Apr 9, 2012

NWAACC's run and gun may face hardships

Sam McCloud, of Clackamas CC, led the
NWAACC in assists, steals, turnovers
and average minutes with 34 per game.
NWAACC Basketball

Now several weeks removed from the 2012 NWAACC basketball championships, the added distance provides some interesting perspective. Things played out mostly as expected on the women's side, but the men turned everything upside down, with two No. 1 seeds falling on the first day of the tournament. The biggest thing though, was the tournament confirmed one of the most well known phrases in sports: Defense Wins Championships. 

Spurred by the comments from several coaches and the failure of the high scoring teams to take home the title, I began to wonder what the chances were of a fast paced squad winning a championship with the current format. Looking at pure results, the men's team that won, Tacoma, finished 6th in scoring with 85 ppg. The women's champion, Columbia Basin, finished 12th with 68. Those numbers are far below the high-flying teams that led the league in scoring. 

The Shoreline men, famous for their adaption of "the system" or "run and gun" basketball, scored well over 100 points per game. They led the league in assists (19 apg), rebounds (54 rpg) and turnovers, and were second in steals (12.61 spg). Similarly on the women's side of things, Clackamas led the NWAACC in scoring (78 ppg) and steals (15.86 spg) and were a close second in assists (16.83 apg). Both teams played all out every game, especially Clackamas, who pressed on defense on almost every possession. 

Avery Scharer of Shoreline CC led the NWAACC
 with 9.74 assists per game, nearly four more than
the next player behind him.
Throughout the tournament, every time I ran in to Shoreline strength and conditioning coach Joe Cairo we got to talking about how Shoreline's breakneck pace was the way basketball was designed to be. And to their credit, they accomplished their goal very, very well. Their offense was difficult to stop, and they put up a lot of numbers. 

"I think we were getting stronger as the tournament went on because we were in our comfort zone and everyone else was holding on for dear life," said Cairo. "Remember, we were a deep team. We played the full 12 and our bench wreaked havoc. That's the thing about 'The System,' everyone has the green light." 

Shoreline Men
7th Place
101.58 Points
19.16 Assists
12.61 Steals
582 Turnovers
However, despite the flashy numbers, neither team finished higher than 5th place. Shoreline had their lowest scoring stretch of the entire season, averaging more than 10 points lower than their seasonal average. They won three out of their four games at the tournament to take 7th place, but lost in the first round and failed to reach 100 points in any of their match ups. We never got to see what they could do when facing teams still fighting for a trip to the finals, something that completely changes the game plan.

Clackamas Women
5th Place
77.76 Points
16.83 Assists
15.86 Steals
614 Turnovers
For Clackamas, they finished right around their seasonal point average, but you could tell by the end of the tournament that they were tired. Sam McCloud and Jenny Johnson, the two major ball handlers, combined for 13 turnovers and 78 minutes in the second round loss to Columbia Basin, a team that played at a much slower and more deliberate pace. Clackamas was a team obviously built for speed, and one that according to head coach Jim Martineau "doesn't take jump shots." Their offensive prowess combined with their defensive and pressing ability might have made for a winning combination, but they simply weren't deep enough due to injuries to make it work. 

The four games in four days presents an extremely difficult challenge for any team, but especially those like Clackamas and Shoreline that play at a breakneck speed every time they step on the court. The current set up allows no time for recuperation and rest, meaning that such teams have no time to rebuild their strength and stamina. 

"I think a team could (win a championship) with good depth," said Carl Howell, coach of the champion Tacoma Community College Titans, "but usually in the post season you have to be able to win in the half court."   

Clackamas men's coach Clif Wegner agreed with Howell, saying that he didn't believe it was possible for a running team to win a title with the current setup. In order for that to happen, the NWAACC would have to space the games out more to allow the bumps, bruises and soreness to subside slightly before the next game. 

I tend to agree. Having watched each team play, and as much as I enjoy watching the teams that score at will, it was the groups that played in control and could either speed up OR slow down that had success. I agree with Cairo when he says that basketball was meant to be fast paced, but as it's evolved over time, history has shown that the best teams play with versatility. They can save some of their energy for the next game. They can dictate the pace. They can shut teams down with defense, rather than just get in the passing lanes. 

In short, it really is true. Defense really does win championships.


  1. Excellent article! Easy to read, factual information presented, and Mr. Howard's knowledge of the game of basketball is clearly apparent after reading his article. I will continue reading his articles over the likes of other in the Puget Sound mainstream sports media which rarely, if ever, cover NWAACC atheltics!