Hutchinson Community College’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are undefeated and top-ranked, thus making for double-daunting tasks for Barton as it travels to the Hutchinson Sports Arena tonight.
The women’s game starts at 5:30, followed by the men at 7:30.
Hutchinson’s men sit at the top of the NJCAA Division-I Top 25 poll, released on Tuesday. The Blue Dragons moved from No. 2 from the previous week after former No. 1 Chipola (Fla.) lost its first game of the season. The Cougars dropped from No. 9 to 13th in the poll after recording a 3-1 record during a seven-day stretch, including losing to Garden City last Wednesday on the road.
“This is why our guys come to school out here, so they can play in games in venues like this,” Cougars head coach Craig Fletchall said of his team invading the Sports Arena. “The men’s and women’s teams (at Hutchinson) are both ranked No. 1, which is pretty rare and it’s pretty cool for our conference.
“But it would also be a big feather in our cap to go in there and knock them off.”
Hutchinson is 17-0, atop the Jayhawk West standings at 3-0. Barton is right on the Blue Dragons’ heels at 3-1, tied for second place with Seward County, and 16-2 overall. The game also features the West’s top-scoring teams. Barton is averaging 85.6 points, while Hutch is averaging 83.9.
“We’re going to be playing a team that’s bigger, stronger and faster than us,” Fletchall said, “and deeper. We have to go in and play as hard as possible. We need to play with a lot of intensity.
“They have Kadeem Allen, a 6-foot-2 guard, who is probably the best player in the conference. He had SEC and ACC recruitment out of high school.”
Allen, a freshman from New Hanover High School in Wilmington, N.C., is averaging 16.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. He has made 44.6 of his field goals (83 for 186) and 32.5 percent of his 3-pointers (13 for 40).
The Dragons have four players averaging in double figures, including Alex Davis, who is averaging 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds.
“Alex Davis is a returning post player who has already signed with Fresno State,” Fletchall said. They have real good guard play. They’re solid. They have no weaknesses, and they shoot the ball well.”
Barton counters with a three-guard offense that has been their thriving, driving force all season.
It all starts for the Cougars with highly touted guard Al Key, a third-team NJCAA All-America selection last season, who is averaging 18.9 points, shooting 47.3 percent from the field (115 for 243) and leading the team with 69 assists. The 6-4 Decatur, Ga., native also ranks No. 2 in rebounding for the Cougars at 6.6 per game, trailing only post player Raheem Johnson’s 7.9 per-game average.
Point guard Turon Parker is averaging 13 points — third on the team — while ranking No. 2 on the team with 67 assists. He has committed only 17 turnovers, and has hit a team-best 29 3-pointers.
“I wouldn’t trade my guys for anybody,” Fletchall said. “In terms of hype and recognition, Hutch always has more top-100 players and high Division-I guys.
“We’ve done well against them over the years. We usually split with them. We’re going to try to steal one on the road at this point of the season and put us in the driver’s seat a little bit.”
Also crucial for the Cougars has been the slashing play of sophomore swingman Andell Cumberbatch, who has had double-doubles in three of the four conference games. He is averaging 14.8 points, second on the team, and ranks as their third-leading rebounder (5.5 clip).
“When we play zone and we go small, he has been huge for us,” Fletchall said of Cumberbatch. “We’re a little thin in the post at times and when get some big guys in foul trouble, consequently we have Andell and Algie in our zone down low against some pretty heavy hitters.
“Those two are as good of defensive rebounders as guards that we have had. They’re quick jumpers, and I don’t think we skip a beat when we have to move one or both of those guys in down there in the zone.”
Perhaps no player in the West has made more improvement from last season than Cumberbatch, a product of East Orange, N.J.
“He’s on our team and from what I’ve seen, I agree with you,” Fletchall said. “He’s really added some offense and he’s more confident. I think he’s worked on his game, he’s a great kid, he’s going to graduate on time and he’s got several teams taking notice.
“He’ll be playing Division-I basketball at this time next season.”
Cumberbatch, a 6-4, 178-pounder, says since he’s a sophomore, he’s taken upon himself to be a leader.
“I think I’ve improved on my defense and my strength a little more,” Cumberbatch said. “Last year, I was a little bit scrawny.
“Most definitely, I improved my shooting.”
While back home in New Jersey, Cumberbatch and former high school teammate David Williamson practiced their shooting in the mornings and played pickup games at night.
“He’s a freshman at LaSalle,” Cumberbatch said of Williamson. “We took turns just shooting and such.”