In terms of where the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team stands in its pursuit of a good seed for the MIAA postseason tournament, not much has changed.
There are still two teams at the top of the pack — Northwest Missouri and Washburn — well ahead of everyone else. And there are still two teams at the bottom — Northeastern State and Missouri Western — that virtually don’t have a shot at a high seed.
Then, with eight games left in the conference slate, there’s everyone in between. All 10 of those teams, including FHSU, have a legitimate shot at either making the top eight or top four.
This week’s matchups with Emporia State and Washburn at Gross Memorial Coliseum could go a long way in determining that fate.
It starts with Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. tip against Emporia State, the only conference team FHSU has beat on the road so far as FHSU is coming off an 0-2 stretch though Missouri during the weekend.
“Anytime you have a bad performance and don’t have the results you like, you want to try and bounce back as quickly as you possibly can,” Tiger head coach Mark Johnson said. “This is the exact same place we were a year ago.”
He couldn’t have been more right on the money. At this point last year, FHSU sat 5-6 in conference play before winning six of its final eight games to finish fourth in the conference. Entering Wednesday’s game, FHSU sits 5-6 in conference play. The only difference this year is Game 12 is at home with the Hornets visiting.
“It was kind of rough for us,” Tiger junior guard Trey O’Neil said of the road trip to Lincoln and Lindenwood last week. “Didn’t go the way we planned. If we come out on Wednesday, stay together as a team, I think we’ll be alright.”
On another positive note, the Tigers could see the return of the services of junior center Brady Werth. The Hays High School grad has missed the last four games with illness, but could be back in uniform Wednesday night.
“Maybe about 15 or 20 minutes is what I would guess right now,” Johnson said, speaking Monday afternoon of Werth’s potential playing time. “Be nice to have him out there and at least have stretches.”
Johnson hopes the return of the Tigers’ big man will help alleviate some shooting woes, though those have been there all season. FHSU hits just 46 percent of its shots, ranking 10th in the conference in that category.
O’Neil, who had his best shooting performance of the season in Saturday’s loss at Lindenwood (23 points with five 3s), said he gained some confidence.
The junior from Scott City sits third on the team with 8.5 points per night — behind the 17.6 of senior Hadley Gillum and 11.1 Werth put up in the first 16 games.
“It was good for my confidence,” O’Neil said of Saturday’s outing. “Just seeing that first shot go down.”
The Tigers’ 69-58 win at Emporia State in December was one of the best the team has put together in conference play, and they’ll have to match that Wednesday against a Hornet team that boasts one of the best point guards in the conference in Brandon Hall (15.1 points per game), and have several big men who can step outside and shoot.
“When their big guys step out and make the 3, they’re hard to beat,” Johnson said. “Hard to guard.”
With one of the MIAA’s best in Washburn coming to town Saturday, the Tigers will look for a good start to the week, and a good shooting outing would go a long way. Having Werth back, even in limited capacity, could help.
“We have to shoot the ball from 3 better than we are,” Johnson said, adding having another big in could help slow down the Tigers’ approach. “We just need to step up and shoot them better.”