A year ago, the boys’ Class 4A State Basketball Tournament was the best in Kansas in any class.
In an instant-classic final, Ottawa outlasted Highland Park in one of the most memorable games in recent history before a full house at the cavernous Salina Bicentennial Center.
It was a foregone conclusion that those two teams would meet in the finals. But this year, in 4A Division I, nothing is for certain.
McPherson High enters as the No. 1 seed Thursday and generally is thought by most to be a probable finalist. But the rest of the tournament is a toss-up.
However, the 20-1 Bullpups have no bargain in the first round at 6:15 p.m. While Kansas City Sumner enters as the No. 8 seed with a pedestrian 10-12 record, MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon believes the Sabres may be better than most of the other teams in the field, given the caliber of their opponents.
“Sumner has played an extremely tough schedule and has lost several close games to much-bigger schools,” Kinnamon said. “They are quick and long. and apply pressure like we have not seen this year. They play a very uptempo game.”
Kinnamon said the inside game will be a key. As usual, the Bullpups will be giving away precious inches, but that’s been the case all year. But MHS hasn’t seen the quick leapers the gifted Sabres possess, players who regularly hover at or above the rim.
“We have to not let them play volleyball on the offensive glass to be successful,” said Kinnamon, whose team had to chop down the trees that Abilene trotted out last week, though they lost the rebound battle by 11.
The Sabres have three players of concern. Erek Sykes, a 6-2 sophomore, is a versatile performer, while 6-4 Semion Perkins and 6-6 Deamonte Sykes are like human pogo sticks. “Both are extremely active on the glass,” Kinnamon said.
But opponents of McPherson, especially those who never have seen them play, sometimes have trouble with the Bullpups’ myriad of offensive sets and changing defenses. It starts at the point where junior guard Kyler Kinnamon is a threat at both ends with his scoring and quick hands on defense. Twin seniors Peter and Ryan Horton have a lot of length, while junior Nathan Nutter and sophomore Drew Pyle have wildly exceeded expectations. Pyle is one of four sophomores in the Bullpups’ eight-man rotation, as Avery Gabel, Spenser Wine and Marcus McDaniel — all 10th-graders – are the next men up.
If the Bullpups win, they would play the winner of Paola (16-6) and Winfield (14-8) at 8:15 p.m. Friday. Winfield, of course, is one of three teams from the supposedly weak AVCTL Division III that got through.
The other side of the bracket is a crapshoot. Second-seed Independence (19-3) plays sleeper Topeka Hayden (12-10) at 3 p.m., with Basehor (19-3) playing AVCTL D-III El Dorado (13-9) at 4:45. There are some who believe Basehor might be the best bet to make the finals.
• SCHEDULE •
3:00 — Independence (19-3) vs. Topeka Hayden (12-10)
4:45 — Basehor (19-3) vs. El Dorado (13-9)
6:30 — McPherson (20-1) vs. Kansas City Sumner (10-12)
8:15 — Paola (16-6) vs. Winfield (14-8)
4:45 — Independence-Topeka Hayden winner vs. Basehor-El Dorado winner
8:15 — McPherson-Kansas City Sumner winner vs. Paola-Winfield winner
2:00 — 3rd place
6:15 — 1st place