Kurt Kinnamon detests playing zone defense. In fact, he doesn’t even like to say the word.
He calls it “that z-word.” Kinnamon would almost rather go through root canal than for his McPherson High boys basketball team to play zone.
But 60 seconds into the Bullpups’ Class 4A Division I state opener Thursday night against the quick-as-a-hiccup Sumner Sabres, Kinnamon knew. He just knew. He knew the Bullpups, while quick and cerebral, couldn’t keep up with the uber-athletic team from Kansas City by playing it straight up.
So Kinnamon put aside his pride and did what was best for his team with a blanketing zone. The result was a stunning defensive first half in which Sumner made just 4 of 21 shots and even the ones that went in weren’t because of smooth strokes, they were the result of some circus acts of double-and triple-pumps. The Sabres wound up scoring a minuscule nine points and trailed by 21.
That’s what good coaches do. They analyze a game as it goes along and make the proper adjustments. Sumner coach Daniel Parra, if he had some his due diligence in scouting, had to know the Bullpups almost always eschew a zone in favor of in-your-face man-to-man.
Kinnamon knew that the Sabres couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the outside. Summer’s players did as well, as they turned down open look after open look, instead charging to the basket and throwing the ball up around the rim and hoping for the putback.
The state title is now there for the Bullpups’ taking. Kinnamon was astonished that No. 3 seed Basehor — who he thought was the second-best team — was stunned by El Dorado, a team the Bullpups have whipsawed twice this season.
There wasn’t that much surprise, though, that No. 2 seed Independence went by the wayside against Topeka Hayden. The Wildcats play an ambitious schedule that includes 6A and 5A teams, so 4A probably seems like a step down. I watched Hayden dissect my alma mater, scoring easy basket after easy basket. I’m not sure it can again shoot the percentage it did against Indy, but other than McPherson this was the best-coached team on the first day.
McPherson will certainly have its hands full today. Paola has some good size, led by 6-7 sophomore Mason McDow, who scored 20 points Thursday, and a sharp 5-9 guard in Justin Criddle, who added 13. No other Panther scored more than six points.
In tonight’s other semi, I can’t see AVCTL Division III member El Dorado knocking off Hayden. The Wildcats played “fantastic” in the eyes of Kinnamon, who probably would have liked to have seen three AVCTL teams in the Final Four — especially since the Bullpups beat both of those teams quite handily twice each.