The Bethany College Swedes played for the NAIA men’s national championship back in 2003, but it’s been 25 years since they last won a KCAC title.
With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Swedes hold their destiny in their hands.
They are 10-4 in the KCAC, a game back of 11-3 Tabor. Bethany is tied with Saint Mary for second place, both a game up on 9-5 Friends.
If the Swedes don’t win or earn a share of the title, all they have to do is look in the mirror. They don’t have to count on anybody else. They just need to take care of their own business.
The Swedes enter the final two weeks playing those very teams they are battling with. They play Thursday at Friends, with the chance to basically eliminate the Falcons. Then Saturday, in one of the biggest games in recent Hahn Gymnasium history, they host Tabor.
It doesn’t get much easier next week, as the Swedes host Saint Mary on Thursday. Perhaps overlooked, however, is a season-ending road game two days later at much-improved Sterling, which has gone 7-3 since an 0-4 start to finally get back to .500.
One thing about the Swedes, they’re probably the most fun team to watch in the KCAC. Veteran coach Clair Oleen has collected an array of gifted athletes who get the ball up and down the floor in a hurry.
Cody Harris, a jumping jack wing, is arguably the most explosive player in the KCAC. When the Swedes played McPherson College back in December, I remarked that he’s a player — like Saint Mary’s Grant Greenberg, Southwestern’s Cameron Clark or Tabor’s Lance Carter — who probably should be playing at a higher level. They could easily be playing NCAA Division II or lower NCAA Division I.
Now that forward Gary Jones is back from an eight-game absence due to an academic question, he provides the Swedes an inside presence and rim protector. Jonathan Gidson is a lights-out sixth man, who is seventh in the KCAC in scoring (17.2) even though he doesn’t start. Devin Smith and Larry McLin are savvy guards, while Nathan Coleman is the probable KCAC Defensive Player of the Year, having been honored for his defensive play by the KCAC on three separate occasions.
There’s no question the Swedes have the firepower to play in the national tourney, as they ring up 85.4 points a game. However, on the flip side, they are next-to-last in the conference in defense, giving up 79.2 points a game, which has to cause Oleen consternation, as he’s constantly preaching about defense, which he used to call “Hard 40.”
Another drawback for the Swedes, especially in these final two weeks of a grueling season, is depth. Oleen has been playing no more than eight players, sometimes only seven. Considering the dizzying pace they play, you just have to wonder if there’s enough gas left in the tank.
Even if the Swedes don’t win the KCAC title — the Tabor game figures to be the deal-breaker — they’ll get another shot at a national bid in the postseason tournament. Given how they can light up the scoreboard, they’ll be a tough out.