McPherson High’s boys will have double the motivation on Thursday when they open play in the 51st annual McPherson Invitational at the fabled Roundhouse.
Not only will the Bullpups be facing old rival Hutchinson in the 8:15 p.m. opening-day finale, they’ll be emotionally charged to erase one of the most numbing losses in the Kurt Kinnamon 20-year tenure.
The Bullpups were stunned by Wichita North in last year’s first round, which was like a pin to a balloon for the final two nights. It proved to be their only loss during a state championship season.
The Bullpups take a 9-0 record into the game, while the offensively challenged Salthawks are 1-7. In a recent game against Newton, the Salthawks scored six first-half points and have reached the 50-point plateau just once, while scoring in the 30s in half their games.
“Hutch presents the challenge of having to guard five guys that are 6-0 or under, and they spread the floor and make you chase them around,” Kinnamon said. “They love for their games to be played in the 40s. Hopefully we will be able to create some tempo. We should have a huge size advantage and we have to try and exploit that without getting out of what we usually do.”
The Bullpups are coming off a week when they played a pair of road games. They were pushed for a half by Buhler before winning 62-44, then defeated Rose Hill 74-55 in a game where they probably struggled as much defensively as they have all year, except for the second half against Archbishop O’Hara.
This tournament is exactly what the Bullpups need. Division III of the AVCTL hasn’t exactly pushed them, but this is as good of a field as there’s been.
If MHS wins, it plays the winner of Wichita Heights and Maize, who are 6-3 and 6-2, respectively.
“This game is a toss-up and we are preparing for both teams equally,” Kinnamon said.
On the other side of the bracket, the headline game of the day is a battle of Kansas City powers, 5-2 Blue Valley West and 6-3 Shawnee Mission East.
“ I look for the winner of this game to advance to the finals,” Kinnamon said.
Manhattan, 7-1, is favored against 4-5 Mill Valley, but Kinnamon sees this game as a sleeper.
“If Mill Valley is healthy, this is the game that could have an upset in the tournament,” he said.
The tournament is assured of having a new champion as last year's winner, Lawrence Free State, is not in the field.
Here is Thursday’s schedule:
3:00 — Shawnee Mission East vs. Blue Valley West
4:45 — Mill Valley vs. Manhattan
6:30 — Maize vs. Wichita Heights
8:15 — Hutchinson vs. McPherson