BY TAYLOR ELDRIDGE (@teldridge24)
If there was one thing established from the opening round of games it was that no team is infallible. Each of the 4 teams that advanced – SM East, McPherson, Heights and BV West – showed good qualities in their wins on Thursday. But all four teams struggled in their own way and exited the Roundhouse with a feeling that they will have to play better on Friday to win.
So that brings us to the semifinals, where we should have two great games in undefeated SM East taking on a quality BV West squad and the host Bullpups looking for redemption from a 2011 rematch against Heights in the nightcap. The two top seeds, SM East and McPherson, have proven to be the better teams through their bodies of work this season, but showed some weaknesses on Thursday.
Will we have a big upset that shakes up the bracket? What can you expect from each of the semifinal games tonight? I’ve got you covered if you just click on the jump to read full breakdowns of each of the match-up’s on Friday.
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3 pm - #4 Manhattan (5-4) vs. #8 Maize (2-7) [Loser's Bracket]
Maize coach Chris Davis summed it up best after the Eagles’ loss to top-seeded SM East. “A loss is never good,” he said. Not even when you out-rebound a taller, bigger, stronger, undefeated and state-ranked team like SM East? Not even when you force that same team into 18 turnovers? Davis wasn’t buying it after the game, but he did say Maize is improving. The Eagles have a lot of good to draw from in the loss, as they made an elite team like SM East grind for victory. Maize was only down by 5 points with 5:46 remaining and had the game up for grabs. It didn’t work out that time, but Davis liked what he saw. “Without struggle there is no progress,” Davis said. “We’re progressing and we’re getting better, I do know that.” Manhattan also has some good to build on from its 55-45 loss to BV West. After falling behind 38-18 at halftime, the Indians cranked up their defense and held BV West to 2 points in the 3rd quarter to get back in the game. Manhattan closed to within 7 points in the 4th quarter, but never closer. From the looks test, I’d say Manhattan has an advantage with its roster. But Maize showed some grittiness yesterday and that can go a long way in the backside of a bracket. And this time if it comes down to finishing in the 4th quarter, each team will now know what it needs to do differently. “When you have guys that will step up for your basketball team and say, ‘I’ll do anything it takes for our team to win,’” Davis said, “that’s when good things are going to happen.”
PREDICTION: Manhattan 54, Maize 48
4:45 pm – #6 Hutchinson (4-6) vs. #7 Lawrence Free State (2-7) [Loser's Bracket]
Each of these teams have one thing in common: They let halftime leads evaporate and eventually let the game slip away. Each of these teams feel like there are a handful of plays that separate them from playing in the semifinals instead of the loser’s bracket. But Hutchinson coach Nathan Henry explained why each have a great opportunity on Friday. “The best thing about tournament week is you play the next day,” Henry said. “I think that’s the best remedy I can think of getting over another tough loss.” The Salthawks have now lost 4 games by 9 points or less, while the Firebirds have no sympathy because they have lost 5 games by the same margin. I don’t think you will find many that will argue who has the more talented roster. Free State proved just how tough the Sunflower League is by giving the host and #2 seed McPherson all it could handle in the first round game. Khadre Lane will be superior to anyone on the floor Friday. Hutchinson will likely fall back into zone and try to contain Lane as an unified force instead of handing over the responsibility to one person. But if the Salthawks don’t shoot any better than they did yesterday (38 percent and 4 of 17 behind the 3-point arc), Free State will run away with this one. I will never count out a team like Hutchinson, which has built a reputation for staying tough in games like this and frustrating teams, but it’s hard to see Free State losing this one.
PREDICTION: Free State 52, Hutchinson 42
6:30 pm – #1 SM East (9-0) vs. #5 BV West (5-3) [Semifinals]
After overcoming lackadaisical efforts on Thursday, SM East and BV West both have the same goal in mind. “They’ll be the home team and they’re going to be wearing white and we’re going to be wearing black, so hopefully we don’t throw the ball to the white jerseys like we did (Thursday) because that was a big issue for us,” BV West coach Donnie Campbell said after his team committed 16 turnovers in a 10-point win over Manhattan. SM East coach Shawn Hair can relate. He was nearly pulling his hair out watching his team turn the ball over 18 times to go along with a lack of passion. But each team is stocked with talent and this match-up will pit the two tallest teams in the tournament, as BV West has three players in its rotation at least 6-foot-4 while SM East has four. Each team also hails from an ultra-competitive league; SM East from the Sunflower and BV West from the EKL. “It’s going to be a straight-up battle,” Hair said. “You hope that playing some of the better schools from Missouri and Kansas will help you, but BV West is in the same boat. The Sunflower and EKL are both great leagues and it’s a battle every night. I think this game is going to be a fight to the finish.” SM East probably has an edge when it comes to talent, as there might not be a better player in the tournament than 6’4″ senior Vance Wentz, who has committed to Montana State. The Lancers also have a very nice player in 6-foot-7 senior Zach Schneider. He’s rangy and has a picture-perfect stroke from the line, making him a dangerous threat. But BV West does have the size to combat them in the post, which should keep BV West in the game. The Jaguars better hope they come out closer to form from their first half against Manhattan (when they made all 10 shots in the 2nd quarter and shot 70 percent) than their second half (36 percent and 10 turnovers). If they can hit around half of their shots, BV West should have an opportunity to win this game in the fourth quarter. But the Lancers are just too deep, too talented and too battle-tested to allow another potential flub. I say SM East comes out and flashes its potential and seals this game up in convincing fashion.
PREDICTION: SM East 72, BV West 56
8:15 pm – #2 McPherson (9-1) vs. #3 Heights (6-3) [Semifinals]
This will be a rematch of the thriller from the 2011 McPherson Invitational in which Perry Ellis and the Falcons handed McPherson and the amazing duo of Christian Ulsaker and Jack Pyle their only loss of the season, as each team would go on to win state championships later that season. Now those players are long gone and these teams are no longer the favorites to win state titles, but this is still a marquee match-up that pits two of the best programs in the state of Kansas against one another. The Falcons ride in on a 5-game winning streak and should play with the confidence that comes along with it – just don’t look at how they are doing it. None of the 5 wins have come easy and many times the Falcons have made it look maybe even more difficult than it should. But all that matters is that Heights has found a way to win and coach Joe Auer thinks that is a testament to the character of his team. And now a match-up against the host Bullpups in the Roundhouse in their own tournament. Instead of wallowing in the circumstances of the meeting, Auer is embracing it. “What a great opportunity for our kids,” he said. “We’re going to have the biggest smiles on our faces because there’s very few atmospheres in the Midwest that are going to be what we’re going to see (Friday) night.” But don’t think for one second that McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon will allow his team to overlook a team that appears riding in on a tidal wave of good fortune. “They’re not going to come in here intimidated because it’s the Roundhouse or whatever,” Kinnamon said. “They’ve won the last four 6A championships and until the state tournament is over this year, they’re the state champions. That winning, that success breeds success. Those kids expect to be successful.” McPherson is a much more graceful team and unquestionably a better shooting team than Heights. But if the Bullpups fall victim again to letting the other team control the pace and tempo of the game, then they are in danger of letting the Falcons stick around and that’s exactly what Auer wants: a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. McPherson has the ability to put this game away, I think. But it is going to have to shoot the ball well again so it can set up its full-court pressure that could give Heights’ inexperienced ball handlers some trouble. The Bullpups can’t let this game settle into the low 50s, which is the pace Heights wants to play at. I think if the Pups can break 60 then they will comfortably win this game, but the Falcons have defied logic this season and found new ways to win games. Will winning a shoot-out be the next one?
PREDICTION: McPherson 63, Heights 48