He finished his career playing for Jack Hartman at Kansas State.
Stephen F. Austin would figure to make the national tournament, which it can guarantee by winning the Southland Conference Tournament and the automatic berth that goes with it. The Lumberjacks are 27-2 and have not lost since Nov. 23. One of their losses was to Big 12 member Texas and the game was close, which should help solidify SFA’s resume for the NCAA tourney.
• KU SENIOR NIGHT — Good for Kansas coach Bill Self for not turning KU's Senior Night into Freshman Night.
KU honored seniors Tarik Black, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts after their rout of Texas Tech on Wednesday.
It did not honor freshman Andrew Wiggins, who already has said he's one-and-done. Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden weren't honored, either. There's been no word of their future plans as they're probably 50-50.
My feeling is, given Embiid's ongoing physical problems, he may realize he's not strong enough yet to stand up to the nightly pounding of the NBA. If Selden thinks he's ready for the NBA, he's chasing a pipe dream. He should come back and if he doesn't, my guess is he'll become an NBA gypsy, going from team to team.
To be honest, I don't believe Wiggins is ready. While immensely gifted, he's a poor outside shooter and all his slashes to the basket will be met with forceful resistance in the NBA. He also struggles with handling the ball at times. In a nutshell, he has so much to work on before he goes in the Top 5 of the draft next year.
If Embiid and Selden come back, and given what KU is bringing in for next year, the Jayhawks would have to be the favorites for the national title.