Predicting first-round KCAC winners

By Steve Sell
February 24, 2015

The KCAC basketball season is much like those played by the NBA and NHL.

The teams play all season just to eliminate a smattering few from the playoffs.

For the KCAC, it’s just two teams for both the men and women that don’t move on. The postseason tournaments, which begin Wednesday for the men and Thursday for the women — provide the conference an opportunity to get a second team to the national tournament as the KCAC is guaranteed two spots.

The McPherson College men are proof positive that a team can get hot at the right time and win the tournament. Who will ever forget two years ago when the Bulldogs, as a No. 8 seed, won three straight games to move on to Point Lookout, Mo., for an unprecedented fourth straight year. Bethany once made it all the way to the national tournament finals even though it didn’t win the regular season.

I finally saw my last KCAC team on Saturday when McPherson College hosted Saint Mary. I think I have a pretty good feel for the conference, but with some late happenings, some of my original thoughts may have to be altered. If Bethany doesn’t get super-sub Jonathan Gidson back for the playoffs, its chances are severely damaged. Last week I posted that I thought the Swedes would join Tabor at nationals, but now I’m not so sure as the Swedes have lost three straight and appear to be running on empty.

Here’s how I see the first-round matchups:

• MEN •

• McPherson College at Tabor — No coach has been able to get a team more ready for the postseason tournament like Mac’s Tim Swartzendruber. The Bulldogs capped a disappointing regular season with a scintillating upset of No. 2-seed Saint Mary and that no doubt got Tabor’s attention. The Bluejays have a national spot clinched, so they might not be quite so focused. If the Bulldogs bring their A-game, they’ll make it competitive, but I still go with Tabor.

• Southwestern at Friends — The 4-5 game of any tournament is always the most competitive. Friends’ Dale Faber has done a wonderful job this year, maybe the KCAC’s best. Southwestern is clearly the more talented team, but the Falcons have a way of making teams play their methodical style of play. I like them in a squeaker.

• Sterling at Bethany — Nobody was higher on the Swedes than me for most of the season as they have the best collection of athletes in the conference. They are a terrific offensive team, but their lack of depth is catching up with them and their defense is matador-like at times. They have lost back-to-back home games, and just Saturday lost to this same Sterling team on the road. But I have a feeling for one game they’re going to get their mojo back. Cody Harris is way overdue to have a breakout game as he feeds off the emotion of the crowd. The Swedes in a nailbiter.

Ottawa at Saint Mary — Saint Mary's Grant Greenberg, the KCAC’s best player, scored only 14 points on Saturday (he averages almost 30) against McPherson College and appeared to be disinterested at times. But the bright lights will go on and the Spires are hard to beat at home. Ottawa is physical and athletic, but the Spires are going to win a close one.

• WOMEN •

Saint Mary at Tabor — Saint Mary had a nice second half to the season, but c’mon. Beating Tabor at Hillsboro? Ain’t going to happen my friends.

Ottawa at Friends — The Falcons regrouped against McPherson College on Thursday after a forgettable stretch where they lost five of six. Friends plays the best defense in the KCAC, but shoots it kind of crooked. Ottawa is more than capable of giving the Falcons a game, but Friends at the Garvey Center is usually gold.

Sterling at Kansas Wesleyan — If there’s an upset special, this would be it. Kansas Wesleyan staggered toward the end of the season (though it beat Southwestern Saturday) and Sterling is much better than its 12-17 record, 9-9 in the KCAC. What the heck, let’s go with Sterling in an upset.

Bethel at Southwestern — Bethel shocked Friends on Saturday while Kansas Wesleyan surprised Southwestern. All that did was get Southwestern more focused. Bethel had really been reeling until Saturday, but it doesn’t have the firepower to stay up with the high-scoring Moundbuilders, who despite finishing second was one of my most disappointing teams. I really though they would go practically undefeated in KCAC play like they did last year, but instead lost five.


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