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. 

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 shot 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 crowed over the years, the South isn't the strongest region in the NWAC, but it has produced two title teams in the last several years. 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.

                                                                                                                        

Jan 9, 2015

Bellevue men lead rankings into region play

NWAC Men's Basketball


Last year we always assumed the Southern Region would shake itself out and, being stubborn, it never did. The South has always gotten flack for as long as these rankings have been a thing, and yet they've managed to capture two of the last four NWAC titles. Once again, it looks like the South is being its good ol' self, but the Western Region has joined in the fray. Neither region has a standout as of yet, with four teams legitimately in the mix at the start of region play.

The Northern and Eastern regions, however, are entirely different. Bellevue and Edmonds have emerged as frontrunners with entirely differing offensive styles in the Northern Region, while Big Bend, Wenatchee Valley and Spokane are clearly ahead of the remaining teams in the Eastern Region with Columbia Basin making a solid run at relevancy. 

In the last set, we used a beta system to rank a team's pace by adding and dividing and multiplying some numbers together and calling it good. The league has stepped forward and offered the actual possession stats, and we rolled out a new efficiency rating system last week with the women to fairly positive results. This edition [Get the top-16 teams] adds a few things, including a free-throws per game stat which helps to show exactly why certain teams can accomplish their high points-per-possession numbers.

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.

From this point on, expect the rankings to be published about every two weeks on Sunday or Monday until the NWAC tournament arrives in early March. Coaches rankings, which were released on Jan. 8, can be found beneath each team's rating.

                                                                                                                         

1. Bellevue (13-2, 0-0 North)
Pace: 58 | Offensive Efficiency: 83.2 (74)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1


Over the last several seasons, we've seen Bellevue rack up a handful of solid seasons. They tied for first in a highly-contested Northern Region last year, marking the first season with at least a share of the region title since 2009-10. In each one of those successful years, the Bulldogs have only gotten past the first round of the tournament just one time, which begs the question: Is this finally the year for Bellevue? Among the top-16 teams in terms of efficiency, Bellevue plays with the slowest pace of just 58 possessions per game. They commit just 13 turnovers per game, an excellent job of scoring on the few possessions they DO have. It's a formula which tends to do well at the championship tournament,  which generally sees the slower, defensively-minded and efficient teams succeed. Coming up, they've got 5-8 Shoreline before they'll take on Olympic — the fastest-paced team at 72 possessions per contest.

                                                                                                                          


2. Edmonds (13-3, 0-0 North)
Pace: 72 | Offensive Efficiency: 76.05 (84)
Previous ranking: No. 4, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: No. 2


In the last set of rankings, we covered how Edmonds' low shooting percentage was killing their offensive efficiency. There are still several unsettling numbers which stick out for Edmonds, one of which is their three-point shooting: second-to-last in the league at a dismal 28 percent. Overall percentage is in the bottom third, which is why it's fairly amazing that Edmonds manages to score just over 84 points per game. The reason? Blinding speed and the second-best rebounding in the NWAC. Edmonds plays a full 14 possessions more than a team like No. 1 Bellevue, and actually takes better care of the ball. Much of the reason Edmonds gets so many extra chances is due to their ability to get out in the passing lanes, which gifts the Tritons an extra ten possessions on a nightly basis and has led to five consecutive victories — the second-longest streak in the league.

                                                                                                                         

3. Big Bend (12-4, 0-0 East)
Pace: 65 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (79)
Previous ranking: No. 2, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

Big Bend was on an impressive run before it was cut short in a 91-78 loss [box] to Columbia Basin, a loss which gives some interesting insight into a major weak spot in the Runnin' Vik's game: Turnovers. Big Bend had 26 of them, and while it's 10 higher than their game-by-game average, the Vikings still rank among the worst of the efficient teams in terms of turning over the rock. Imagine throwing the ball away on a quarter of a team's possessions, which is about where Big Bend sits. There's your background, now consider this: Big Bend still manages 79 points per game, and ranks ninth in offensive efficiency. It helps to be third in the league in three-pointers attempted, while shooting a somewhat decent percentage. One interesting thing to watch: Big Bend hosts Columbia Basin in a rematch on Jan. 21. CBC is also one of the hotter teams in the league, and should make for a good challenge.

                                                                                                                        

4. Wenatchee Valley (11-4, 0-0 East)
Pace: 60 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.9 (75)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

The Knights are another slow-paced, but efficient team. They trail Bellevue with 60 possessions on a given night (see what I did there), and have almost identical numbers both on offense and defense. The Knights don't shoot an awful lot of three pointers, and they're not at the top of the list in field goal percentage. What Wenatchee Valley DOE do, and does extremely well, is get to the free-throw line. They're second in the league in free-throws per game at 25, which is impressive because the leader — Chemeketa at 28 — plays at a far quicker pace. The Knights only loss in this last section of games came on a night where they shot 13 percent from three-point range and were outscored 27-6 from beyond the arc and still only lost by three [box] to Grays Harbor. They'll have a fast-paced and efficient challenger in No. 5 Spokane in their next contest, and should the Knights manage to keep the pace slow and control things from the get-go, they'll have a chance to make a huge statement in the Eastern Region.

                                                                                                                         

5. Spokane (10-5, 0-0 East)
Pace: 69 | Offensive Efficiency: 88.4 (94)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

A faster than average pace often doesn't always translate to an efficient outcome on the offensive end, but Spokane is different. They're far and away the best offensive team in the league at just over 94 points per game, and pace is only part of it. They run about 69 offensive possessions per night, and are about average in turnover-per-possession percentage. The difference is that the Sasquatch score on far more of those possessions than any other team in the league. The efficiency coefficient is a good way to balance, as it takes pace out of the equation and Spokane is still easily at the top of the list by a full four points. And unlike many of the other running teams in the league, Spokane is actually in the middle of the pack in steals and is able to hold opposing teams down on defense instead of games turning into a regular track meet.

                                                                                                                          

6. Clark (8-4, 1-0 West)
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.9 (81)
Previous ranking: Unranked, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6


With eight wins, Clark might look like a questionable choice to make the top eight, considering the three Western Region teams who have more wins. However, as we've discussed before, this is a set of rankings built on what teams have been up to lately, and Clark's resume of late has been a solid one. Something seems to have clicked after the Penguin's loss to Clackamas on Dec. 20, and Clark has won their last three contest by a considerable margin. Most impressive was a 78-58 [box] win over previous No. 5 Green River in which Clark muscled the Gators to a 47-29 rebound advantage and outscored Green River by 15 in second-chance points. Clark is the most efficient of the Western Region teams, and will only see one region foe who is better on the glass even though Clark is in the middle of the league pack in terms of boards. Unfortunately for Clark, their chance to prove themselves comes quickly: Lower Columbia — the only team from the West who has better boarding numbers — looms in the Western Region opener.

                                                                                                                         


7. Columbia Basin (7-7, 0-0 East)
Pace: 70 | Offensive Efficiency: 76.05 (83)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked coaches
Coaches: Unranked


Another somewhat curious choice in place of a team like Highline or Umpqua, both of whom are leading their regions, Columbia Basin makes the list as simply the hottest team in the league at this point. They've picked up six in a row, two of which came against teams ranked in the last set. Green River was the first to fall victim back on Dec. 19, but CBC has also managed victories over Portland, Everett, Blue Mountain, and a 113-86 barn-burner [box] against Grays Harbor. The most impressive win, though, was their most recent. Columbia Basin shot a cool 11-22 from distance and picked up 26 turnovers against No. 3 Big Bend on New Years Eve, runnin' past the Runnin' Viks 91-78 [box]. It might have been a flash in the pan, but no one has been able to prove it for the last month.

                                                                                                                         


8. Chemeketa (9-6, 0-0 South)
Pace: 68 | Offensive Efficiency: 84.5 (88)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 7 (tie) Coaches
Coaches: No. 8

Every once in a while, my brain will catch a number that simply doesn't fit. Usually it's a mistake when data is entered into the efficiency spreadsheet, but in the case of Chemeketa's unreal free-throw numbers, it's reality. The Storm have shot 423 freebies through 15 games, at a clip of 28 attempts per game. They're not the lightning-quick (again, see what I did there?) Chemeketa team we've seen in the past, but they still manage nearly 88 points per game — good for second in the league behind No. 6 Spokane. And at 9-6, they're just a half-game behind Umpqua for the lead in the Southern Region, which looks like it might end up as much a clustered mess as it was last season. Getting to the line means drawing fouls. Drawing fouls means putting opponents in foul trouble, which forces opponents to change up rotations and put their big men on the bench.