Dec 23, 2011

Clackamas Holiday Invitational Preview

It finally feels like basketball season is here! Clackamas is hosting their first men's tournament of the 2011 campaign, and I'll be there to take in as many games as possible. Here are some ways to keep up with the action:

Firstly on twitter @JWHsports.
Secondly on my Facebook page.
Thirdly on Cybersports for a live stats broadcast!

Until then, Merry Christmas!
John William Howard

Clackamas Holiday Invitational -
 A good first look at some NWAACC powerhouse potential

Early in the season, it's often difficult to get a good read on how teams will finish in the standings by the time that the NWAACC tournament rolls around in March. Some of that is satisfied by the four "crossover" tournaments that are held each preseason where two teams from each region are hosted by one of the participating schools and play a short, and usually drab three-round tournament. There are exceptions, though. Sometimes one of the tournaments will be heavy laden with ranked teams, providing great entertainment for the handful of fans that show up expecting a run-of-the-mill exhibition match, as well as giving a chance for the top teams to clash before it really counts.

Another one of the chances that those teams have is the set of holiday invitational tournaments. These tournaments don't have the crossover requirements, and that means that hosts don't have to bother inviting teams that don't really belong there. The most prestigious of those tournaments on the men's side is that hosted by Clackamas Community College beginning December 28th. This tournament features five teams that I've put in my JOWARD Power Rankings, and three of the top teams from the current coaches poll. It is the only one of the three invitational tournaments that has all NWAACC teams (Clark's alumni are participating in their tournament, and Big Bend's has only four teams, one of which is from Canada) and is the only invitational that has more than one ranked team.

Let's take a look at the first round:
Rankings are Joward Power Rankings

No. 6 Tacoma CC vs. Linn Benton CC
Mark McLaughlin
Wednesday, Dec. 28 - 1 p.m.
As silly as this may sound, don't let Linn-Benton's three wins fool you. See, of those three wins, two of them were against Linfield JV. The other was against 4-4 Columbia Basin, which is semi-respectable. But they lost to 2-5 Everett, for goodness sakes. Expect Tacoma to come in and wrap this one up, complete with a little bow, fairly early and cruise to an easy victory. Tacoma guard Mark McLaughlin will be a player to watch, as he is second in the league in scoring with 28 points per game, and he is the only player to have broken the 40 point barrier so far this season.

No.2 Peninsula College vs. No. 3 Yakima Valley CC
J.T. Terrel at Wake Forest last season.
Wednesday, Dec. 28 -  3 p.m.
This should be the highlight of the first round, despite the coaches not ranking Yakima Valley in the top 8. This game will feature the top scorer in the league in Peninsula's J.T Tyrell (32.25 ppg), who started at Wake Forest a season ago, against one of the best defenses the NWAACC has to offer. Yakima Valley leads the league in both blocks and steals, and is a much better offensive rebounding team than Peninsula. YVCC should put up a fantastic fight, but eventually the Pirates will come out on top by a fairly close margin.

No. 5 Walla Walla CC vs. Everett CC
Michael Crane averages 1.3 blocks 
per game for Walla Walla.
Wednesday, Dec. 28 - 5 p.m.
Unlike many of the teams ranked in the top eight, Walla Walla doesn't have flashy stats either offensively or defensively. They don't score a lot of points (73.4 ppg) and their rebounding is middle of the pack at best. They don't have a lot of steals, and while they average a fairly good amount of blocks, it's nothing fantastic. But what they don't do is give up points. Of Walla Walla's seven wins so far, they've held their opponents under 60 points five times. Everett is another one of those slow paced, defensively minded teams. Expect to see a low scoring game, probably with both teams staying under 75 points in a Walla Walla victory.

No. 8 Clackamas vs. Blue Mountain
Taylor Dunn verses Clark
Wednesday, Dec. 28 - 7 p.m.
This match up is as much a coin toss as any of the others. Both teams average around the same stats-wise, and seem to balance one another out. Clackamas gets more steals, Blue Mountain gets more blocks. Clackamas shoots better from the three point line, Blue Mountain shoots better overall. Truthfully, this game could go either way. The game will come down to which team gives their star better support. Clackamas' Taylor Dunn has been averaging over 22 points, ten better than the next man behind him. If I had to choose a winner, I'd say Clackamas simply because they're playing at home and haven't had to travel.

Dec 12, 2011

Clackamas women No. 1 in NWAACC Power Rankings

NWAACC Women's Basketball
With the third women's coaches poll set to come out on Dec. 14, I decided to take a stab at ranking the teams myself. Coaches rankings are in italics next to each team's record.
1. Clackamas (8-0) - #1 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 2 

Their wins against JV teams and lowly Portland aside, Clackamas has impressed so far this season, leading the NWAACC in both assists (19) and steals (19.43). If their shooting percentage continues to climb and their decent free throw shooting continues, Clackamas will be a tough matchup come tournament time.

2. Bellevue (6-0) #3 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 4 (tie) 

Of all the undefeated teams, Bellevue has the toughest schedule so far. Their combined opponents are 22-20, making them one of the few good teams to have faced a schedule in which their opponents are over .500. They shoot well when not behind the 3-point line, and are 2nd in the NWAACC in blocks.

3. Walla Walla (6-2) #2 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 3 

Walla Walla's only two losses were an 81-76 overtime defeat to Yakima Valley, and a 71-65 loss to North Idaho College, a NJCAA team. If the warriors can equal out the deficit in points off turnovers (-13 vs. YVCC, -23 vs. North Idaho), odds are they're still undefeated. They also lead the league in 3-pt %.


4. Yakima Valley (5-2) #6 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 1

One would think that YVCC's win over Walla Walla would put them ahead, and that would make sense without Yakima's loss to sub-.500 and unranked Linn-Benton, and then to unranked Clark. However, the overtime victory against the Warriors says a lot about how Yakima can play when they're good, which apparently isn't all the time.


5. Columbia Basin (6-0) #4 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 4. (tie)

Normally, Columbia Basin's perfect record would be more impressive, but it begins to lose some of it's glamour when you realize that they've really only played one ranked team in Umpqua, and were out shot by 13% in that game. Defensively they're decent: they held Peninsula to just 26 points, a low so far in the NWAACC.

6. Lane (5-2) #5 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 6 

Lane's only two losses have been to No. 1 Clackamas and No. 2 Bellevue, and the only thing holding them back from climbing again is defeating a ranked opponent. They lead the NWAACC in average points and have been winning by an average of 24.8 points per victory.


7. Blue Mountain (5-2) #7 Coaches
Previous Ranking: NR

Blue Mountain's wins over Umpqua and Highline and close games vs. No 2. Bellevue and No. 3 Walla Walla have propelled them into the rankings for the first time this season. The Timberwolves shoot a blistering 45% from the field, and trail only Walla Walla in that category.


8. Big Bend (5-1) #8 Coaches
Previous Ranking: NR

Yes, the Vikings are 5-1, but keep in mind that they've played their own alumni and 0-5 Edmonds CC. However, their victory over Umpqua was a big one: The 97-73 loss was the worse for the Riverhawks all season, setting an opponent high in a loss by 19 points.

And there you have it. Blue Mountain and Big Bend made the jump to the top eight, while Umpqua (6-4), Spokane (3-5) were knocked from the rankings.

View the current coaches poll here.

Dec 11, 2011

Spokane tops NWAACC Power Rankings

NWAACC Men's Basketball
With the third men's coaches poll set to come out on Dec. 14, I decided to take a stab at ranking the teams myself. Coaches rankings are in italics next to each team's record.

1. Spokane (8-0) #1 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 2 

Spokane is the only NWAACC program to have defeated the mighty North Idaho College team that has dominated the rest of the Northwest League thus far. Looking at the overall stats, nothing seems to jump out. They're average in nearly every statistical category until you get to blocks, where they average 5.13 and even that is only good enough for second place. Be that as it may, the Sasquatch have shown up in every game, knocking off North Idaho 70-67 and Yakima Valley 91-85.


2. Peninsula (4-1) #3 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 1

Behind their stellar new transfer from Wake Forrest, J.T. Terell, Peninsula fared well against nearly every opponent that they've faced, with their only loss being a 102-73 drubbing by North Idaho College. Putting that behind them, Peninsula should look to make a run at another NWAACC title, should things pan out with their new star.

3. Yakima Valley (5-2) - #9 Coaches
Previous Ranking: NR

YVCC's only losses have come by the hands of North Idaho (sound familiar?) and No. 1 Spokane. They are the only team to average more blocks per game than Spokane. While YVCC hasn't defeated any of the teams ranked in the top eight (other than 0-4 Highline), they've knocked off several teams on the fringe including Shoreline and Mt. Hood.


4. Bellevue (5-0) #2 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 3

While Bellevue's undefeated record may look impressive, they've padded their season so far with two fluff wins over S. Puget Sound and a victory over unranked Linn-Benton. The two wins on their resume worth taking into account are against Clackamas (ranked No. 6 at the time) and then No. 9 Whatcom, handing Whatcom their only loss of the season. If Bellevue can survive the rest of the preseason, their road to the tournament may be paved, given that the North has been weak thus far.

5. Walla Walla (5-2) #6 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 5

A loss to North Idaho College isn't beginning to look all that bad, and if that was the Warrior's only loss, it might be fairly impressive. However, they did lose to a rather average 5-4 Mt. Hood team. Walla Walla's biggest win is easy their victory over then No. 3 Clackamas in which they held the Cougars to their lowest point total in over 15 seasons.


6. Tacoma (4-1) #4 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 4

Tacoma entered the season ranked No. 2, and started off 3-0 before falling 79-70 to then No. 3 Clackamas. Like several other teams ranked in the top eight, Tacoma hasn't played hardly anyone, with their schedule being just slightly better than .500.

7. Whatcom (5-1) #5 Coaches
Previous Ranking: NR

Whatcom's opponents haven't been all that impressive, but the way they've won has been. With the exception of a double overtime win over then No. 7 Highline and a 83-78 loss to then No. 6 Bellevue, Whatcom has won by an average of 13.8 points per game including wins of 25 and 21.


8. Clackamas (4-3) - #10 Coaches
Previous Ranking: No. 6

Clackamas looked fantastic starting out the season, coming in ranked No. 3 and starting off 3-0, including an impressive 79-70 victory over then No. 2 Tacoma. Since then, Clackamas has been dismal, setting consecutive offensive lows in Head Coach Cliff Wegner's tenure of 53 vs Walla Walla and 52 vs. Clark.

Dec 1, 2011

It's not time to panic... yet.

Head Coach Clif Wegner (left, in black) celebrates  with his team after winning the 2007 NWAACC title. Clackamas went 29-4 that year, setting their record for most wins in a single season. The mark was met in 2009, also a championship year.

While still in the preseason, Clackamas Community College men's basketball may be in for a rough year if things don't turn around quick.

I met this season of men's basketball at Clackamas with some optimism.

This year's team has plenty of returning talent and a few strong transfer additions, including Taylor Dunn, a transfer from Central Washington that has lit up the scoreboard so far.

The men began the season ranked 3rd in the NWAACC. They started off 3-0 and knocked off the #2 team in the league, Tacoma, in the second round of their preseason tournament. That's reason for hope, right?

Well, yeah. That is until you take a look at what has happened since.

After advancing past Tacoma to the finals of the tournament, Clackams suffered an embarrassing loss, falling 64-53 to unranked Walla Walla in a game that Head Coach Clif Wegner called "feckless, inept [and] disjointed."

That game set a bar, and a bad one. It was the lowest scoring game in Wegner's 16 year career at Clackamas. Things could only get better, right? Wrong.

Two nights later, that bar got even lower as the Cougars fell to unranked Clark 75-52.

After two disheartening losses in a row, I begin to wonder who made the mistake. Did Clackamas not deserve their #3 ranking, or are they simply not playing up to it?

Looking at the record of Wegner's teams, you'll want to rule out both options. Ever since 2000, in Wegner's third season, the Cougars haven't failed to finish in the southern region's top three and hold three NWAACC titles (2007, 2009, 2010). Success has been synonymous for the last 11 seasons, which have averaged 25 victories.

It'd be easy to rule out coaching when looking for a reason for the recent slide. Sometimes team's can have a difficult time finding chemistry. Sometimes players aren't putting their all into games. Sometimes the other team is simply better.

But can you really say that coaching has nothing to do with it? Not really. The coach is the one that has the pulse of the team. He knows, or is supposed to know, the ins and outs of each player's game and is able to balance egos, skill sets, bad habits, friendships and grades. It's an impossible task, really. But for the last decade, it's worked.

Now I'm not saying that the sky is falling and I'm not asking for Wegner's head. In fact, I'm expressing my confidence in him and his team to get the job done. Challenges like this are nothing new to a head coach, and in a month we'll have forgotten about this completely. It's just that they've got another big game against #7 Highline on December 8th. Let's just hope that things get back on track by then.