It was bad enough that the last game before Christmas for the McPherson High boys basketball team resulted in their first loss of the year, but to make matters worse, it meant the Bullpups were going to have to stew about it for 18 days.

After opening the season with four straight victories -- including two of them that went down to the wire -- the Bullpups ran into a veteran, battle-tested and talented team in Andover Central, which paid no attention to the fact that MHS had never lost an AVCTL Division II game in 53 tries. The Jaguars, who have to be among the favorites in a wide-open Class 5A, have the perfect combination of size, 3-point shooting and length on defense to cause any team a problem.

The Jaguars exposed the Bullpups’ two main weaknesses -- lack of size and outside shooting. Andover Central center Jorden Kaufman must have felt like Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians, as he worked with anywhere from a 7- to 9-inch height advantage, sometimes standing flatfooted for putbacks. With MHS unable to get the ball inside, it had to resort to firing away from the perimeter, which resulted in just a 38-point game, its lowest total in recent memory.

That loss no doubt will motivate MHS when it begins the 2012 portion of the season. It is entering a soft portion of the schedule, starting with a Great Bend team that has fallen on hard times, entering 2012 with a four-game losing streak, including a 37-point loss to Manhattan and a 39-point loss to Pratt. Then comes games against normally D-II non-contenders Valley Center and Arkansas City, which should get MHS to 7-1. Right before the tournament, the Bullpups should have their hands full with Hutchinson, though the game is at the Roundhouse.

Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon is working with his most inexperienced group in 10 years, though he’s quick to point out he does have five seniors, so he doesn’t like the excuse that his team is young. However, only three players returned with much experience off last year’s Class 5A state championship team, and just 20 of 70 points a game returned. MHS has been blessed to have go-to players year after year, but at this point different players have taken turns as the GTP.

For this year’s team to be a factor in what is a rugged McPherson Invitational field, as well as a state qualifier in a stronger-than-normal Class 4A, the defense is going to have to create the offense. Points off turnovers may be the most important stat of the year for this team, since it’s not endowed with shooting prowess or size, though Cody Cape does get a lot done for being listed at 6-2. Travell Robinson is 6-3, but has to rely on quickness and leaping ability for his inside output.

Jordan Hart, Chase Miller and Luke Reber round out the all-senior starting five. Hart is the team’s most experienced player and needs to be a leader because of that. He’s enormously gifted, especially defensively. Miller has had some good moments on the offensive end, but is playing with a broken finger. Reber plays very hard, and his strength is expected to be protecting the basketball.

Off the bench, Keaton Sorenson has shown flashes, as he’s still working to develop consistency, and it’s needed since he’s the team’s tallest player. Kyler Kinnamon, a rarity in that he plays as a freshman, has proven he more than belongs, especially in the ballhandling and ball pressure areas.

MHS is still waiting for Marcus Houghton to get healthy, as he’s very athletic and will provide more depth. Hopefully he’ll be ready sometime around the Invitational.

It will be interesting to see how this season plays out. Division II is not the cakewalk of the last five years, so MHS will be much better prepared for the postseason. Remember, sub-state is at Buhler, which is considered the favorite along with the Bullpups.