Dec 3, 2013

No surprise, Big Bend men lead initial rankings

NWAACC Men's Basketball

It's that time again! Time for the arguments to begin, but remember - this first set of rankings are usually complete shot in the dark, with the exception of a few teams. There is bound to be a bad egg, and bound to be a team who shows up "out of the blue". This year the league looks a little different, as two coaches to have won a championship in the last five seasons have moved on to other occupations - Carl Howell at Tacoma, and Lance Von Vogt at Peninsula - and Portland has continued to improve, looking for the first tournament berth in school history. Be sure to check out Full Court Press, the bi-weekly publication meant to fill in the gaps between rankings.

And to get this out of the way, a quick update on the rankings' author: Joward (me) now works for a little newspaper in Columbia County, Oregon. High school athletics are the game (literally), but the rankings will continue throughout the season, most likely every two weeks to coincide with the coaches poll. No word on whether the NWAACC will pick up the rankings, but they should be posted around the same time. 

Also, your responses, sports takes, arguments and venting are welcome here, as the original intent behind this system was to generate discussion. Your input is always greatly appreciated, and you can reach me in a number of different ways throughout the season by commenting on each story, sending me an email, or contacting me via twitter @JowardHoward.

The coaches poll, released 6 days after the Power Rankings on Dec. 9, are in italics below each team's ranking. Here are the top men's teams for 2012-13 out of the gate:


1. Big Bend (4-0)
No. 2 Coaches
Last year: No. 1 Eastern Seed
Tournament: W-W-L-L

I'd venture to guess that not many people would argue against Big Bend as the preseason number one. Last years' team was loaded, especially with the addition of guard sensation Brendan Westendorf. The 6-foot-six guard tore apart the league last year, finishing third in scoring (22.2) and assists (5.8), and was one of the highlights of the 2013 NWAACC Tournament - "one of" being a bit of an understatement. Westendorf scored 112 points through the tournament's four games, and sat down for only 1:17 total. That's a minute and seventeen seconds. If Westendorf improves as most sophomores do, the Eastern Region had better look out, as right now he's leading the league with a cool (cough, wait what?) 33.5 points per game.


2. Whatcom (4-0)
No. 1 Coaches
Last Year: No. 2 Northern Seed
Tournament: W-L-L

Led by another bright spot from last year's tournament, the Orca's lost by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins to new No. 1 Big Bend on the second day of the championships (box). This time around, Kyle Impero will have a little more support, as Whatcom's roster is bolstered by eight sophomores. They'll also return Alex Duncan, the team's third leading scorer and leader in free throw percentage. With Peninsula as an unknown in the North with their new coach, and Edmonds having lost their stars from last years' finals team, the Northern Region might not be quite as tight as in recent years.


3. Yakima Valley (5-0)
No. 7 Coaches
Last Year: No. 2 Eastern Seed
Tournament: L-W-L

The first thing you notice when you take a quick peak at the Yak's roster is the host of sophomores. Seven players, mostly returners from last season's tournament team. That bunch is led by one of the best names in the league, 6-foot-5 guard Joel Yellow-Owl. Last year's stats have a pretty interesting trend. Twice, Yellow-Owl took more than 20 shots, and in both games, finished with over 30 points. For the rest of the season, he averaged just over 13 points. See what I'm getting at here? As a sophomore, and with the team's other two top scorers (Yellow-Owl was second) gone, he should get a lot more touches. And that's a good thing, given that he shot 57% during games in which he had 17 or more attempts.

4. SW Oregon (4-1)
Unranked Coaches
Last Year: No. 2 Southern Seed
Tournament: L-L

Being a stats guy, I dearly wish the NWAACC had a column for 2nd chance points, and all because of the numbers the Lakers put up. Through their first five games, SW Oregon has led the league in rebounding at more than 51 boards per game, while coming in second in both three-pointers made and attempted. And while they don't shoot the league best percentage from beyond the arc or from the field overall, they're getting to those long rebounds and getting points out of the deal: more than 15 points a game, in fact. It's a hustle-stat, and something that should take the team far if they can keep up up. Should the Lakers start nailing a few more of those shots (they lead the league in field goals attempted) they'll be hard to beat.


5. Pierce (3-1)
Unranked Coaches
Last Year: No. 1 Western Seed
Tournament: L-W-W-L

Last year's team was somewhat of a one man show, and while Tyrell Lewis was a great show, the Raiders didn't amount to much once they hit the tournament. This time around, a considerably re-tooled Pierce squad is leading the league in assists - and by a mile. But hey, guess what? They did it last year, too, and right now, the Raiders are a far more balanced team. It's early to call anything, but if Pierce can rattle off a few games to start off the regular season, they'll be hard to catch in the traditionally weak (relatively, look at the archives before you hate on me) western region, especially with Tacoma being less of a factor after head coach Carl Howell stepped down.


6. Portland (4-2)
Unranked Coaches
Last Year: No. 5 South
Did not make the tournament

This selection might look like a little bit of a long shot, but what else are preseason rankings for? This is a Portland program that sat largely useless for much of it's history until coach Tony Broadus stepped in and turned things around. With hardly any time to prepare, Broadus was able to put together a roster and made a run at the program's first playoff berth. They nearly got it, too. A narrow play-in loss to Lane knocked Portland from contention, but with a year under their belts, a stronger recruiting class and time to prepare for the upcoming season could lead to a strong showing for Portland. This time around, they're not the upstarts. The chip on their shoulder is still there, but nobody is gonna count the Panthers out.


7. Treasure Valley (4-1)
No. 3 Coaches
Last Year: No. 6 East
Did not make the tournament

In the first two seasons of the JOWARD Power Rankings, the Chuckar men have never been ranked, but their torrid start has been enough to catch some attention. Given, they've only played one NWAACC opponent, but their seven sophomores make them one of the more experienced programs in the league. They're second in assists, and have a big three averaging more than 50 points a game. The assists and relatively balanced scoring from several different names spells something important: options. They probably won't win the east, but with the usual suspects (Spokane and Walla Walla) a combined 3-5 so far, they have a chance to see the tournament.


8. Clackamas (4-2)
Unranked Coaches
Last Year: No. 3 Southern Seed
Tournament: W-L-L

The Cougars have to be excited to see the return of one of the better shooting guards in the league from last season's tournament team, Michone Hopkins. As a freshman, he was third on the team in scoring and first in assists, but the biggest contribution was from beyond the arc. Hopkins was second in the league in 3-point shooting at a blistering 43%. And he wasn't one of the players who gets in by shooting a few here and there, and simply getting lucky. Clackamas will also get 6-foot-9 forward Grant Sitton back, whose jumper is surprisingly silky, given his length.

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