Dec 8, 2014

Umpqua leads initial womens' rankings

NWAC Women's Basketball

There's been a bit of a shakeup in NWAC womens' basketball for this season, and the most fascinating thing will be to watch how it affects the balance of power — especially for the Eastern Region. Cheryl Holden, head coach of the dominant and defending-champion Columbia Basin Hawks, announced her retirement in June due to health reasons. Former Blue Mountain head coach Christy Martin, who had turned the Timberwolves into an Eastern Region contender, was hired at Tacoma CC in October. There are still several perennial powerhouses in the east, but it definitely opens a door for a few new faces to join the discussion.

In other housekeeping news, the NWAACC has rebranded to become the Northwest Athletic Conference, or NWAC. They have a fancy new logo to go along with the new acronym, both of which I like. It's slick, it's shiny and it looks like a preview of the future for the league. Two questions for you higher-uppers: When will the championships move into a smaller, more-appropriate and less expensive venue, and when will the championships move to a larger metro area like Portland or Seattle?

The first set of coaches rankings were published on Dec. 11. They can be found here.

And with that, chomp away. The NWAC season is in full swing. The next set of rankings will publish on Dec. 21 as a preview for the holiday tournaments.


1. Umpqua (5-1, 0-0 South)
No. 1 Coaches
2014 finish: Lost Championship 86-74 to Columbia Basin

When you write for a newspaper and have a sick appreciation for puns, you're constantly on the lookout for opportunities. And when Ashli Payne went off for 35 points to beat previously undefeated Lane 69-63 (box) in the final of the Bellevue Classic, a buzzer or two went off in the headline department. Titans dealt Payne-ful loss. Lane feels the Payne in defeat. Whichever way this one goes (and there will be plenty of other options if performances like that continue) Ashli Payne's performance is the highlight of the young season. The 5-foot-11 guard went three-of-nine from beyond the arc and shot 61% overall, also collecting 10 boards, four assists, a steal and a block. That said, they can't rely on Payne for numbers on that level night in and night out. Get some solid backup, continue the Riverhawks' tradition of excellent rebounding and scoring teams and the Umpqua ladies will be a tough match up.


2. Olympic (4-1, 0-0 North)
No. 6 Coaches
2014 finish: No tournament berth

Number of times Olympic has made the power rankings since 2011: None. Number of times Olympic has made the title game in league history: None. And while it's difficult to say that a program hasn't amounted to much — people tend to get angry when you say that — Olympic doesn't really have any hardware to show for it. The last time they made the tournament was 2006, and their best finish in program history was sixth place back in 1996. With that prefaced, Olympic may be off to one of their better starts in the last 20 years. It all started with a come-from-behind 79-78 defeat of No. 3 Clackamas on Nov. 22 in what heck of an opening contest. They shot so poorly (as in, 22% from the field kind of poorly) that I'm tempted to dismiss their 66-41 loss (box) to admittedly one of the best numbers-wise defensive teams in the league No. 4 SW Oregon, as they've averaged things out back at 44% and are on a three-game winning streak. One suggestion: Shoot some extra free throws at practice. They're dead last in the league for teams who have shot at least 40 freebees at — wait for it — 55%.


3. Clackamas (4-1, 0-0 South)
No. 3 Coaches
2014 finish: 7th Place

This is more an end-of-the season trend, but I'm used to the age-old tradition of getting flack for giving Clackamas a high ranking. However, as their up to their usual tricks of up-tempo basketball, three pointers and winning, they can't escape this one. Their only loss, as detailed in the above ranking, was to No. 2 Olympic, and came on a night where they shot just 19% from distance and still only lost by one point. As usual, Clackamas is hit-and-miss depending on how well they shoot from outside. The Cougars lead the league in three pointers made and attempted (and missed) and shot nearly 50 treys in their win over No. 4 SW Oregon. At that point, you can actually afford to shoot 33 percent from the floor. They're second in the NWAC in offense behind Lower Columbia's absurd numbers, and are one of the best in steals and on the offensive glass.


4. Lane (5-1, 0-0 South)
No. 2 Coaches
2014 finish: 4th place

In the NWAC womens basketball discussion, there are two names who should routinely come up as coach of the decade candidates, and there's a solid reason: former Columbia Basin coach Cheryl Holden and current Lane skipper Greg Sheley have combined for seven of the last nine women's titles. It's been a formula for Lane over ever since the Titans went to three consecutive title games from 2005-07, a formula in which they bring in a host of youthful talent, finish middle of the pack and then come out and blow the doors of the rest of the league in the next year. It worked in 2013, and until they faltered to No. 1 Umpqua (box) on Dec. 7 they had waltzed past opponents by an average of 32.4 points. That's when they ran into Umpqua's Ashli Payne, who managed to blister the Titans for 35 points. This was still a close one, and you can expect Lane to make the adjustments for the next time they see Umpqua in region play.


5. SW Oregon (5-3, 0-0 South)
No. 9 Coaches
2014 finish: No tournament berth

The Lakers are part of a three-ring circus in the tough Southern Region between themselves, Umpqua and Clackamas. People who live north or east of the Willamette valley might be miffed at the amount of attention the top half of the South is getting at the moment, but the top four teams have a combined win streak of 14 games. SW Oregon's saving grace is that literally anything can happen in the first game of the season when things — teammates, offense, gyms — are fresh and unfamiliar. We'll give the Lakers a mulligan for their first two games, a blowout by Highline and a close loss to Green River, and focus on the stretch of play they've had since then. In the last six games, SW Oregon has held opponents to an average of 31.4% from the field. That's not limiting possessions, that's not slowing the game down or getting steals. That's defense, ladies and gentlemen. Maybe the 22% opponent FG percentage in the win over Olympic wasn't a fluke after all. *Mutters something about how defense wins championships*


6. Peninsula (3-1, 0-0 North)
No. 5 Coaches
2014 finish: Did not place

Normally splitting a pair of games against Wenatchee Valley wouldn't be enough to get you a spot in the top-eight, but considering that the No. 8 Knights have allowed just 48 points per game this season and the only loss was a one-point trip-up in the first game of the season, they'll get a pass. Adding a win over Walla Walla IN Walla Walla gives Peninsula a huge bump here. In that game, the Pirates trailed at halftime but put together an excellent final period and hit 19 of 20 free throws to win 72-63 (box). Oh yeah, and they opened the tournament in Walla Walla by rolling over Columbia Basin 96-82 (box) and while the Hawks are under new leadership, it's a shock to see the proud CBC program nearly surrender the century mark. CBC nearly made the rankings as their 2-3 record is a little deceiving: two losses to nearly unbeatable North Idaho and a loss to No. 5 Peninsula. Props, Pirates.


7. Centralia (4-1, 0-0 West)
No. 4 Coaches
2014 finish: Did not place

Every year Centralia has a good team, their fans always complain that they aren't ranked in accordance with their record. The usually-week Western Region has plenty to do with that, as normally the West can suck the luster out of a dominant program by fluffing up their final record. That said, the preseason is when Centralia needs to make hay. So far, they're undefeated against NWAC opponents with their only loss being to North Idaho (box). They've beaten Walla Walla and Treasure Valley and Spokane, all from the East, and were perfect down the stretch to beat Clark (box). The Trailblazers have four more non-Western Region opponents left before region play begins, and if they can run the table against the three eastern-region teams they have on their schedule they can solidify a spot in the rankings for the time being.


8. Wenatchee Valley (2-1, 0-0 East)
No. 10 Coaches
2014 finish: No tournament berth

Wenatchee Valley is one of those teams you have to guess on early in the season, as it's difficult to sort out the winners and, well, not-winners without much to go on. That said, the Knights have an interesting stat they've ridden for the first three games of the year: they might just be the slowest-paced team in the league. Most would scoff at their measly stat of just 63 points a game, but consider this: they average only 62 SHOTS per game. High scoring teams like No. 3 Clackamas (88.2 ppg) average around 73 or 74 attempts a night, and while the Knights aren't particularly good at taking care of the ball, that may fade in time as they become more comfortable with the new faces in the program. The slow pace greatly contributes to their excellent defensive stat: they've allowed just 51.3 points per game this season, including a 31-point effort against winless Shoreline.


1 comment:

  1. Appreciate your interest and enthusiasm for NWAACC basketball (I guess it's NWAC now). Regardless, keep up the good work. I don't always agree with your rankings, but I appreciate you taking the time to research and post them when you do!