Dec 23, 2014

Week 2: No. 1 Bellevue Men cruise to top spot

NWAC Men's Basketball

I'll tell anyone who will listen how much I love stats, and I tend to envy people like John Hollinger who have endless information at their fingertips. And so, simply for some extra fun and a few different numbers to satisfy the statistical munchies, I've messed around with a few numbers and the results are interesting. It's turned this edition into a kind of "Mr. Fix-it" list, which is bound to be a little less positive and might point out a few glaring holes in some of the top teams' resumes.

I don't yet (hint to the NWAC brass) have access to per-possession averages that pop up in the box scores (points per possession), so I've created what I'll refer to as "Joward" numbers. They're not perfect and the formula is likely to change, but I've applied it equally to each ranked team. These numbers, for reference, are different from those used in common NBA power rankings. I've posted the eight ranked teams ratings, just for fun.

The free-throws number (1.25) is an attempt at figuring out how many free throws are attempted per-possession, which is a shot in the dark. It assumes that an average of 1.25 free throws are taken each time a player is awarded free throw(s). Average pace for the top eight ranked teams under this system is 99 and should correlate somewhat with a team's average number of possessions, though it'll be higher. 

Pace: (Shots attempted + Turnovers + (Free throws/1.25))/games played

Offensive Efficiency: (Average points/Pace)*Average pace

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


1. Bellevue (11-2, 0-0 North)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches
Pace: 93 | Offensive Efficiency: 78.77

Normally heading into the holiday slate of tournaments with an 11-2 record will be easily enough to get a team near the top of these rankings, and the steady success of Bellevue's young season is strong enough to drown out the number of out-of-league opponents and four-year JV squads NWAC teams tend to play. The Bulldogs balanced out their schedule well, and have a solid handful of good wins with which to state their case. The 70-68 Nov. 28 win over Green River [box] is starting to look better and better, and the Bulldogs managed to come from six points down at halftime to beat one of the slowest-paced and best defensive (stats-wise) teams in the league with a 62-57 win over No. 3 Wenatchee Valley [box]. They played and won two close games against a tough Highline team, and while they've continued their stint as one of the better statistical defensive teams in the NWAC, one thing has changed: they've upped their blocks numbers. Meaning? When an opponent does get a shot off, they're swatting it back where it came from. The only way to beat Bellevue, it seems, is to wait for an off-night and pounce. Pierce might have played a great defensive game, but Bellevue get out-shot 36%-51% and only lost by seven.


2. Big Bend (9-3, 0-0 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 93 | Offensive Efficiency: 84.1

While Big Bend had a rocky and somewhat unremarkable start to the season, it's their play of late -- remember that whole "what have you don..." you get it -- that has them jumping from unranked to second in the second installment. In the last two seasons, the complaint about Big Bend was always similar to this: Brenden Westendorf [see: Westendorf scores 55 vs. Shoreline] is an excellent scorer, but how is the supporting cast. This is the first season without one of the best scorers the NWAC has seen in a few years, and the result has paid off for Big Bend. Over their current six-game winning streak, they've been led in scoring by four different players. Wyatt Johnson has done it thrice, and he's their third-highest scorer. Donovan Wright, who leads the Viks this season, has only done it once. Depth goes an awfully long distance, and being able to get big 20-point games from four different players could be huge come tourney-time.


3. Wenatchee Valley (9-3, 0-0 East)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 6 Coaches
Pace: 91 | Offensive Efficiency: 78.33

Wenatchee Valley is one of those teams whose numbers on defense can be a little deceptive. They allow just over 84 points per contest, which is good for the best mark in the league. However, they are also the slowest-paced team in the top eight, and likely the slowest in the league. There's nothing wrong with slow, but it does mean the opposition has fewer chances to score. If Wenatchee gets a lead, they're difficult to come back on. It also means less defensive possessions they need to work on, and this Knights team will not only play close to home -- should they make the tournament -- but they'll also have more energy after four consecutive days of games. They also take better care of the ball than almost all of the other teams in the top eight, even adjusting for their slower pace.


4. Edmonds (7-3, 0-0 North)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 105 | Offensive Efficiency: 74.49

I had to sit and do the math several times with Edmonds, simply to make sure I was seeing their pace correctly. They've average 105 "Joward" possessions a game, and have the best turnover per-possession rating of any team in the top eight — 13.59%, in case you were interested. Their quick pace got them rolling with a six game winning streak, but with those kind of numbers, they should be scoring in bunches and they simply aren't. The reason, and don't take offense to this my friends up north, is a pretty bottom-of-the-barrel shooting percentage. Take, for example, their loss to Peninsula. The opposing Pirates shot just 32% from the field... and won. That's what happens when Edmonds shoots 30% from the field and goes 0-12 from beyond the arc. If Edmonds can start hitting a few more of their shots — at least the easy ones — they'll be an absolute offensive monster.


5. Green River (8-4, 0-0 West)
Previous ranking: No. 7, Unranked coaches
Pace: 95 | Offensive Efficiency: 78.16

Green River plays a little faster than teams like Bellevue and Wenatchee Valley, and with their top-three shooting percentage they should be able to bury teams on the offensive end. When they get shots, they tend to get good shots from inside the arc which makes for a huge majority of their offensive output. Three-point shooting teams are streaky, and have a tradition of struggling in the first few days of the tournament because of the space behind the backboards in the much larger Toyota Center. That's the good stuff, here's the bad and the ugly: There's a reason Green River is one of only two teams who average less than 76 points per game who also shoot at least 46%. The reason is why their offensive efficiency rating is so low compared to a team with similar pace and scoring average, and it's because they turn the ball over on a fifth of their possessions. 25 miscues were the reason they lost 88-82 [box] to Edmonds, and they lost 82-78 [box] despite having 12 additional possessions and a 9-board edge on the offensive glass. Easy mistakes to fix, and it could turn huge profits.


6. Spokane (8-5, 0-0 East)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Pace: 104 | Offensive Efficiency: 90.43

Ahh how the mighty have fallen. When last we met, Spokane was sitting atop the rankings at 6-2. They've gone 2-3 since then, dropping their last three games to S. Puget Sound [box], Clark [box] and No. 8 Chemeketa in a 107-105 thriller [box]. There's a common thread here, and it's that in each of their last three losses, two members of their big three haven't stepped up to the plate. The power-combo of Martin Race, Jake Love and Dean Richey make up almost 52 of their league-best 95 points, and that's great. But if two players average half of their usual output — such as Martin's one-for-seven night against Clark — they're in trouble. That's a 17-point chunk taken out of their 95 points, and because Spokane gives up over 81 points a game due to their pace, the swing suddenly drops them into the danger-zone. One saving grace is that Spokane is the second-best of their top eight teams in taking care of the ball, turning over the rock on just 13.98% of their possessions leading to the best offensive efficiency of the ranked teams.


7. Chemeketa (8-6, 0-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 7 (tie) coaches
Pace: 106 | Offensive Efficiency: 82.19

In one of the earlier drafts of this installment, Chemeketa hadn't even made the top eight. And why would they? 8-6 isn't wildly impressive, especially since five of those games have been against non-NWAC teams. But then you take a second look at their latest stretch and though they haven't won every time out, the level of success has been impressive. First came a five-point loss to a very solid Highline team on the road [box]. Two games (and two days) later, they were a point away from rallying to beat No. 3 Wenatchee Valley but lost 69-68 [box]. Oh, and here's the kicker: they were down 63-51 at halftime to No. 6 — and then No. 1 Spokane — and came back to win 107-105 [box]. We're used to such antics from Chemeketa, and we're also used to Chemeketa hitting their stride late in the year and proving all the critics wrong. As one comment said a season ago, "don't sleep on Chemeketa."


8. Lower Columbia (7-5, 0-0 West)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 7 (tie) coaches
Pace: 105 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.2

Last week's entry on Lower Columbia began with a disclaimer about haters, and this one will follow suit. Once again, the Red Devils have lost two of  their last three games, both to unranked teams. But looking back at the games beginning on Dec. 5, there are actually quite a few good things. As it turns out, losing to No. 2 Big Bend is something everyone does these days, and Everett has proven to be a run-with-or-be-run-over type of squad. They score in bunches, and are scored on in bunches — think the Golden State Warriors under Don Nelson in 2008-09. The Devils also lost to No. 6 Spokane in one of the Sasquatch's better games as of late. But we're through discounting losses. Their two losses as of late are from two different issues, one being taking care of the ball (see: 24 points off 19 turnovers = loss to Lane [box]) and playing some second-half defense against Walla Walla [box]. In the game against the Warriors, Lower Columbia managed to stick within two points at halftime after shooting just 29.8% in the first period. Then Walla Walla went and shot the freaking doors off the building in the second half, and... well. You get it.


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