Jan 27, 2015

Umpqua women jump back to No. 1

NWAC Women's Basketball

When we last spoke, two questions were posed: Can Umpqua keep up their good form up in Southern Region play, and will Spokane continue to lead the East? Both have been answered strongly, and in completely different directions. At 18-2, the Umpqua Riverhawks have the best record in the league, and haven't lost to an NWAC team since late November. Spokane, on the other hand, has lost four of their first five games against Eastern Region teams, and now sit near the bottom of the region standings.


Plenty of other things have flip-flopped, as well. Centralia finally lost to a Western Region foe, and Clackamas has struggled after an excellent start to their non-league schedule. Oh, and Columbia Basin is sending in heart-stopping performances left and right, and the Hawks have now jumped on top of the Eastern Region. Boom.

In some housekeeping news, both S. Puget Sound and Grays Harbor have unveiled awesome new logos, keeping with a trend which has seen new insignias from Umpqua, Shoreline, Green River and Clark in recent years. 

This edition of the Power Rankings continues the use of offensive efficiency numbers, which help to gage exactly what a team does with the possessions they're given, and how fast they do it. Bellevue is the slowest among the top eight, with Columbia Basin and Edmonds tying for the fast-paced honors. From this point forward, we'll upload a separate spreadsheet with each set of rankings so older sets can be used for reference. 

[Get the top 16 teams]

Pace is determined by taking a team's total points and dividing it by their average points-per-possession to get the number of possessions they've played. Total possessions divided by games is what the "pace" number is.

Offensive efficiency is what a team would score if they played at the average pace of the top-16 teams, which is 67 possessions per game. Current average points are in parenthesis next to each ranked team's efficiency numbers.

Updated coaches rankings, released on Jan. 22, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.
                                                                                                                        

1. Umpqua (18-2, 5-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 1 Coaches
Pace: 69 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.06 (81)
Coaches: No. 2

Consider this a makeup call for dropping Umpqua in the last set, but regardless of my guilty concience, the Riverhawks wholly deserve their re-ascent to the top of the rankings. First the boring numbers: They continue to lead the league in efficiency now that region play has begun, and they still shoot a sparkling 48% from the field. The turnover percentage is a little higher than it should be, but it hasn't mattered in the last seven games — all victories. Umpqua has already seen the meat of the brutal Southern Region schedule, having beaten No. 3 Lane 69-61 [box] and former No. 2 Clackamas in a 71-48 blowout [box]. The margin of victory over Clackamas could have been due to poor shooting, but not even Clackamas can make Clackamas shoot 18% from the field. The Riverhawks held Lane under 40% shooting, and trailed at halftime before outscoring the Titans by 10 in the second half. One caveat: Umpqua still has to travel to Lane, Clackamas and Chemeketa, which are difficult places to play regardless of their opponents record.

                                                                                                                         

2. Columbia Basin (13-6, 5-0 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked coaches
Pace: 74 | Offensive Efficiency: 75.71 (84)
Coaches: No. 5

The Hawks might be the newly anointed heartthrob-queens of the league, but regardless of their methods they have now charged to the top of the Eastern Region standings with seven consecutive victories. This is all following a 20-point loss to Lane back in late December, and it seems to have ignited something special in Columbia Basin. First came a 10-point victory over Treasure Valley in the region opener, followed by a game in which they were less efficient, had fewer rebounds, fewer points off turnovers and fewer points off the bench, and still managed to come from behind and beat Wenatchee Valley 77-76 [box]. A few days later, the Hawks came from 11 down at halftime to force overtime with Big Bend, topping the Runnin' Viks 88-86 [box] behind a game-high 27 points from Marissa Caballero. Oh, and the next outing? Columbia Basin trailed Spokane by two at the break, and came back to win it 64-63 [box]. Their luck will run out eventually, but winning this many close games against good opponents does massive things for the Hawks' confidence, especially when the tournament rolls around to their back yard in Kennewick. They're the fastest team in the league, are very efficient and take very good care of the ball. It all translates to the league's highest scoring average, but the Hawks might want to be sure people with heart conditions stop coming to games.


                                                                                                                         


3. Lane (16-4, 3-1 South)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 5 Coaches
Pace: 68 | Offensive Efficiency: 73.03 (74)
Coaches: No. 4

The better Lane's 20-point whipping of Columbia Basin looks, the worse their 19-point loss to Wenatchee Valley stinks. That said, the Titans have shown they're able to hang right with No. 1 Umpqua, something no other NWAC team has been able to do since late November. In both games, it's been a tale of two halves. The first 20 minutes have been close both times, only to see Lane fade down the stretch and fall while staying within striking distance. It's a good example of what can happen when Lane keeps their turnover numbers down, and they've managed to cut miscues by 45% in comparison to their season average of 20 per game. If Lane manages to play such a clean game the rest of the way, they'll have a solid chance in the Southern Region, especially because the remaining game with Umpqua isn't in Roseburg, it's in Eugene. 

                                                                                                                         


4. Centralia (17-3, 6-1 West)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 2 Coaches
Pace: 63 | Offensive Efficiency: 71.69 (67)
Coaches: No. 1

Centralia's place as the top team in the league was based on an excellent non-league schedule with the assumption that they'd breeze through the Western Region and emerge pristine and perfect. One problem: They just got blown out by Lower Columbia 63-47 [box]. Now, this could be a sign that Centralia isn't alone in the West as previously assumed, and that might turn out to be a good thing — if the Blazers can top Lower Columbia in the rematch. It's unlikely that Centralia will repeat their dismal three-point shooting performance in the second match up, as so far region play has gone exactly as expected with the Red-Devil'ed exception. They've beaten their other six opponents by an average of 29 points each, including 47-point wins over Tacoma and Grays Harbor and won't see Lower Columbia until Feb. 25 — this time at home.

                                                                                                                         


5. Bellevue (14-6, 5-0 North)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 68.34 (65)
Coaches: No. 8

It's no secret that the Northern Region isn't the deepest league in the NWAC, but taking the first five games of region play and their last seven overall has been enough to bump Bellevue up and get the 'Dogs noticed. And it hasn't so much been who they've beaten, but how it's been done. They took the league's least efficient team by 53 points [box] as an opener for the Northern Region simply to set themselves at the top of the division, but have also won a pair of close battles with challengers in Skagit Valley [box] and Peninsula [box]. And while Bellevue has played tight games with a handful of the NWAC's top teams, there are several troubling statistics which will continually drag the Bulldogs down. Firstly, they're solidly in the bottom-half of the league in terms of shooting percentage at 38% overall. Secondly, a low shooting percentage works if a team plays at a quick pace, and Bellevue simply doesn't. They're actually out of the top-16 teams in terms of offensive efficiency, but still have a solid chance to win the North and get a good seed in the first round.

                                                                                                                         

6. Lower Columbia (14-7, 5-0 West)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 69 | Offensive Efficiency: 74.37 (77)
Coaches: No. 7

It's not often that the Western Region will get two teams in the top eight, but as I've mentioned before, this system is about what has happened lately. And for Lower Columbia, "lately" has been seven consecutive wins, including a huge win over No. 4 Centralia — 63-47 [box] back on Jan. 24. It was at home in Longview, but it's a major confidence booster and goes an awfully long way toward their first region title since the 2010-11 season. With the win over Centralia, they now have victories over all of the other teams in the top half of the west, including 12-point wins over Clark [box] and Highline [box]. The only unnerving fact is that Lower Columbia will have to face all three opponents on the road in the second half of the Western Region schedule, and falling to second in their region could mean a major difference in their seed at the championship tournament.

                                                                                                                         


7. Walla Walla (13-4, 4-1 East)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 7 Coaches
Pace: 60 | Offensive Efficiency: 75.71 (68)
Coaches: No. 3

For the most part, Walla Walla has managed to escape the meat-grinder through the first five games of Eastern Region play. Key words being "for the most part." Usher in their last contest, a 73-58 loss to Big Bend [box] which knocked Dub-Dub from top-five to seventh. And it's not to say the East isn't relatively strong from top to bottom, but Walla Walla lost to one of only two Eastern Region teams with a losing record. All that said, the saving grace for the Warriors has been the other four games, specifically a 16-point win [box] over Wenatchee Valley and a solid victory over Spokane [box]. The real test for Walla Walla, which is still top-four in efficiency, will be their next two games. They take on a spiraling Treasure Valley team, then face No. 2 Columbia Basin — and both on the road.


                                                                                                                         

8. Peninsula (14-7, 4-1 North)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 68 | Offensive Efficiency: 73.7 (75)
Coaches: No. 6

Peninsula has made a solid argument for themselves this season, especially after playing No. 5 Bellevue to a close five-point loss [box] earlier this week. The most impressive stretch for the Pirates, though, came in the midst of their non-league schedule. They lost to Wenatchee Valley by one in the season opener, and proceeded to win five games in a row, a streak which included wins over No. 2 Columbia Basin, No. 7 Walla Walla, and previous No. 2 Clackamas. Peninsula might deserve to be a little higher in the rankings with all their non-league successes outweighing a relatively weak Northern Region, and as they continue to win region games, their stock will rise. The game on Jan. 28 on the road at Skagit Valley is a big one. Not only would it give Peninsula an edge for second in the region standings, but it gives the Pirates a confidence bump heading into a softer part of the schedule.

                                                                                                                        

Jan 25, 2015

Bellevue men still clinging to top spot

NWAC Men's Basketball


We'll get to it shortly, but the league saw an absolutely fantastic overtime showdown between No. 1 Bellevue and No. 2 Edmonds back on Jan. 21 that is too hard to keep out of the intro and both sets of rankings. As Bellevue — the slower and more efficient of the pair of heavyweights — came out with the victory, it brings to mind a piece written several years ago on what it takes to win at the upcoming tournament. Portland wowed viewers last spring by getting hot and pulling together a group of unbelievable talent at the right time, but it seems the slow-paced and defensively-minded teams have an edge when so many games are crammed back-to-back. 

Once again, remember that these rankings are most often a "what have you done for me lately" grouping of thoughts, and teams are more likely to jump around than in the coaches poll. 

In some housekeeping news, both S. Puget Sound and Grays Harbor have unveiled awesome new logos, keeping with a trend which has seen new insignias from UmpquaShorelineGreen River and Clark in recent years. 

This edition of the Power Rankings continues the use of offensive efficiency numbers, which help to gage exactly what a team does with the possessions they're given, and how fast they do it. Bellevue is the slowest among the top eight, with Columbia Basin and Edmonds tying for the fast-paced honors. From this point forward, we'll upload a separate spreadsheet with each set of rankings so older sets can be used for reference. 


[Get the top 16 teams]

Pace is determined by taking a team's total points and dividing it by their average points-per-possession to get the number of possessions they've played. Total possessions divided by games is what the "pace" number is.

Offensive efficiency is what a team would score if they played at the average pace of the top-16 teams, which is 67 possessions per game. Current average points are in parenthesis next to each ranked team's efficiency numbers.

Updated coaches rankings, released on Jan. 22, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.

                                                                                                                         

1. Bellevue (18-2, 5-0 North)
Pace: 59 | Offensive Efficiency: 83.85 (76)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

This is exactly the type of match up I like to see in the results: Two highly-ranked teams in a tight game with the region lead up for grabs. Such were the stakes. Bellevue won round No. 1 with Edmonds, winning 84-82 in overtime [box] in what I'm thinking will be a huge victory come tournament time. It gives Bellevue a little extra room atop the Northern Region standings, possibly getting Bellevue out of a more difficult first-round match up. It also is a major confidence booster, and proves that the Bulldogs have the mental fortitude to hang on and win a nail-biter despite being outscored down the stretch. Four Bellevue players scored in double figures, led by 19 from Don Holub. What will be more interesting will be how the rematch plays out on Feb. 18, when Bellevue and Edmonds could meet in another top-two showdown. Bellevue remains as the slowest-paced team in the rankings at 59 possessions a game, but is efficient with their chances regardless of their pedestrian shooting percentage.

                                                                                                                          


2. Edmonds (16-4, 4-1 North)
Pace: 70 | Offensive Efficiency: 78 (84)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

And now the other side of that huge game in Bellevue. I cover high school athletics full time now, and there are times where I wonder how different the conversation would go if I were talking with a different coach but asking the same questions. This is one of those instances. While Bellevue basically played their game — almost exactly their average regulation points and shooting percentage — Edmonds was caught once again by their inability to score the basketball. They still play somewhat quickly, and their points per possession stat has jumped in the last several weeks, but shooting 37% from the field against a slow-it-down team simply won't bring about wins. The Tritons seem to have fixed some of their problems on offense, and have picked up the scoring pace and shooting percentage, and it seems they're now on the level with No. 1 Bellevue, at least for now. The rematch in late February will be fascinating, and could be for the region title.

                                                                                                                         

3. Clark (13-5, 6-1 West)
Pace: 63 | Offensive Efficiency: 85.15 (82)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

The Penguins have lost just once in their last six games, a tight, anybody-can-win-this contest with Lower Columbia in which Clark was outscored by two in each half and lost 80-76 [box]. Since then they've been on a roll, pasting four of the five opponents on their current five-game winning streak. The largest such victory was a 106-66 thumping [box] of South Puget Sound (they have an awesome new logo) on Jan. 24. The sparkling stat from this sizzling contest was in the turnover column: Clark scored a whopping 33 points of SPSCC's 18 turnovers. The Penguins are fourth in the NWAC in steals at 10.78 per game, and have made a living on the break. It's part of what helps Clark reach the league average in points while playing at a slightly lower than average pace — layups are usually a pretty high-percentage shot. Like Edmonds and Bellevue, the Penguins have a big game on the horizon in a visit from No. 8 Highline, who has won four in a row and technically leads the Western Region.

                                                                                                                        

4. Columbia Basin (11-8, 4-1 East)
Pace: 70 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (86)
Previous ranking: No. 7, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: Unranked

I was a little uneasy in ranking Columbia Basin a few weeks ago, bringing them into the rankings for the first time this season in seventh. At the time, the question was whether their victory over then-No. 3 Big Bend was a fluke, but 10 wins in their last 11 games make things seem as though that's not at all the case. Their one trip-up, and this might have Wenatchee fans upset, was an 86-69 loss [box] to the Knights back on Jan. 14. The Hawks got outscored by 18 from beyond the arc in that game, which is an ironic taste of their own medicine. Columbia Basin shoots from distance at a pretty decent clip, and when they get rolling, well... they do things like blowing the doors off a fast-paced Spokane team to the tune of 110-95 [box]. CBC hit 15 three-pointers in that game, six more than usual, and nailed 13 in their 109-103 victory [box] over Yakima Valley. Will the hot shooting hold for the rest of the season? Maybe. Will the hot shooting continue once they step into the cavernous Toyota Center? Probably not. Either way, this team is hot.

                                                                                                                         

5. Wenatchee Valley (14-6, 3-2 East)
Pace: 62 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (86)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

Two losses in their last two games would normally drop the Knights further than one spot, but I'll keep them there because of how they kicked off the Eastern Region run. Wenatchee had arguably the most difficult early stretch of any of the ranked teams: Hosting Spokane, traveling to Columbia Basin and hosting Walla Walla, all ending in wins for Wenatchee. Then they faded in the second half and lost to unranked Treasure Valley and unranked Blue Mountain. What's interesting, though, is that in both games the Knights shot FAR below their average number of free throws. In the Blue Mountain game back on Dec. 31, for instance, Wenatchee Valley shot 38 times from the charity stripe. On Jan. 24 in an 86-76 loss [box] they shot 15 free throws. Though they've sped things up in the last few weeks, the Knights still play as one of the slowest-paced teams in the top-16. That means that they need high effieciency (and plenty of free-throws and good shooting percentages) to keep up with the other faster-paced teams in their region. I'll keep WVC in fifth for now, but this next stretch will be telling: they play Big Bend on Jan. 28, and then will have rematches with Spokane and Columbia Basin in the coming weeks.

                                                                                                                          

6. Big Bend (16-5, 4-1 East)
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.25 (80)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7


In the last set of rankings, I talked about how Big Bend turns the ball over a little more than they should, and I called their upcoming league game with then-No. 7 Columbia Basin a "good challenge." Big Bend, to their credit, cleaned up the turnover act considerably. In the first match up, they had 16 miscues. In the second, just 13. It made for a big difference in the competitiveness of the game, but Columbia Basin still managed to pull out an 85-84 victory [box] despite winning the turnover battle by seven. The Runnin' Viks also nearly let a win slip through their fingers in a battle with Blue Mountain (5-12, 1-4 East) back on Jan. 16. They held an 11-point lead at halftime, but were forced to hold on and win a low-scoring 68-66 game [box] at home, a result which is surprising given the difference in record and the improved turnover statistics. Coming up, though, they'll have a chance to prove themselves and jump back toward the top of the rankings in a trip to take on Wenatchee Valley, with whom they're almost neck-and-neck in points per possession and pace.

                                                                                                                         


7. Highline (14-5, 6-1 West)
Pace: 66 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (80)
Previous ranking: Unranked, No. 5 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6


It's always seemed a little unfair to keep Highline out of the top eight, given that they've led the Western Region for much of the season thus far. The reason? They don't have much by way of signature victories, and have lost many of the bigger games they've played in. And while they play in a relatively weak division (five of the Western teams are below .500), picking up five wins in a row is enough to get just about anybody noticed, and for their efforts they'll get a shot at taking down No. 3 Clark this week — at at home. This is a big chance for Highline to prove they belong in the discussion and erase a few ugly losses from earlier this year before the Western Region schedule takes its toll.

                                                                                                                         


8. Chemeketa (14-6, 5-0 South)
Pace: 67 | Offensive Efficiency: 83.3 (87)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 8 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

Chemeketa's overall offensive pace has dropped a little in the last few weeks, but the Storm are on their best run of the season: Eight straight victories, including the first five games of the Southern Region schedule. Given, as plenty of readers have trumpeted over the years, the South isn't the strongest region in the NWAC, but it has produced two title teams in the last two years and five champions in the last eight seasons. Might it be that all the banging and moving and shaking in the South preps teams for the rigors of the championship tournament? Chemeketa shoots a decent percentage from the field, and has continued their unreal free-throw numbers to the tune of 27 attempts per game. At this point the Storm look like frontrunners in the Southern Region, but they'll need to keep a sharp eye out for an effecient and slow-paced Umpqua team, as well as Clackamas — hate me, c'mon — as the Cougars often go on a hot streak late in the season.