Bethany College men’s basketball coach Clair Oleen just smiled Saturday night when asked if his Swedes and Tabor might meet again.
The regular-season series ended at Hahn Gym after Tabor completed the sweep with an 81-71 victory. The earlier meeting in Hillsboro resulted in a narrow 87-84 Bluejay success.
"We hope to see them again," Oleen said. "We'd like to, certainly. We'd like to see them in the championship game of the tournament."
Having seen all the teams play except for Saint Mary — I’ll see the Spires on Saturday — I can say with confidence the Swedes and Bluejays are going to play for the KCAC Postseason Tournament title. I was sitting with veteran KCAC “insiders” Bob Davidson and Paul Mogenson on press row at Hahn and both told me Bethany probably rates the edge when it hosts Saint Mary on Thursday.
Saturday’s game was everything it was expected to be. Tabor was my pick at the start of the year to win the KCAC title and I’ve never wavered. I’m convinced more than ever the Bluejays are the best team as the return of the versatile Lance Carter from a long suspension makes them a team that I could see winning some games at nationals.
Carter is an anomaly in the KCAC — a husky 6-5 guard who is a matchup nightmare for the usual smallish guards he goes up against. The Bluejays also have an inside mismatch as 6-7 Andrew Thomas is brutish and coach Micah Ratzlaff can also call on the vastly improved 6-8 Jonathan Gibson, who has shed his “project status” and become a viable contributor.
How good are the Bluejays? Dewayne Biggs was one of the KCAC’s best players last year and now he can’t even start. They have a muscular and aggressive front line and the addition of transfer Malik Brooks was huge. Brooks, who was high on McPherson College’s wish list before picking Tabor at the last minute, looks more like a fullback, but has great touch. He had 15 Tabor points in a row on Saturday when the other Bluejays were struggling.
Bethany, though, isn't far behind, but the difference I see in the teams is depth. Oleen basically went with six players, though he said his team is in tremendous shape. However down the stretch, a lot of the Swede players were bent over grabbing their shorts.
The Swedes are outrageously gifted as Oleen has an uncanny knack of bringing in high-quality transfers who fit his system. Cody Harris' range starts when he takes one step on the court and is a high-flyer, igniting the crowd with his dunks. Gary Jones is a pogo stick as he can get off the floor faster than any player I've seen and is a capable scorer. Nathan Coleman is a lockdown defender and the KCAC's Defensive Player of the Year in my opinion, while Devin Smith and Larry McLin are capable guards. Off the bench is Jonathan Gidson, the No. 1 sixth man in the KCAC.
If Tabor goes ahead and wins the regular-season title this week, its ticket is punched for the national tournament. Then it comes down to which team gets the No. 2 seed and my pick is Bethany.