At halftime of the McPherson College-Bethany College men’s basketball game Thursday night at venerable Hahn Gymnasium, the cozy home of the Swedes that oddly has seating on only one side, I boldly stated on the radio that I thought Bethany had Final Four talent.
I had just watched the Swedes sprint up and down the floor for 53 points against the Bulldogs, who were literally spent from the dizzying pace and were probably thankful for the halftime intermission to refuel their tanks.
I had heard the nationally ranked Swedes were good, but not THIS good. After watching them for 20 minutes, I said I don’t need to see anybody else, that they are the most talented team in the KCAC and it would take somebody really good to beat them. I said Bethany fans should start making reservations for Point Lookout, Mo., site of the national tournament.
Then came the second half.
Bethany’s offense certainly did its part, scoring 48 points. But its rapid-fire style that featured hot-and-cold stretches also enabled the Bulldogs to climb back into the game and when push came to shove, the Swedes’ free-lancing ways led to some head-scratching shot selection and ultimately cost them the game, not to mention they clanked a passel of free throws late.
But who would have guessed the offensively challenged Bulldogs — who had scored less than 60 points in their two previous games — would shockingly score 68 after intermission?
That’s what I love about my job. Just when you think you’ve seen it all — and believe me, I’ve been doing this for 40 years and seen everything imaginable — something like this comes along that reminds me that I’m going to do this as long as I’m physically able or until I’m so much of a relic that public will demand that I go away.
Despite the outcome, I am going to stick to my prediction. I believe Bethany has the most individual talent in the KCAC as coach Clair Oleen has done a wonderful job of restocking his roster that was depleted by graduation. He has backed up the truck and loaded it with juco transfers, such as Cody Harris and Gary Jones, who at times played like men among boys. And from what I was told Thursday, Oleen has more one player yet to get eligible who could be as good or better than Harris and Jones.
I also believe the Swedes can grab one of the two national spots awarded to the KCAC. Their one drawback is size, but their speed and creative offensive operatives are incredible to watch. Saint Mary’s Grant Greenburg is probably the only player in the KCAC who’s as explosive as Harris, whose range begins once he leaves the huddle. He’s a bigger version of former Swede star Kirk Swenson, a high-flyer who probably has no business playing at this level as he could easily be playing higher.
So what does this say about the Bulldogs, though? Coach Tim Swartzendruber has led Mac to the national tournament in four of his six years, a wondrous feat. It’s tough enough to make it once, let alone four times.
Swartzendruber has a team that’s still trying to find its identity, but the compass pointed in the right direction last night. Darius Hill is as smooth as a fine wine and point guard T.J. Grant is a blur. There’s plenty of other pieces to work with, it’s just a matter of making it all cohesive.
This was just the first of 18 KCAC games the teams play. I’m interested to see the directions both teams take.