Provided there’s not a lot of moving and shaking in Class 4A Division I, with teams going up to 5A or down to 4A Division II, a number of the boys basketball teams in the field this past week for the state tournament are favored to make a return trip in 2015.
Youth was served in this year’s tournament, as standout underclassmen dotted several rosters.
McPherson High will attempt to defend its championship in 2015 with much the same cast of characters that walked off the floor with the plaque.
The Bullpups return All-Stater Kyler Kinnamon, who will be one of the top five players in the state. Kinnamon no doubt will be a little bigger and stronger, not to mention quicker, with a year’s maturity and that’s a scary thought for opposing guards who had their pockets picked on numerous occasions.
The Bullpups return 10 of their top 12 players, but it will be difficult to replace the versatility of the Horton twins, Peter and Ryan. Not to mention their height and length, as a first look at the MHS lineup for next year would seem to indicate it will have no starter taller than 6-2. Probably first up to replace the Hortons are Spenser Wine and Avery Gabel, both of whom sometimes played starters’ minutes.
The team MHS conquered in the finals, Topeka Hayden, also returns practically intact. In fact, the Wildcats were the youngest team in the field with 11 underclassmen on their 12-man roster. Few teams in 4A will have as dynamic a 1-2 punch as inside horse Marcus Meier and outstanding guard Jacob Head.
Paola, which actually played MHS the toughest of all, will have one of the state’s best juniors in 6-7 Mason McDow. He’ll be the Mr. Inside while returning guard Justin Criddle will be Mr. Outside.
Look out as well for Independence, which was the No. 2 seed going into the week only to be knocked off by Hayden. The Bulldogs’ Tate Turner will try to challenge Kinnamon as 4A Division I’s best guard, as he’s a smooth operator who has an uncanny ability to get to the rim. If he can develop his outside shot, he'll play at a pretty high level. The Bulldogs must replace the explosive Dominique Thornton as well as Ty Schabel, but Kyle Rinck will join Turner as a big-time scorer.
Basehor, which was the tourney’s big disappointment, should be back with a vengeance. Patrick Muldoon, the explosive 6-6 junior, should be primed for a big year and his 6-6 tag team partner Cory Fliger is back as well. The Bobcats have been a 4A staple in the last decade and it will be surprising if they’re not back.
Kansas City Sumner, which lost to McPherson in the first round, was led by 6-3 sophomore Derek Sykes, who accounted for nearly half of his team’s scoring against the Bullpups. The Sabres started two other underclassmen, while 6-4 freshman Jalen Taylor showed glimpses off the bench that he could be a future star. Don’t sleep on the Sabres next year.
As for the remaining two teams, both opponents of McPherson in AVCTL Division III, Winfield figures to be slightly better than El Dorado. The Vikings will welcome back 20-point scorer Will Adler, who may push that total closer to 25 next year. There’s another Adler, 6-4 freshman Ben, who surely will be heard from next year. But some valuable seniors, including Jacob Dennett and Logan Mays, are departing after being longtime staples.
El Dorado figures to fall off. Seniors Travis House and Jared Haury carried this team, and the Wildcats also lose John Scott and Isaac Johnson. They’ll rebuild around Alec Hildreth and Wes Haines.
As for any other possible contenders, the most likely is Abilene, at it’s going to be very scary. It lost to McPherson in the sub-state finals, but could have acquitted itself quite well had it been at state. The Cowboys are littered with talented underclassmen and will have as much size as any team in Kansas. Given their schedule, look for them to be ranked in the Top 5 all year.
And don't forget, Highland Park was 4A two years ago and one of the smallest 5As this year, making it to the state finals. Who knows, it could drop back in 2015 and would be an immediate contender, though coach Ken Darting retired after last week's game and most of his stars were seniors.