Mar 13, 2012

It's time to seed the NWAACC tournament

Tacoma head coach Carl Howell and assistant RJay Barsh celebrate the 2012 NWAACC title.

KENNEWICK, WASH. - In the hours following Tacoma Community College’s NWAACC championship, a number of tournament volunteers, the executive director, and even an official could all be seen out together at one of the local restaurants, celebrating another successful year. Several minutes into the festivities, a man wearing a shimmering, dark blue suit and flashy ring sauntered through the doors, his normally grim face split with a smile when he acknowledged the cheers and applause from all those that recognized him.
            The man, who had a group of young men in tow, was none other than Carl Howell, the head coach of the NWAACC champion Tacoma Titans. He walked down the table of volunteers, shaking hands with many until he reached executive director Marco Azurdia, where he stopped to exchange a few words before making his way to another corner of the establishment where his team and assistant coaches as well as his wife and son awaited him.
Tacoma head coach Carl Howell
            It wasn’t until after the hubbub had subsided that there was enough of a pause in the maelstrom for a quick word of congratulation to the champion coach, who had gone exactly ten years between titles. Talk quickly turned to the set of power rankings that I write every two weeks, and how Howell appreciated the consideration of his team in the rankings. Then Howell said something I didn’t expect, but something that got me thinking.
            What Howell mentioned was that it may be time to seed the tournament, and not in the way it is now. The current format pits the Northern region against the Southern Region and the East against the West. The top finisher in one region takes on the fourth place finisher in the other, and the second place team takes on the third place squad.
            In a perfect world, that should seed the tournament equally. The opponent in the first round of the tournament is solely based on how a team performed in the regular season. However, the world isn’t perfect. The wrench that is thrown into this system is that the regions are far from equal, and so in some cases, the team that took fourth in the East may actually be better than the team that won the West.
            That disparity is painfully obvious on the women’s side, enough that several league officials said they weren’t at all surprised when seven of the eight teams from the Northern and Western regions were beaten on the first day, only to see the remaining team lose on the following day.
            The method to fix this broken system is simple, and it’s already used at the college level for the NCAA basketball tournaments. What happens is that the winner of most of the conferences gets an automatic bid to the tournament. The rest of the bids are called “at-large bids” and are chosen by a selection committee. The committee is made up of athletic directors and conference commissioners from across the country, and they decide which teams are the most deserving to receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
Tacoma Guard Mark McLaughin
            Gone would be the East vs. West days, it would be a system exactly like the NCAA where the first seed would play the 16th and so on. It wouldn’t matter which region a team came from, it would matter how good that team actually was.
            The problem with that system is that it is subjective to the people sitting on the committee, and it is entirely up to them to decide who gets in and who doesn’t. Once the teams are chosen, coaches, players and fans alike would argue that their team deserved a higher seed than they were given. It’s not based solely on wins and losses, and so the ambiguity of the selection would unsettle some until the system had time to take hold.
            Despite its drawbacks, a system like this should effectively eliminate the imbalance between the conferences. Because it would be in accordance to rankings and not records, there wouldn’t be as many first round match ups that pitted two top eight teams against one another. Sure, there would still be plenty of Cinderella moments, such as this year when the Clark and Whatcom men were both ranked No. 1 and lost in the first round. That’s just basketball. But it would mean that the sixteen best teams would get in to the tournament, instead of a good team being left at home because they finished fifth in the best region in the league.     
            At the end of the day, this system works. A champion is crowned every year and there aren’t too many complaints about how it works. That said, as the league continues to try to grow in popularity, they may need to make the switch to a format that people are used to and understand. Besides, people could start having selection Sunday parties.

Mar 1, 2012

Whatcom men No. 1 heading into tournament

NWAACC Men's Basketball

The post season is always an interesting time for college basketball. It's always said that a win or a loss can come on any day, and that's exactly what we normally see at the upcoming NWAACC tournament. Only one game has two ranked teams in the first round is Clackamas vs. Peninsula, but that doesn't mean that there isn't always a chance of an upset. Whatcom, Clark, Spokane and Tacoma should easily blow past their first round opponents, but it remains to be seen what the rest of the field will do. Coaches rankings are in italics under each team's record.

I will be in attendance, covering the tournament for the NWAACC. Game recaps will be available on

1. Whatcom (23-3, 15-1 North)
#1 Coaches, 1st seed in the North
Previous Ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches 

The single loss to Seattle on January 28th (box) aside, Whatcom hasn't lost for over two months. The last trip up before that was December 16th when the Orcas lost to Spokane in the preseason. Whatcom may be the best offensive team in the league, despite them trailing Shoreline and Chemeketa in scoring. Chemeketa had several games in the preseason that were offensively ridiculous and therefore difficult to count, including their 153-149 victory over NW Elite. Shoreline scores a lot, but that's because they purposefully run every possession and play no defense. Whatcom has shown that they have the offense to outscore a team like shoreline, and the defense to stop them. They've also swept Peninsula, the defending champions and early season favorites to have a repeat performance in the tournament.

Whatcom will square off against SW Oregon in the first round at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


2. Clark (25-2, 15-1 West)
#1 Coaches, 1st seed in the West
Previous Ranking: No. 3, No. 2 Coaches

Coming down the final stretch, the only thing that stood between Clark and a Western Region championship was Tacoma, a team that had already beaten them 74-71 (box) on February 6th. That down to the wire game was one of the big highlights of the league this season, featuring two teams that were highly ranked and playing their best basketball of the season. Less than a month later, Clark and Tacoma matched up again, this time ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively (coaches). This time, Clark was victorious 81-78 (box), putting them in the driver's seat for the number one seed from the West. Such a quality win on their resume is exactly what opposing teams fear: Clark has big game experience, and will be difficult to knock off in the upcoming tournament.

Clark will face Yakima Valley in the first round at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


3. Spokane (23-4, 12-2 East)
#3 Coaches, 1st seed in the East
Previous Ranking: No. 4, No. 4 Coaches

Spokane took a knock when they started off the season by losing their first region game by 16 points. Then they went on to win their next eight games and 12 of their next 13 games. The last stretch includes three games in four nights to make up for a game they missed, beating Yakima Vally, Treasure Valley, and Blue Mountain all in short order. And instead of slowing down as the games piled up, Spokane picked up the pace. Their first win was by one point, their second by 22 and their third (and the second night of a back to back) was by 33. It's safe to say that Spokane is walking into the tournament on a high note.

Spokane will play S. Puget Sound in the first round at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


4. Tacoma (22-5, 14-2 West)
#4 Coaches, 2nd seed in the West
Previous Ranking: No. 2, No. 3 Coaches

The biggest story out of Tacoma has been the play of guard Mark McLaughlin, who led the nation's two-year college level in scoring this season. McLaughlin paced the NWAACC with 28.41 points per game and also led his team in assists. Behind McLaughlin's prolific scoring ability, Tacoma has been one of the high flying teams in the league this season, going on winning streaks of six and seven games. Their biggest dark spot was the unexpected loss to Lower Columbia (box), their only loss that Tacoma will have trouble answering for. Tacoma is sixth in scoring in the league, and is third in blocks.

Tacoma will take on Walla Walla in the first round at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


5. Peninsula (23-4, 13-3 North)
#5 Coaches, 2nd seed in the North
Previous Ranking: No. 6, No. 5 Coaches

Peninsula, like Tacoma is led by one of the best scorers in the league, J.T. Terrell. In his case, however, Terrell has a lot more support and doesn't have to do as much work in carrying the offense. Terrell's 25 points per game are backed up by 15 from DeShaun Freeman, who is also one of the NWAACCs better rebounders. Peninsula, as good as they are on paper, has failed to impress in some of the biggest games they've played this season, being swept by Whatcom and losing one of two to Bellevue. However, they'll be a tough match up for anyone they play.

Peninsula will face No. 7 Clackamas in the first round at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


6. Big Bend (21-4, 11-3 East)
#7 Coaches, 3rd seed in the East
Previous Ranking: No. 5, No. 3 Coaches

Big Bend has done just about everything expected of them. They split the match ups with Spokane, beating Spokane 101-84 (box) to open region play, and lost 89-86 (box) on February 1st. That loss might not have looked so bad had it not come on the heels of a loss to Walla Walla, that being the only time this season that the Vikings have lost back to back games. The other loss came to Yakima Valley by 18 on January 11th (box).

Big Bend will square off against Lower Columbia in the first round at 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


7. Clackamas (16-10, 10-4 South)
# 9 Coaches, 3rd seed in the South
Previous Ranking: No. 8, UR Coaches

Clackamas has been as hot as any team in the league, and even though they finished third in the South, they've made a mad dash to jump up in the standings, finishing just barely behind the leaders. Clackamas won 10 of the final twelve games, and the two losses were by a combined three points: by two points to Mt. Hood (1st in South) on January 18th, and by one to Chemeketa (2nd in South) on February 8th on a score keeping error that awarded Chemeketa an extra two points in the contest, nudging them past Clackamas. Despite lacking in size compared to some of the other teams in their region, Clackamas is leading the South in blocks and is barely behind Mt. Hood in rebounding. Clackamas is a definite candidate to get a first round upset, given their play as of late.

Clackamas will play No. 5 Peninsula in the first round at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


8. Mt. Hood (21-7, 12-2 South)
#6 Coaches, 1st seed in the South
Previous Ranking: UR, No. 7 Coaches

Mt. Hood is a good team with a few questionable blemishes. The first of those can be explained, an 89-77loss to Chemeketa (box) on the road to a team that finished just barely behind them for the Southern Region championship. The second loss is harder to pin down. They were at home, and got blown out 67-46 (story) (box) by Clackamas. Mt. Hood is third in the NWAACC in assists, and is led by the MVP of the Southern Region, Spencer Clayton, who is one of a handful of players in the league to be averaging a double double.

Mt. Hood will take on Shoreline in the first round at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


Teams moving up: Clark, Spokane, Peninsula, Clackamas
Teams added: Bellevue
Teams moving down: Tacoma, Big Bend 
Teams dropped: Shoreline

Columbia Basin wins the east, the top spot

NWAACC Women's Basketball
With the regular season finally finished, we get down to where things really begin to matter: the NWAACC Tournament. The top seeds in the East, South, and North are well represented, but the Western Region's poor inter-region record has finally taken it's toll. Oddly enough, we only have one top eight match up in the first round, and it is the opening game of the tournament, Clackamas vs. Bellevue. That will be the game to watch for a possible upset, as long as people are in the gym to see it.  Coaches rankings are in italics under each team's record.

I will be in attendance, covering the tournament for the NWAACC. Game recaps will be available on

1. Columbia Basin (25-2, 13-1 East)
 #1 Coaches, 1st seed in the East
Previous Ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches

Winning arguably the strongest conference in the NWAACC is what gives Columbia Basin their biggest boost here. That, and they're on a ten game winning streak to enter the tournament. Columbia Basin finished with the best overall record, losing only to Yakima Valley (box) and North Idaho College (box). Those losses, combined with the loss of leading scorer Andrea Bland, were about as low as things got for CBC, who was one of the better defensive teams in the league. Their opponents only scored over 60 points six times. Columbia Basin held seven teams to less than 50 points, three teams to less than 40 points, and absolutely shut down Peninsula, allowing only 26 points in that contest.

Columbia Basin will take on Tacoma Community College in the first round at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd. 


2. Lane (22-4, 13-1 South)
#2 Coaches, 1st seed in the South
Previous Ranking: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches

Lane holds the league's longest current win streak entering the tournament at 11 games. That streak includes an impressive sweep of Clackamas, winning at home on Jan. 21 (box) and on the road on Feb. 18 (box). They climbed strongly into the championship hunt in quick fashion this season, fielding only one sophomore from last year's roster. Nevertheless, Lane is second the the NWAACC in scoring and blocks, and is strong in assists, steals, and rebounding. About the only "weakness" that Lane has is their high level of turnovers, nearly 20 a game. That, however, is remedied by the sheer number of possessions they have and the quickness with which they score.

Lane will face Peninsula College in the first round at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


3. Walla Walla (20-6, 11-3 East)
#3 Coaches, 2nd seed in the East
Previous Ranking: No. 7, No. 4 Coaches

As with the previous two teams, Walla Walla seems to be entering the tournament on the right foot. The post season is about who can win the big match ups, which is something that Walla Walla showed in their season finale when they traveled to take on Yakima Valley and came home with a victory in a game that decided 2nd and 3rd place in the NWAACC East (box).Walla Walla's numbers have fallen slightly, but they still continue to lead the league in 3 point percentage. Some questions still linger over which Warrior team will arrive in the Tri-Cities, but if they can get started where they left off, they're in great shape.

Walla Walla will play Pierce College in the first round at noon on Saturday, March 3rd.


4. Skagit Valley (20-6, 15-1 North)
#7 Coaches, 1st seed in the North
Previous Ranking: No. 6, No. UR Coaches

Skagit Valley's Northern Region championship was narrow, beating out No. 8 Bellevue by just one game. SVC split their two games with Bellevue this season, the one loss being the last loss since mid December when they lost to Lane (box), and is among the league's best in scoring. They sit at fifth in average points with 74.12 points per contest, and are tied for third in the NWAACC in field goal percentage. Skagit Valley is also near the top in free throw percentage, which should benefit them in their first round game, as their opponent has committed almost 200 more fouls on the season.

Skagit Valley will match up against Umpqua in the first round at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


5. Clackamas (22-4, 11-3 South)
#4 Coaches, 3rd seed in the South
Previous Ranking: No. 3, No. 3 Coaches

Clackamas spent most of the season leading the southern region in dominant fashion, and sat atop the league in points, steals and assists by a fairly wide margin. In the last few weeks, however, things have turned around. Injuries to key players and bad shooting brought Clackamas down a little from their pedestal: they now lead Lane by less than half a point in scoring, and Chemeketa has surpassed them in assists, and they hold a slim lead over Pierce in steals. Clackamas did recently regain a key defensive player, but it remains to be seen whether they can withstand the rigors of the four day tournament.

Clackamas will face Bellevue in the first round at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 3rd. It is the only match up to feature two ranked teams.


6. Chemeketa (19-6, 11-3 South)
#6 Coaches, 2nd seed in the South
Previous Ranking: No. UR, No. 8 Coaches

Chemeketa's 79-51 (box) dismantling of Clackamas would normally bump them far above their southern region counterparts, but Chemeketa has a questionable loss as well. That loss came to the hands of Linn-Benton, who finished 4-10 in the south, and didn't make the playoffs. Chemeketa managed only 37 points in that contest, which makes it that much more impressive that they finished sixth in scoring in the NWAACC with just over 74 points per game. Chemeketa is led by the southern region's Player of the Year, Janelle Weiss.

Chemeketa will take on Whatcom in the first round at 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


7. Yakima Valley (20-7, 10-4 East)
#5 Coaches, 3rd seed in the East
Previous Ranking: No. 5, 6 Coaches

Yakima Valley's big showdown with Walla Walla to end the season didn't go quite the way they'd hoped. Simone Jordan has taken over the role of leading scorer since the Yaks lost Brandi Henton in the preseason, but such a prolific scorer is difficult to replace, and Jordan's 29 points weren't enough to push Yakima Valley past Walla Walla, as they fell 75-68 (box) to surrender second place in the NWAACC East. However, despite YVCC's recent trip up, they're still a team to be reckoned with. The only team that they lost to in region play that wasn't ranked in the top eight at the time of the loss was... oh wait. There isn't one.

Yakima Valley will play Clark in the first round at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


8. Bellevue (22-5, 14-2 North)
#8 Coaches, 2nd seed in the North
Previous Ranking: No. 4, No. 7 Coaches

Bellevue had won 11 games in a row. They'd beaten a good Skagit Valley team on the road by 13 points (box). They were ready to take a shot at the Northern Region championship. Then they went and lost an unwarranted game to Everett , who is 7-9 in the regular season but managed to beat Bellevue at home in a close, 59-57 heart breaker (box) for the home team. The loss put them a game behind Skagit Valley, and ultimately cost them the region title. The title that they DO hold, however, is the oddest shooting percentage. They shoot a dismal 27 percent from beyond the three point line, but are tied for the best in the league at 43 percent overall.

Bellevue will face Clackamas in the first round at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 3rd.


Teams moving up: Skagit Valley, Walla Walla
Teams added: Chemeketa
Teams moving down: Clackamas, Yakima Valley, Bellevue
Teams dropped: Clark