COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Wranglers set to start championship run

Odessa College’s men’s basketball team was No. 2 in the nation and riding a 19-game winning streak when it rolled into Clarendon on Feb. 6 for a matchup with the Clarendon College Bulldogs.

The Wranglers boarded the bus back to the Permian Basin having suffered their first loss in Western Junior College Athletic Conference play since March, 2021.

“It humbled us, for sure,” Odessa College head coach Kris Baumann said. “The sophomores on the team hadn’t lost in conference up to that point.

“They had a chance to refocus and we worked on some things to get back in the right mindset.”

Odessa College has won seven in a row since that speed bump and is preparing to open play at the NJCAA Region 5 Tournament Wednesday at Wolfforth Frenship High School.

The Wranglers finished the regular season 28-2 overall, 15-1 in WJCAC play and will face Hill College at 7 p.m.

Should they double their current winning streak, they will be cutting down the nets as national champions inside the Hutchinson Sports Arena on March 25 in Hutchinson, Kan.

A notion that Baumann likes, but he understands that there is so much basketball to be played between now and then.

“Everyone is 0-0,” he said. “Nothing that you’ve done all season matters anymore.

“At this time of year, the lower seeds have nothing to lose so you have to be prepared from the beginning. We just need to play our game and I think we’ll be fine, but we have to stay focused.”

The Wranglers’ game relies on their ability to move the ball up the court in transition, along with playing defense for 94 feet.

Baumann isn’t shy about his substitutions, moving players in and out of games with every stoppage of play.

But he needs his point guards, his “facilitators”, to be in control and, when needed at the end of games, to make crucial free throws in close contests.

Anthony Marshall and Colin Schaefer are the main generals on the court.

If they are doing their jobs, the Wranglers’ shooting guards Dian Wright-Forde, Darrell Armstrong Jr., Khalil Haywood and Marcus Banks are going to have plenty of open looks.

So, too, will Brandon Maclin, Terry Brown, Dontrell Hewlett on the wings, along with forwards Kiree Huie, Austin Green, Chandler Cuthrell and Jordan Ray.

The Wranglers can run the court with anyone in the country, averaging 83.9 points per game on offense, while hitting 33 percent of their 3-pointers.

Their one struggle has been from the free-throw line, converting just 69.1 percent of their shots with the clock stopped.

Which is another issue for Baumann to address with his team.

“We’ve been working on finishing games,” he said. “And that means making free throws, but also making sure the ball is in the hands of the right person to be fouled.

“At this time of the year, free throws are going to be a big difference in how far teams go, both in the regional and national tournaments. You have to be able to finish games strong.”

>> Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at @OALeeScheide