Dec 27, 2014

Efficient Umpqua women lead NWAC once again

NWAC Women's Basketball

Welcome back to issue two of the JOWARD NWAC Power Rankings, where we'll take a look at how things have shaken out in the aftermath of crossover tournament [league recaps] action. It's one of the best chances to see the top squads from around the NWAC get out of their regions and match up against some unfamiliar faces, and it gives us an opportunity to see how the individual regions compete against one another. So far — and no surprise here — the south is really good, as is the East. 

The mens' rankings, which were released earlier this week, debuted a fresh stat dealing with offensive efficiency. The beta numbers added together shots, turnovers and adjusted free-throw attempts with a shot at determining a team's pace, or the number of possessions they play in a given game. The league has (graciously, thank you Tracy Swisher) stepped up and provided points-per-possession stats, and we now have a better view of what pace actually looks like.

Here are a few explanations of how this system [You can see the top-16 teams here] works:

Pace is determined by taking a team's total points and dividing it by their average points-per-possession to get the number of possessions they've played. Total possessions divided by games is what the "pace" number is.

Offensive efficiency is what a team would score if they played at the average pace of the top-16 teams, which is 66 possessions per game. Current average points are in parenthesis next to each ranked team's efficiency numbers.

The first set of coaches rankings were published on Dec. 11. They can be found here. The second set of coaches rankings should be out at some point next week.

We'll be back with the next set of rankings soon, which is likely to be Dec. 4 once the Holiday Tournaments are finished and before league play has begun. 


1. Umpqua (10-1, 0-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Pace: 66 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.84 (82)

If you forced me to pick an early candidate to win a championship here in December, I'd bet all my clams on Umpqua's pony show after having seen the Riverhawks win their last nine games. The league released points per possession numbers, and Umpqua is blowing away the rest of the league at 1.24 points every time they go down the floor. And while Umpqua is shooting a few more three pointers than usual, the philosophy is the same as we've seen from the Riverhawks in recent years as they've built to this point: Rebound, and force the ball inside the paint for high-percentage shots. We saw it from their towering Hawaiian a few seasons ago, and it's working again behind their considerable height-advantage. Nine Riverhawks stand at at least 5-foot-10. They shoot a league-best 49% from the field, and are in the top third in three-point percentage. Meaning? You can't stop them inside, and if you collapse the defense on their bigs they'll kill you from long range. Oh, and they manage over 83 points per game while playing at league-average pace, so once they get a lead they're almost impossible to come back on.


2. Centralia (9-1, 0-0 West)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 4 Coaches
Pace: 60 | Offensive Efficiency: 73.92 (67)

It feels a little uncomfortable to rank Centralia this high, what with the upcoming romp through the Western Region schedule I expect Centralia to have. As I've mentioned before, their relatively weak schedule normally knocks them down a rung or two, but ten games in they still have yet to drop an NWAC game. They got a big first half to beat No. 6 Spokane 63-53 [box] in early December and came from behind to beat previously-second-ranked Olympic 64-61 [box] on Dec. 20. The pair of impressive wins are all part of a six-game winning streak, which is tied for the second-longest current stretch in the league. The Trailblazers play at a little slower pace than the league average, which contributes to their excellent defensive stat of allowing just 58.2 points per game, which is sixth-best in the NWAC. Coming up in a hurry, they'll have a chance to prove whether or not they belong in the top-two: Centralia gets unranked Blue Mountain in the first round of the Lower Columbia invitational [bracket], but they have a likely second-round match up with North Idaho, the only team to beat Centralia this year. No. 1 Umpqua is across the bracket, which could be a finals match up.


3. Clackamas (9-3, 0-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 3 Coaches
Pace: 72 | Offensive Efficiency: 76.56 (83)

Two losses in the last five games put Clackamas on the edge of dropping in this set of rankings, only pulled out by a three-game streak including a solid 68-63 [box] win over No. 6 Spokane. They're one of the fastest-paced teams in the league -- which is by design, as it has been for quite some time -- and they're among the best teams in terms of offensive production per-possession. That's the good, time for the bad & the ugly. While Clackamas is scoring plenty of points, their shooting percentage isn't what it once was. The Cougars play with the philosophy that the best shots in women's basketball are three-pointers and layups, and true to form, Clackamas is first in three-pointers attempted by a wide margin and is top-five in free-throws made and attempted. If you look at their percentage inside the arc, they're a full eight-percent worse than No. 1 Umpqua: 56% to 48%. Both marks are good, but when taken into account that Clackamas takes many of their non-three pointers at the rim and they like to run opposing teams out of the building? You're gotta make a few more of those layups. 


4. Treasure Valley (8-4, 0-0 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 75.9 (74)

Welcome Treasure Valley to the womens' rankings for -- I believe -- the first time. And while we're on the topic of teams who like to pound the ball inside, Treasure Valley is the only team in the top-eight to have taken less than twelve three pointers per GAME. They also lead the league in free-throws made and attempted. They don't play particularly fast, but their attempts at the free-throw line allow Treasure Valley to score with the clock dead and bump up those efficiency numbers to fifth in the league. Enough about stats, though. The most impressive part of Treasure Valley's resume is their current six-game winning streak, and their 7-1 mark against NWAC teams. The only loss to league-competition was a 64-51 loss [box] to No. 2 Centralia in the opener. Since then, they've been red hot. Highlights include a 62-point victory over Edmonds [box] and a statement 70-62 win over No. 5 Lane [box] on Dec. 20. It'll have to stand the test of time, but we might be seeing the glimmer of a new power in the Eastern Region. They'll have the fastest-paced team in the league (Columbia Basin) in the region opener, followed by a match up with No. 6 Spokane. Welcome to the big leagues.


5. Lane (11-2, 0-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 2 Coaches
Pace: 71 | Offensive Efficiency: 69.96 (75)

I'm as likely to eat my own shoes with this ranking as any, but I'm not as impressed with Lane's league-leading 11 wins as I could be. They definitely have the offensive and defensive tools to win, but being careless with the ball isn't a winning formula in the long term, regardless of who the opponent is. The Titans play at the fifth-fastest pace in the league, and yet manage only 75 points per game. Their defense is top-notch given the number of possessions they have to defend, but their turnovers are dragging the Titans into some dangerous waters. Lane throws the ball away on 30% of their possessions. That's thirty per-cent, for a little extra clarity. Shoreline, the 0-7 Dolphins who are dead last in the league in scoring possessions, are only at 28%. And while some of that can be contributed to the Titans' fast pace -- Clackamas is at 26% as another fast team -- the numbers have to come down or the pace has to slow down if Lane hopes to continue avoiding losses. The 70-62 [box] loss to No. 4 Treasure Valley was particularly telling: 27 miscues to go along with an 0-7 night from beyond the arc.


6. Spokane (8-4, 0-0 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked coaches
Pace: 65 | Offensive Efficiency: 73.26 (72)

Normally teams who have ridiculous defensive numbers also tend to play slower, eat up the clock and get into grind-it-out games. Spokane, however, is a major exception. They play barely below the league average in pace, but hold opposing teams to just under 51 points per game. It's the best mark in the league, and has led to some impressive stats. They've held six teams under 50 points and three teams under 40 points, and at just 14 turnovers per game simply don't allow much of a chance at fast-break points. Their only two losses to fellow-NWAC teams have been a 63-53 [box] loss to No. 2 Centralia and a 68-63 loss [box] loss to No. 3 Clackamas, a game in which the Sasquatch actually led at halftime. Their defensive numbers are likely to change with the start of league play, but that five-game winning streak in December should be enough to turn some heads and gain real respect in the East.


7. Walla Walla (8-3, 0-0 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked coaches
Pace: 60 | Offensive Efficiency: 76.56 (70)

Had unranked Bellevue been kind enough to give up the ball a few more times than eight (the Bulldogs' average of 15) in their game against Walla Walla on Dec. 20, the Warriors might have walked into the Holiday break on a five-game winning streak. Instead, Walla Walla finished with one fewer shot, one fewer free throw attempt and exactly as many three-pointers and dropped the game 77-74 [box]. They turned around and blew the doors off of previously second-ranked Olympic the next day, and have now won five of their last six. The Warriors are second in the league in scoring efficiency at 1.16 points per possession, which is just above Clackamas though Walla Walla plays at a far slower clip -- 12 possessions fewer per game, to be exact.  Sadly we won't get to see how the Warriors stack up in any of the Holiday Tournaments, as they'll skip the festivities and take on Whitman JV before starting Eastern Region play in January.


8. Skagit Valley (7-5, 0-0 North)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches
Pace: 57 | Offensive Efficiency: 71.94 (62)

It's difficult to call Olympic's 2-3 stretch a "fall from grace," but it was a few slip-ups from the Rangers and a strong run of play from Skagit Valley that warranted the switch. The Cardinals are just a half-game back in the Northern Region standings and proved their worth against a handful of the league's less-fortunate as part of a four-game winning streak. Skagit Valley are easily the slowest team in the top-16 at just 57 possessions per contest and are still averaging 62.6 points per game. For a little perspective, their efficiency numbers would have them scoring just under 72 points per contest if they played at a league-average pace, which puts them darned close to the scoring average of the top half of the NWAC. They seem to be a solid challenger in the North, but it remains to be seen wether the Northern Region will present a challenger at the NWAC tournament in March. The gap between the highest-ranked team in the South and the highest-ranked team in the North is wide: No. 1 Umpqua beat Skagit Valley 92-57 [box] on Dec. 20.


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