Feb 10, 2014

Columbia Basin No. 1 in women's rankings, title race

NWAACC Women's Basketball

The Columbia Basin Hawks are back to their usual business of winning Eastern Region titles, and have now picked up wins in their last 14 (count 'em) contests, and without a solid challenger so far, it looks like the power-region is theirs for the taking. And if I had to choose a fellow contender to play CBC in the final, I'd have to choose Umpqua: winners of their last eight, and currently leading the ever-tough Southern Region.

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 on Feb. 4, are in italics below each team's ranking. 

1. Columbia Basin (20-3, 10-0 East)
No. 1 Coaches
Last set: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches 

As it turns out, it's really hard to argue with 14 wins in a row. Really hard. And any team winning their first ten games in the Eastern Region deserves - almost by default - to chill at the top of the rankings. They've won everything since losing 59-55 (box) to Clackamas in mid-December, and it's not as though they haven't been challenged. The Hawks of old (circa 2011 kinda old) played in a lock-down, defensive region that didn't put up big scoring numbers. Now that's reversed. Defense will still win championships, and the Hawks have the second-best in the league at just over 58 points a game, but they've proven they can win close ones. They (along with Clark, at 48%) easily lead the league in shooting at 47 percent, and here's why: they're 27th in the league in three-pointers attempted. That leads to high percentage shots and free-throw attempts, at which they're fourth in the league. Hitting their freebies, giving up bad attempts and playing defense. Sounds like a title mixture to me.


2. Umpqua (18-5, 7-1 South)
No. 3 Coaches
Last set: No. 6, No. 6 coaches

Last year, the Riverhawks got quite a lot of attention toward the beginning of the year. Then it all fell apart. A pretty decent losing streak dropped Umpqua from the radar, but this season they're back at it: third in scoring at 81.39, first in rebounding at 51.52. They're traditionally a big team, strong inside and solid rebounders and defenders, and this year isn't an exception. Six of their players stand at 5-foot-11 or above, including a familiar name in Philialoha Kailiawa (remember Pua?). Whether the Riverhawks can close out the regular season in such strong fashion remains to be seen. They've got a tough match up on the road at No. 7 Clackamas on Feb. 15, but that'll be the only ranked opponent Umpqua has the rest of the way. They've proven they're the best team in the Southern Region, what with an 85-66 smashing (box) of No. 5 Lane on Feb 5 and a four-point defeat of No. 7 Clackamas earlier in January. However, with just a one-game lead on Lane, they might have to finish perfect to win the South for the first time since 2009.


3. Lower Columbia (17-5, 10-1 West)
No. 6 Coaches
Last set: Unranked, Unranked Coaches

What a way to make an entrance, you Red Devils. Holding the eighth-best scorer in the league four points below her average, going 10-20 from long range, and blowing through one of the best defenses in the NWAACC en route to a 79-77 (box) defeat of then-No. 2 Clark. Props, Ladies. And to top all that, they've now won eight in a row to take a half-game lead in the Western Region at a fairly important time in the West's history: the first time the region has ever had two teams ranked to high. Now, the bottom half of the region isn't nearly as strong, but a tight win over a solid team in Clark that many thought could make noise in this year's tournament gives the Red Devil serious momentum down the stretch as the Western Region season draws to a close. Picking up the top seed from the West, which will have to match up with the Southern Region this year, could end up being the difference between a first-round exit and a lengthy run.


4. Clark (17-3, 9-1 West)
No. 2 Coaches
Last set: No. 2, No. 2 coaches

It almost feels wrong to drop Clark with the way their month of January went. On Feb. 5, they had their 15-game winning streak broken in a 79-77 (box) defeat to then-unranked Lower Columbia. Losing such a tight contest won't do much to damage their chances going forward, but consider this: should the season end today, they'd face No. 7 Clackamas in the first round. If they won the west and took the top seed, they'd play Chemeketa. That's a huge difference, as Clackamas is one of the best defensive teams in the league, and many of their members have experience playing into the NWAACC final. At the moment, it looks like the Penguins should be able to run the table with the rest of their opponents to finish 15-1 in the West, but it's important that they don't slip up. Their league-best 48% shooting numbers and second-best 81.5 points per game might not hold when the competition level goes through the Toyota Center roof.


5. Lane (19-5, 6-2 South)
No. 3 Coaches
Last set: No. 4, No. 3 coaches
Lane has few mars on their record, but one of the oddest came Feb. 5 in an 85-66 (box) blowout loss to No. 2 Umpqua. Delving into the numbers for a second: the Titans only had 11 turnovers. They had more points off the bench, more defensive stops and more rebounds. They even had the same number of points from the three-point line, but here's the difference: Umpqua was 10-27. Lane was 10 of... eek... 47. That's a boatload of three-point attempts, especially when they're not going in. The other losses, most of them by 14 points or more, didn't have the same issue, but Lane continues to take an astounding number of three-pointers, especially given where their scoring comes from. Freshman Guard Shelby Snook (stats) puts up over 20 points a game, and has hit just 16 treys all year long, making me wonder: if the Titans didn't take threes unless they were wide, wide open, how many points would they score every game? 90?


6. Walla Walla (14-7, 8-2 East)
Unranked Coaches
Last set: Unranked, Unranked Coaches

The coaches were kind enough to give the Warriors a few votes in their latest poll, but should Walla Walla win the No. 2 seed from the East, they'll start to pick up quite a bit more by way of attention from the league as a whole. Before losing 81-77 (box) to No. 1 Columbia Basin, DubDub had won four in a row, and they've won three since. That includes holding Wenatchee and Yakima to a combined 89 points in the two victories, and imagine if the Warriors' comeback against Columbia Basin had a little steam. They outscored the league's best team by four in the second half, and if not for an excellent shooting night from distance for the Hawks (56%) and seven more made free-throws, the Warriors could be riding really, really high right now. Take what you can get, though. It's fairly unlikely that Walla Walla beats out CBC for the East, but taking second or third means they won't have to face the Hawks again until the finals.


7. Clackamas (16-5, 5-3 South)
No. 5 Coaches
Last set: No. 3, No. 5 Coaches

Solid defense in an offensive-happy Southern Region makes the Cougars a formidable opponent, but they haven't been red-hot as of late, especially in comparison to the way the season started. Clackamas took the first eight games and 10 of their first 11, but they've lost two of their last five games overall to drop to third in the South behind No. 5 Lane and No. 2 Umpqua. And while losing to teams ranked ahead of them isn't really a bad thing, per se, you have to take a look at how they do it. Like Lane, the Cougars take an unbelievable amount of threes, and when they're on point, Clackamas is hard to beat. In their 74-63 loss to the Titans, though, the teams went a combined 10-51 from three-point range. In their 76-72 loss (box) to Umpqua, Clackamas went 11-44 from downtown, and in their most head-scratching loss to Portland (7-13, 3-5 South), the Cougars were 13-48. That's unreal. And again, Clackamas has a solid post presence in sophomore Jasmine Gibbs-Brown, but maybe that's the secret: clog up the middle to take away layups, and pray Clackamas can't hit from the outside.


8. Bellevue (16-7, 9-1 North)
No. 7 Coaches
Last set: No. 8, No. 8 Coaches

The Bulldogs have won their last four contests to stay on top in the Northern Region race, including an impressive defensive performance against Shoreline, in which they shut down one of the poorest offensive teams in the league to the tune of 83-31 (box). More impressively, Bellevue was able to blow out Whatcom 62-47 (box), handing the Orcas their first loss in region play. Right now, their playoff hopes are more or less solidified, and if they take the top spot in the North, they'd match up with an injury-riddled Blue Mountain team who has gone 5-5 in region play after a brilliant start to the year. The Bulldogs' only loss in the North was a three-point trip-up at the hands of Skagit Valley, a game in which Bellevue played extremely well - six turnovers - but just couldn't hit their shots. Bellevue looks like a Northern Region champion right now, and they can solidify that claim by knocking off Whatcom on Feb. 15.


1 comment:

  1. Love the rankings and the research that you put into making case for each team and why they are in that current spot. The 1st day of the tournament is going to be filled with great games- Clark or Lower Columbia Vs. Clackamas possibly and the winner of that against could face CBC.. A lot of big battles early in the tournament this year!