The KCAC officially reached the halfway point of conference play on Wednesday.
The conference has to be pleased that the first nine games have created so many good storylines.
The men’s race should go down to the wire. We have five teams separated by one game, with surprising Friends and Tabor on top at 7-2, while Southwestern, Bethany and Saint Mary are a game back at 6-3.
Tabor being in first place is no surprise, even after standout Lance Carter was dismissed early on. The Bluejays are a deep, veteran team with a quality big man in Andrew Thomas and one of the best all-around players in Dewayne Biggs. Coach Micah Ratzlaff has added a couple of juco transfers who are making solid contributions.
Friends, on the other hand, is a total surprise. I saw the Falcons early in the season when they played at Central Christian College and I didn’t think they would make the eight-team postseason tournament. I really believed they were a ninth- or 10th-place team. Dale Faber, at this point, is a runaway winner for KCAC Coach of the Year.
Of the three teams a game back, I really like Southwestern. Former Central Christian College coach Matt O’Brien has added some nice pieces to go with the dynamic 1-2 punch of Cameron Clark and William Tisdale.
Saint Mary will go as far as probable KCAC Player of the Year Grant Greenberg takes it. Bethany needs to get Gary Jones back as the Swedes have been a different team without him. Jones is dealing with an academic issue, but I’m told he’ll be back at the start of the second semester.
Bethel is the other surprise. The Threshers are only 2-7 in conference, but they have played everybody tough and with offensive machine Adam Arniciega, they’re in every game. Remember, this is a team that was 0-27 last year, but 8-13 this season.
Ottawa, McPherson College and Sterling are all disappointments. All three were thought to be upper-division teams at the start of the year, but for whatever reason the light hasn’t gone on. The Bulldogs, who had their four-year NAIA Tournament run ended last year, are in grave danger of not even making the eight-team playoffs. Their fate could be determined next week when they play Bethel and Kansas Wesleyan, teams they lost to the first time around.
My pick is for Tabor to win the KCAC, with Bethany the other team to make the playoffs — provided Jones gets his eligibility back. If he doesn’t, Southwestern will be the second team to make nationals as the KCAC is assured of two teams.
On the women’s side, it’s surprisingly a five-team race as I thought it would be a three-team affair. Friends is 8-1, with Tabor a game back. Kansas Wesleyan, Southwestern and Ottawa are all 6-3.
Friends has staying power. It’s deep and plays tremendous defense. I really believe Southwestern will get on a roll and charge into second place, followed by Tabor, Kansas Wesleyan and Ottawa, which to me is the surprise team. I really didn’t see the Braves being a factor.
McPherson College and Bethany College clearly are the bottom two teams and their chances of making the playoffs are slim. They meet here on Saturday and both teams have to look at this as a must-win game.
In the end, Friends will make the playoffs, with Southwestern the second team.