Mar 15, 2015

Post NWAC women's tournament thoughts: Alison Crumb and the Pirates' chip

Peninsula gets the upset of the tournament over Umpqua.
I think, overall, my favorite moment from this year's NWAC tournament was my interaction with Peninsula head coach Alison Crumb in the moments after the Pirates celebrated the first NWAC title in program history.

Two other sportswriters and I cornered Crumb behind the curtain as the Clark and Edmonds men were warming up for their title game. Two of us introduced ourselves after Crumb paused to take off her "lucky boots," which she later told me would be staying near and dear for next season.

Crumb politely shook my hand as I told her my name, visibly exhausted, but didn't seem to make the connection to who I was until I went with the pen name which has become commonplace in the NWAC circle -- Joward.

"Oh, I know who you are," she said with a wry smile. "You're the one who said we weren't contenders."

At first I was a little taken aback by her statement, but as we continued to talk, I realized it was that same chip on her shoulder -- and one shared by her team -- that made the victory special. Given, Lane was out of their depth and injured, but the run made to the title game was nothing short of remarkable for Peninsula.

I don't think anybody outside of Port Angeles would have picked Peninsula over Umpqua in the semifinals. I certainly didn't. My bracket had been busted from day one when my No. 2 team, Walla Walla, fell to Clark in the first round 61-60, but I still held on to one sure reality: Umpqua was better than any team here, and they'd make a winner of me by rolling their way to a championship.

That is, until Peninsula strolled in and shot the lights out of the Toyota Center and blew past the mighty Riverhawks 84-70.

This might get under Crumb's skin, and that's not my intention, but I still have to think Umpqua was the best team there. The Riverhawks didn't match up with Peninsula well, especially when the Pirates started hitting shots from Pasco, and I think that's what probably did Lane in as well.

Both Lane and Umpqua are built to play inside out. Ashli Payne is a beast, and is impossible to guard. She's too fast to stick with on the perimeter, but too big and strong to contend with in the paint.

If not for the unbelievably clutch three-point shooting from Peninsula, I think we probably see a Lane-Umpqua final, which Umpqua probably wins -- another all-Southern Region NWAC title game.

But that's not the way it went down. Peninsula was better on those two days, which is the beauty of such a compact tournament format. It's almost a pity that the NWAC has decided to move on, opening the tournament up to bids and playing the first round on the home court of the higher seeds instead of a central location. The current format, I feel, gives a little more room for Cinderella teams -- not that Peninsula fits such a description, they were a No. 1 seed -- to make a run at things if they can get hot.

Teams like Peninsula, a team I had ranked seventh coming in and eventually beat my fifth ranked Lane Titans in the final, benefit from things like that. I actually mentioned the value of momentum in their final ranking, but shot myself in the foot by actually overlooking their hot streak.

That said, the Pirates are clearly better than the rest of the Northern Region -- at least on paper. There was a big gap between Peninsula and Bellevue this season, and the Pirates return a good number of players, including Imani Smith -- definitely one of the standout freshman at the tournament this year.

Maybe the title-formula is depth and an ability to peak at the right time. That's how Columbia Basin has done it over the years. The Hawks won with ferocious defense and a patient offense, switching out their players often to keep up the pace on the defensive end of the floor.

The best thing about that is it doesn't limit outer-lying teams from contention. Defense is as much about effort and energy as anything else, and defense doesn't require a laundry list of standout bigs.

Maybe -- just maybe -- the secret to winning a title isn't to emerge from the best region as the league's most battle-tested team. The East definitely isn't what it used to be. The south is still a madhouse, and had three teams in the semifinals, but we're starting to hear war-mongering in the Northern and Western regions as well. Centralia has been good for a number of years now, and Lower Columbia is turning into a strong program.

Peninsula already made their mark on history.

Mar 6, 2015

Edmonds, Big Bend on top for tourney

NWAC Men's Basketball
Championship Edition: Broadcasts | Mens Bracket | Tournament stats

I cover high school athletics for a living, and to my eye, the Southern Region is kind of like that football team from some small town across the state nobody has heard of. They're rough-and-tumble and typically finish the season with a solid record but no respect. Then they come into the playoffs and beat the daylights out of everyone.

The South seems to fit that bill rather well, given that they've won five of the last eight NWAC titles, including last season's Cinderella run from Portland in their first-ever visit to the Tri-Cities. Oh, and let's just leave this out here to dry: region-leading Chemeketa had to forfeit their entire season for using an ineligible player, according to NWAC sources. That hurts, but it opens up a door for a little more madness in the first round.

The most intriguing match out of the gate is also the earliest, an 8 a.m. bout between No. 6 Highline and No. 7 Wenatchee Valley. If you can't be there, don't worry. I will be, and I'll have the league Twitter handle at my disposal for updates. You can also watch games online (link is above) and check the league website for post game recaps.

Updated coaches rankings, released on March 3, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.

                                                                                                                         


1. Edmonds (24-5, 12-2 North)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

The format at the championships is simple, really. Win four games in a row, and you come home with a fancy, shiny trophy. And when it has come to big games, Edmonds has an edge coming down the stretch — much of which comes from perhaps the biggest game we've seen in the last stretch of the year. The Tritons held on to a nine-point halftime lead and beat former No. 1 Bellevue 84-81 [box] on Feb. 18, putting themselves firmly in the title picture for the Northern Region. From an outsiders perspective, the win shouts a few things heading into the tournament: Firstly, the Tritons have a certain element of mental toughness which will come in handy as they were able to withstand a solid second-half push from perhaps the best defensive team in the league. Secondly, Edmonds had six players in double figures and had 11 assists to the 'Dogs' four. Balanced scoring isn't a necessary key to a title — we saw Cheheles Tapscott take over a few years back — but sharing the ball and playing good defense certainly is.

No. 1 Edmonds will play Mt. Hood at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

                                                                                                                          

2. Big Bend (23-7, 11-3 East)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

While the Runnin' Viks do have a blemish in their last section of games — a 58-53 loss [box] to No. 7 Wenatchee Valley on Feb. 25 — it's not all bad to lose a close game to one of the best defensive teams in the NWAC. What might be concerning is that it seems the Knights definitely controlled the tempo, managing to slow Big Bend's offense by 25 points from their average of just over 78 points per contest. While Big Bend isn't exactly among the leaders in scoring, it is interesting that they have no one in the top 20 for individuals. They do, however, have the best percentage three-point shooter in the tournament in Alanzo Ramos, but as coaches will always remind their players, shooting is difficult in the cavernous Toyota Center for the first few days while players adjust to having so much space behind the backboard. Will the Vikings put things together and make a run to the final? Maybe. Big Bend has probably the easiest foursome with Green River, Lane and Everett, but it depends on whether the offense gets hot and the defense can hold teams down, especially as there is a possible match up with Bellevue — very similar to Wenatchee Valley — looming in the semifinals.

No. 2 Big Bend will face Green River at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening.

                                                                                                                         

3. Bellevue (25-4, 12-2)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

Playing Bellevue is like wrestling a heavyweight: if they get a lead on you, good luck coming back in a hurry. Bellevue's style — slow, methodical and defensively sound — seems to fit the NWAC tournament perhaps better than anyone, as the Bulldogs come in as the league's best defensive team. They don't play an awful lot of possessions, the times they DO have the ball, they make good use of it. Bellevue averages 1.29 points per possession, tied four fourth in the league, and does serious damage from the free throw line. Again, shooting is more difficult when there are a few thousand seats behind the backboard, but the Bulldogs don't shoot many three-pointers and free throw shooting is a little easier to fix. Bellevue's foursome includes Clark, which could make a fascinating quarterfinal match up — but both teams have to get there first.

No. 3 Bellevue will take on Umpqua at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

                                                                                                                        

4. Clark (21-6, 13-3 West)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

Coming in to their second game against Highline, Clark had two statements to make. Firstly, they needed to prove an earlier blowout of the Thunderbirds wasn't a fluke. Secondly, the Penguins needed to show they were, indeed, the best team out of the West. Spoiler alert: They did both. The second meeting wasn't quite as much of a blowout, but Clark did walk away with a fairly dominant 92-81 victory [box] to close the season in a game both teams needed to have. The Penguins ended the year on a league-best six-game winning streak after a rough patch in late January to early February that seemed to have derailed Clark's region title hopes. Not only are the Penguins back on track, (see what I did there) they have one of the best point differentials in the league. They're neck-and-neck with Bellevue and Wenatchee on defense, and yet average over 80 points per contest. As I mentioned before, they just might get a chance to see Bellevue in the second round.

No. 4 Clark tangles with Treasure Valley at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening.

                                                                                                                         

5. Columbia Basin (17-11, 10-4 East)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 7 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

While title-noise definitely can't be made alone, there's definitely something to be said about star power at this tournament. The team lifts the trophy at the end of things, but oftentimes the individual moments shine just as brightly. It seems Columbia Basin sophomore James Lopez might be poised for such a tournament, as he comes in as the league leader in scoring and assists. He's in the top-20 in steals, three-point field goal percentage and overall field goal percentage, and he'll be playing in front of his home town crowd. But enough about Lopez and back to the Hawks, who have come from darkness to claim the second seed from Wenatchee Valley over the final few games. Columbia Basin is third in the league in scoring at 85.6 points per game, but are dead last in defense among teams in the postseason tournament. That might be a problem, Houston.

No. 5 Columbia Basin will play Pierce at noon on Saturday.

                                                                                                                          

6. Highline (21-7, 13-3 West)
Previous ranking: No. 5, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

Highline was rolling until their debacle in the season finale, losing 92-81 [box] to Clark and letting the Western Region's top seed slip out of their grasp in the same breath. And instead of a cushy 6 p.m. game to start things off, Highline moves into the 8 a.m. slot and will play one of the best defensive teams the league has to offer. It's the only ranked game in the first round and a big one for the opponent, who hasn't seen the quarterfinals since 2000. If Highline can shrug off a very — very — early morning and beat the Knights, they've got an odd foursome in Clackamas and Peninsula. Getting steals and easy buckets, at which Highline is relatively adept, could be the difference as games get a little later in the day with each victory.

No. 6 Highline kicks things off against No. 7 Wenatchee Valley at 8 .m. on Saturday morning.


                                                                                                                         

7. Wenatchee Valley (20-9, 9-5 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: Unranked


It's been 15 long seasons since Wenatchee Valley last picked up a win at the NWAC championship tournament. That win came back in 2000, when the Knights made their way to the finals and lost to Spokane in an all-East championship game. They made the tournament again in 2003, but haven't seen the bracket since. This season, behind a slow but efficient game and solid defensive numbers, the Knights have managed to qualify and get a somewhat slighted Highline team in the first round with the Eastern Region's third seed. As mentioned in previous rankings, getting through the first round makes things a little easier with a noon tip-time and a choice between Peninsula (North No. 4) and Clackamas (South No. 1). Though the Knights are ranked and seeded lower, Wenatchee looks like they have a chance at an upset given they're playing relatively close to home and can rely on their defense to push through adversity.

No. 7 Wenatchee Valley will play No. 6 Highline on Saturday morning at 8 a.m.

                                                                                                                         


8. Clackamas (19-10, 11-3 South)
Previous ranking: No. Unranked, No. 8 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

Remember that comment about backwoods football teams being really good? Clackamas won that backwoods league — somehow. And while I'll admit they were in the running for second behind Chemeketa, there's no way I expected the Cougars to catch Chemeketa and walk into the tournament with the No. 1 seed from the south. Clif Wegner and Clackamas hold the longest consecutive streak of tournament appearances and while I wouldn't put money on the Cougars to roar their way through to the final, they definitely have the potential to unseat a few favorites given how much they've had to get through to be here in the first place.

No. 8 Clackamas will play Peninsula on Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

                                                                                                                        

Umpqua, Walla Walla women lead tournament preview

NWAC Women's Basketball

Here's a shocker: Clackamas won be in the tournament this year, in favor of Portland. The resumes couldn't be any different, as Portland makes their first-ever trip to the NWAC championships and Clackamas breaks the league's longest streak of consecutive visits at either 15 or 16 seasons. At the moment, No. 1 Umpqua and No. 2 Walla Walla look primed to meet in the finals, with Umpqua making a return to the championship game after last season's loss to Columba Basin. Walla Walla would be back for the first time since their title run in 2010.


Centralia and Columbia Basin are the only two ranked teams to meet in the first round, pitting a sixth-ranked team against and eight-ranked and somewhat untested Centralia squad. After the first round, things get a little nasty. We could see No. 5 Lane and No. 4 Lower Columbia go at it in the quarterfinals, or a possible finals rematch between Umpqua and Columbia Basin.

I, Joward, will be in attendance covering things for the NWAC for the fourth consecutive season. I won't bog down my personal twitter account with game updates, but you can follow @NWACSports for news and notes throughout the tournament.

Updated coaches rankings, released on March 3, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.
                                                                                                                        


1. Umpqua (24-4, 11-1 South)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

For those who might poke holes in the Southern Region's top-to-bottom strength, consider this: The only in-region loss for the mighty Umpqua Riverhawks came in a 73-71 loss [box] to Clackamas on Feb. 21 — a Clackamas team who missed the tournament for the first time in recent memory. The Riverhawks have beaten Columbia Basin in a close game. They've beaten Lower Columbia in a close game. They've beaten Lane in TWO close games. And while the Riverhawks don't have the best defensive numbers in terms of points allowed, they've managed to find ways to pull out games in just about every situation and remain one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Should they break through the first round unscathed, two names loom in the quarterfinals: either the 25-4 Centralia Trailblazers or the hometown Columbia Basin Hawks.

No. 1 Umpqua will take on unranked Whatcom in the first round at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening.

                                                                                                                         

2. Walla Walla (21-5, 12-2 East)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

Winning the Eastern Region is a feat in and of itself, given the difficulties Eastern teams face on a weekly basis. Walla Walla's title, the second in the last three seasons, makes them an instant contender after having gone 12-2 and swept teams like Columbia Basin and Blue Mountain. The Warriors have tripped up twice since league play began, but the two losses couldn't be more different. The loss to No. 5 Wenatchee Valley on Valentine's Day, for instance, was an example of what happens when a slow, efficient, defensively-strong team heats up from distance. The Knights hit 52% of their three-pointers and pulled away in the second half for a 74-63 win [box]. The loss to Big Bend, though, wasn't pretty. Walla Walla shot under 16% from three-point range and got blown out 73-58 [box] by a team who finished under .500 in region play and missed the postseason. Which team will show up this weekend? My money would be on the Warriors' body of work, experience and league-best efficiency leading DubDub (and the Superfan himself) to a finals match up with Umpqua.

No. 2 Walla Walla will face unranked Clark at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.

                                                                                                                         


3. Lower Columbia (22-8, 15-1 West)
Previous ranking: No. 5, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

For all the talk about the Western Region not being very tough relative to the East and South, Lower Columbia seems to have a chance to make some serious noise in the postseason. Their only loss [73-67 box]in Western Region play came to Centralia in a game where neither team took particularly good care of the ball. Centralia won the points-off-turnovers battle by a big margin and still barely managed a victory, snapping the Red Devils' 14-game winning streak. Still, when Lower Columbia does take care of the rock, they're among the best in the league on offense. They've actually tied No. 1 Umpqua in points-per-possession, and are third in scoring behind the high-flying Riverhawks and Columbia Basin while having FAR better defensive numbers. Is this a long-awaited resurgence for Lower Columbia? Maybe. The Red Devils haven't made it past the quarterfinals since 1995, from my research, back when the tournament only had eight teams and was hosted at Chemeketa Community College.

No. 3 Lower Columbia will play Blue Mountain on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.


                                                                                                                         


4. Wenatchee Valley (19-8, 10-4 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, No. 5 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

The main thing bumping the Knights up is the aforementioned (you're supposed to read from top to bottom) win over Walla Walla in which Wenatchee Valley proved they can not only keep up with the top of the Eastern Region, they have the offensive tools to beat the Warriors if the three-point shot is falling. And while Wenatchee Valley doesn't have a gaudy winning streak like Peninsula, consider that the Knights have won 15 of their last 18 games since late December, and their three losses have come by a combined seven points. Defense and efficiency win championships, and Wenatchee Valley has both at their disposal with a clear view of the semifinals in sight: Peninsula, Portland and Highline, who make up the rest of the Knights' bracket foursome, have won a combined three games at the tournament dating back to 2007, and all three came from Highline during the 2007 run to fifth place.

Wenatchee Valley will close the first day of the tournament against Highline at 10 p.m. on Saturday.

                                                                                                                         

5. Lane (22-7, 8-4 South)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 7 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

There are few arguments better for a rich-poor divide in the Southern Region than Lane's resume over the last few weeks. The Titans lost a close game to No. 1 Umpqua on Feb. 11 and seem to be on par with the Riverhawks down the stretch, and managed to get past unranked SW Oregon 56-50 [box] in a close SR showdown. The final southern team in the postseason, Portland, didn't pose much of a threat whatsoever to Lane and got blown out by 32 points [box]. It appears Lane and Umpqua are on another level, with SW Oregon close behind, but it will be interesting to see how the southern region teams behind Umpqua fare in the tournament. Lane has the Northern Region's third seed in the first round, and with a win will either get a rolling Lower Columbia team or a well-tested Blue Mountain team in the quarterfinals.

Lane will face unranked Skagit Valley in the first round at noon on Saturday.

                                                                                                                         

6. Columbia Basin (18-10, 10-4 East)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: Unranked

The Hawks are the league's highest-scoring team at just over 80 points per contest, a bit of a shake-up after Clackamas and Lane had led the NWAC for the last several seasons. A rough patch in early February kept Columbia Basin out of the second seed and knocked the Hawks from the Eastern Region title, but their losses aren't exactly anything to smart at: a close loss to No. 2 Walla Walla on Feb. 28 [box] being the best-looking 'L' on the league schedule. Something interesting to point out in connection to their scoring average: Columbia Basin is the only team in the top-eight scoring sides to NOT have a player in the top-11 as far as individual scoring is concerned. The Hawks have three players who are good for 14-15 points per game, making Columbia Basin a particularly nasty three-headed monster.

Columbia Basin will play Centralia at 4 p.m. in the first round on Saturday afternoon.

                                                                                                                         

7. Peninsula (19-5, 13-1 North)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 8 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

For a team who came in to region play with a 6-4 record, the Pirates' Northern Region title might seem a little underwhelming. But consider this: Bellevue has been considered the lone contender from the Northern Region over the last few seasons, and Peninsula thumped the 'Dogs 70-54 [box] to split the season series and extend their winning streak — which at nine games is the longest active streak in the league. And as the NWAC championship tournament is four games squished into four days, momentum can — and does — play a major role. The Pirates ARRR (geddit? I'll only do it once) tied with Umpqua and Lower Columbia at 1.13 points per possession and play at a strikingly similar pace in comparison to their Western Region counterparts. The defense is on pace as well, and while I wouldn't necessarily place Peninsula in the title conversation, they might pick up their second-ever tournament victory and move on to the second round. Correct me if I've missed one, but the NWAC tournament records have Peninsula with a 1-13 record and their lone victory coming in 2009 vs. S. Puget Sound. It's somewhat poetic that Peninsula's first-round opponent will be playing in the tournament for the first time in program history.

Peninsula will tangle with Portland at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening.

                                                                                                                         

8. Centralia (25-4, 14-2 West)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

It wasn't long ago that Centralia looked all but unbeatable with the promise that they'd get a high ranking if they breezed through the Western Region unchallenged. But that was before Lower Columbia reared its head, splitting the season series with Centralia and losing by 12 to Highline on Valentines day [box]. The loss of the No. 1 seed from the West knocks Centralia into a brutal foursome in the bracket with a first-round matchup against Columbia Basin and a possible quarterfinal game against No. 1 Umpqua. It's probably the most difficult road for probably the most underrated team here in this final set of rankings, but such was the plight for teams at the top of the west: the further down in the standings, the more difficult the Eastern Region opponent.

Centralia will face No. 6 Columbia Basin at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

                                                                                                                        

Feb 12, 2015

Umpqua women lead Southern Region, rankings

NWAC Women's Basketball

Every year, there's always one region which ends up as a complete mess around this time of the year. This time, surprisingly, it's the South. Umpqua has asserted itself as a clear leader, but behind the Riverhawks loom four teams within a game of one another as the season winds down. Portland, seeing one of their best stretches in history, is within striking distance of a tournament berth but will need to unseat one of three powerhouse programs: Clackamas, SW Oregon or Lane. 


The NWAC tournament will once again be held at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash., beginning on Saturday, March 7 with the finals being played on March 10. The Northern and Southern regions will match up in the first round, as will the Eastern and Western. Basically, the top seed from the North will take on the fourth seed from the South, the second northern seed will play the third southern seed and so on. You can check out the full, blank bracket on the NWAC's championship page, along with plenty of other information.

We've decided to skip the efficiency ratings this week and focus purely on match ups and what teams need to do in order to muscle their way for a better seed in the upcoming tournament. Ratings will be published along with the final set of rankings, after the last game of the regular season has been played and before the tournament begins on March 7.


Updated coaches rankings, released on Feb. 5, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.
                                                                                                                        


1. Umpqua (21-2, 8-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

Their numbers have fallen a little over the past few weeks, but it hasn't changed the final result in the least. The Riverhawks were even able to shake off a horrible first half from the field and rally to beat No. 2 Lane 65-63 [box] on Feb. 11, coming from six down at halftime and putting a 20% shooting first half out of their memories. Their 12th consecutive win is a big one, as it all but clinches the Southern Region title for Umpqua for the second consecutive season and pushes the Riverhawks a little further ahead of the bloodbath behind them in the standings. Southern Region teams No. 2-5 are all within a game of one another in the region standings with just a handful of contests remaining now that the league's second-highest scoring team looks to be out of reach.

                                                                                                                         

2. Lane (18-7, 4-4 South)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

Lane's record in Southern Region play is admittedly not the best, but in the case of the heavy-hitting south you have to consider that the top four teams have a combined record of 68-25, and that 11 of those 25 losses have come since the start of region play in January. With Umpqua seemingly ahead of the pack for good, it's come down to who will rise above the remaining pool and grab the second seed. Lane has been bitten twice by Umpqua, most recently in a 65-63 loss [box] to the Riverhawks on Feb. 11, but realize the only one team has been able to hold Umpqua to fewer points, and they don't play in the NWAC. Also, Lane has played in four consecutive games (vs. NWAC opponents) decided by five points or less and lost three of them. If the Titans can work out a way to play two full halves over the next few weeks, they'll have a shot at the second seed in the South and a solid run at the tournament.


                                                                                                                         


3. Walla Walla (17-4, 8-1 East)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

With five games remaining and the Warriors sporting an 8-1 record in region play, it looks like it might again be DubDub's year in the Eastern Region. You have to go back to the 2010-11 season to find a year in which Walla Walla wasn't in the top two at the end of things, but they've only won a single Eastern Region title in the last four seasons. Their lone loss against fellow Eastern Region foes this season came back on Jan. 24 on the road at Big Bend, a game in which the Warriors simply couldn't shake the shooting woes [box]. Since then, they've been averaging 75 points a game and have taken down some pretty impressive opponents — namely former No. 2 Columbia Basin in a 77-68 road victory [box].

                                                                                                                         


4. Bellevue (18-6, 9-0 North)
Previous ranking: No. 5, No. 8 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

Let's everyone take notice of the Northern Region's first representative in the top four since the Dec. 8 season preview edition. The Bulldogs, winners of their last 11 games and holder of the second-longest such streak in the league, have blown through the first month of Northern Region play. They've won all but two of their nine region games by ten points or more, and have really only been threatened once: A 67-62 win [box] on the road at No. 8 Peninsula. The Bulldogs don't shoot particularly well, aren't a great scoring or rebounding team and don't even shoot a good percentage from the charity stripe, but they seem to have an x-factor about them which goes beyond the fact that the Northern Region might not get more than one team out of the first round of the upcoming NWAC tournament. Remember that Bellevue has beaten No. 5 Lower Columbia twice this season, beat No. 3 Walla Walla back on Dec. 20 and has stuck with Spokane in both their games.

                                                                                                                         


5. Lower Columbia (19-7, 12-0 West)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 7 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

When last we met, the talk about Lower Columbia centered on their 63-47 win [box] over Centralia back on Jan. 24. I used terms normally reserved for young, growing teams and a league fighting to gain traction and relevancy — things like "confidence booster" and pointing out that the Red Devil's win over Centralia came at home. Well, as it turns out, Lower Columbia just might be that darned good. The Red Devils won their 12th consecutive game — that's a league high — in an 84-35 trouncing [box] of Green River on Feb. 11, and have now seized control of the Western Region with four games to go. Now, all eyes are fixed on the biggest Western Region match up of the year when Lower Columbia visits Centralia on Feb. 25 with the region title and No. 1 seed on the line.

                                                                                                                         

6. Centralia (21-3, 10-1 West)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

If it seems a little unfair to drop the Blazers, who have the league's second-best overall record, that's because it is. At the same time, until Centralia can prove their ugly loss to No. 5 Lower Columbia — a team who is surging at the moment — they won't pass up the Red Devils in the rankings or the Western Region standings. A loss in the rematch could be disastrous. Example: As things currently stand, Centralia will face No. 6 Columbia Basin in the first round of the tournament at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. That's in the defending-champion Hawks' home town in prime-time, and a prime reason why the Blazers need an excellent finish down the stretch of Western Region play.

                                                                                                                         

7. Columbia Basin (14-9, 6-3 East)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 5 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

The law of averages finally got to the Hawks over the last two weeks. The magical streak of last-second thrillers hasn't ended, but the stretch of wins for Columbia Basin has quickly morphed into a stretch of three consecutive losses. Fresh off a wild come-from-behind 79-77 victory over Blue Mountain [box], Columbia Basin promptly ran out of gas. Their final game in January, a 77-68 loss [box] to No. 3 Walla Walla snapped an eight-game winning streak and seems to have set the Hawks on their... uhh... back-talons. Blue Mountain returned for revenge a few days later, followed by a 78-60 thumping [box] at the hands of Wenatchee Valley on Feb. 11. Is the Eastern Region just that competitive? Yes, but these are games Columbia Basin needs to win if they want to avoid a difficult seed at the tournament, or worse: missing the postseason altogether.


                                                                                                                         

8. Peninsula (14-5, 8-1 North)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 8

Two weeks ago, what the Pirates needed was to top Skagit Valley and hold on to the second spot in the Northern Region. Not only did Peninsula come away with a 63-59 win over the Cardinals [box], they've also won the three games since and are a half-game behind No. 4 Bellevue for the Northern Region lead. When Bellevue first entered the rankings, it looked like the 'Dogs might run away with the north and enter the tournament with a huge winning streak — and for their part they've won their last 11 games — but Peninsula is positioning themselves as a challenger in the North. The rematch on Feb. 22 is a big one, as it likely decides who gets the lowest seed from the Southern Region in the first round of the championship tournament.

                                                                                                                        

Feb 11, 2015

Bellevue, Columbia Basin lead mens rankings

NWAC Men's Basketball


The upcoming NWAC tournament is as much about match ups and team basketball as anything, as we've seen well-oiled machines best star-power over the last several years. That said, it's star-power which tends to drive the most excitement, both here at one of the NWAC's few community forums and in the arena itself. This season has been somewhat starless, with Brendan Westendorf having moved on to Seattle University, Kyle Impero playing for Western Washington and Shaq McKissic making waves at Arizona, but there seems to be a new face in play: James Lopez. He was in the middle of the pack in scoring for Columbia Basin last season, but has emerged this year to lead the league in scoring and is now 12-2 as a starter. He's averaging the second-most points of any player dating back to the 2006-07 season, including former Tacoma star Mark McLaughlin and Peninsula's USC transfer J.T. Terrell. 

Efficiency stats are running a little behind this week, but we'll have an updated spreadsheet of efficiency stats posted in the next few days, and the stats under each team will be updated. 


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 67 possessions per game. Current average points are in parenthesis next to each ranked team's efficiency numbers.

Updated coaches rankings, released on Feb. 5, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.

                                                                                                                         

1. Bellevue (21-2, 8-0 North)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

All the efficiency numbers and who-beat-who stats really don't apply to the Bellevue Bulldogs, who have now run their streak out to 12 consecutive games. They've beaten No. 3 Edmonds as part of the current streak, and aside from a loss to Pierce on Dec. 18 have won every game with the exception of the opener against No. 8 Clark. They've also shown an impressive ability to win close games, as was the case on Feb. 7 against Shoreline. Bellevue actually trailed at halftime, shooting just 29% and looking up at a six-point deficit. The Bulldogs managed to rebound in the second 20 minute period and outscored Shoreline by 12 to win 62-56 [box]. It might be an area of concern, but good teams will always hang their hats on defense when shots don't fall, and if Bellevue is as mentally tough as they seem, they'll be difficult to beat at the tournament.

                                                                                                                          


2. Columbia Basin (13-9, 6-2 East)
Previous ranking: No. 4, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

Proponents might claim the Hawks' success of late is tied to the Eastern Region, but I'd have to disagree. It seems to rest on the shoulders of one James Lopez, the Hawks' sophomore point guard. Get this: Lopez misses the first eight games of the season, and Columbia Basin goes 1-7. Lopez returns on Dec. 19 against Green River and promptly goes off for 33 points, kicking off a 12-2 stretch with Lopez on the floor. And if that weren't enough, he bumped his scoring average from 24.6 points per game to 29.8 points per game once league started. Lopez leads the league in scoring AND assists, and is in the top-10 in steals and three-point percentage. Both of the losses in the last 14 games have come at home, and the last one, a 102-92 barn-burner [box] with Walla Walla looks like one of those games which could have gone either way late in the second half. Columbia Basin, thanks to Lopez, has come back from the dead and transformed themselves into a legitimate home-town title contender. Normally the men's championship game is played on the women's court so the sparse crowd is a little more compact, but the NWAC might actually have to play the men's title game on the mens court at the tournament this year.

                                                                                                                         

3. Edmonds (19-4, 7-1 North)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

It's a little strange to drop Edmonds, especially after the Tritons proved they were neck-and-neck with No. 1 Bellevue and have continued to distance themselves from the Northern Region pack over the last few weeks. The North seems to be truly top-heavy, a statement Edmonds pounded home with their 110-85 thumping [box] of Olympic on Jan. 28 and the 15-point win over Skagit Valley shortly thereafter. Their win over Peninsula, though, helped lend credence to a big secret to the Tritons' success. Edmonds won by 11, beating the Pirates 77-66 [box] but were badly out-boarded by Edmonds standards. The Tritons lead the NWAC in offensive rebounding at over 17 offensive rebounds per game. It's a big contributor to their fast pace, which may lead this blog to revise the efficiency ratings to balance out big offense rebounding (extra possession) statistics. Now the low shooting percentage, high 'pace' and low efficiency start to make a little more sense when you consider that Zach Pederson has 85 offensive boards by himself.

                                                                                                                        

4. Big Bend (18-6, 6-2 East)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 7 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

It seems Big Bend will see no end of close games this season, as they packed on another pair of thrillers over the last two weeks of Eastern Region play. The first was a huge come-from-behind overtime win over former No. 5 Wenatchee Valley, a game in which the Runnin' Viks came from nine down at halftime to force the extra period and win 81-79 [box]. It was a loss which knocked the Knights — a very good team in the east and an excellent match up for Big Bend — out of the rankings, but the Vikings had a painful loss of their own to follow. Three days later, Big Bend managed to hold the league's highest-scoring team 14 points under their seasonal average but bit a pretty nasty bullet as Spokane pulled the same trick Big Bend had just a few days prior. This time, it was Big Bend giving up a five-point halftime lead as the Sasquatch came back to win it 78-75 [box] in the final moments. As much as the loss stings, the defensive performance is something the Vikings can hang their hats on. Spokane has only been held under 80 points four times this season, and shots weren't falling for Big Bend at their usual rate. Watching Big Bend and Columbia Basin go toe-to-toe for the Eastern title should be fascinating.

                                                                                                                         

5. Highline (17-6, 9-2 West)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

With a solid 9-2 record and the current top seed from the Western Region, some Highline fans might be disgruntled to find themselves out of the top four with two Eastern teams ahead of them. If any complaining reaches my ears, however, I'll point them in one direction: the debacle on Jan. 28 against Clark. Now, Clark is a reputable opponent. The Penguins barely missed the top eight, and are likely to make noise down the stretch BUT not enough noise to justify beating Highline 95-73 [box]. After a tight first half was blown wide open by Clark making 19 of 25 second-half free throw attempts at the line, I can't help but wonder if there's a formula for beating the Thunderbirds here. Going all the way back to Dec. 16, Highline has been out-shot if not whipped at the charity stripe. When the difference is closer or in the Thunderbirds' favor they tend to win games, as is the case with their 84-81 win [box] over Lower Columbia on Feb. 4 in which the Thunderbirds held off a furious second-half rally. It was a far cry from Highline's earlier blowout of the Red Devils, and if you look closely, there's cause for pause: Lower Columbia tripled their free throw attempts in the second half.

                                                                                                                          

6. Lower Columbia (16-8, 8-3 West)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: No. 8

Red Devils' head coach Jim Roffler is a solid argument that a win is a win, no matter what the score. Much hullabaloo has been made over the last several weeks over Roffler's 500th career win at Lower Columbia, though it came in a grind-it-out game with seemingly inferior S. Puget Sound (7-15, 2-9 West) it becomes a little easier to accept it as a win given how the team played over the next two games. First, they dug themselves a huge hole against No. 5 Highline and nearly managed to climb out of it before falling 84-81 [box]. Next, they put themselves in another double-digit hole by halftime in their game against Clark and managed to pull out an 80-78 win [box] Roffler called "one of the best games" in his 24 years in Longview. Now if you guys would just stop trailing at halftime...


                                                                                                                         


7. Chemeketa (16-7, 7-1 South)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4


One big credit to Chemeketa's resume is the growing distance in status between the Storm and the rest of the Southern Region. Though they only lead the standings by a single game over Clackamas, Chemeketa already has a 17-point road-win [box] over the Cougs and will play four of their final six games in the friendly confines of the Storm Center. Their only loss of region play was a 104-96 [box] loss on the road to Portland, the defending league champions, and a game in which Portland attempted 24 of their 34 free throws after halftime. The teams combined for 48 points from the charity stripe and were nearly even in freebie production, but turnovers — not a common problem for Chemeketa — were the difference. One big match up to watch out for is one of the Storm's two remaining road games, a trip to Clackamas on Feb. 18. The Cougars have a history of playing extremely well down the stretch under longtime coach Clif Wegner.

                                                                                                                         


8. Clark (14-7, 7-3 West)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 5 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

In Clark's defense, all three of their losses in Western Region play have been nail-biters. The other side of that same argument is the Penguins' horrible record in close games this season. They're 1-6 in games decided by less than 10 points, and 1-4 in games decided by less than five points. And while the one win came against No. 1 Bellevue, it's been several months since the Penguins pulled off that miracle in the season opener. In their latest game, an 80-78 loss [box] to No. 6 Lower Columbia on Feb. 7, featured a second-half meltdown after leading 51-39 at halftime. Clark will most likely make the championship tournament and has a chance to muscle their way into the top-two in the West, but Lower Columbia already has the tiebreaker after sweeping the season series and the Penguins will have to beat Highline in the season finale. One big boost to Clark's confidence? They'll be facing most of the bottom-half of the bottom-light Western Region down the stretch, and they'll get Highline at home.

                                                                                                                        

Jan 27, 2015

Umpqua women jump back to No. 1

NWAC Women's Basketball

When we last spoke, two questions were posed: Can Umpqua keep up their good form up in Southern Region play, and will Spokane continue to lead the East? Both have been answered strongly, and in completely different directions. At 18-2, the Umpqua Riverhawks have the best record in the league, and haven't lost to an NWAC team since late November. Spokane, on the other hand, has lost four of their first five games against Eastern Region teams, and now sit near the bottom of the region standings.


Plenty of other things have flip-flopped, as well. Centralia finally lost to a Western Region foe, and Clackamas has struggled after an excellent start to their non-league schedule. Oh, and Columbia Basin is sending in heart-stopping performances left and right, and the Hawks have now jumped on top of the Eastern Region. Boom.

In some housekeeping news, both S. Puget Sound and Grays Harbor have unveiled awesome new logos, keeping with a trend which has seen new insignias from Umpqua, Shoreline, Green River and Clark in recent years. 

This edition of the Power Rankings continues the use of offensive efficiency numbers, which help to gage exactly what a team does with the possessions they're given, and how fast they do it. Bellevue is the slowest among the top eight, with Columbia Basin and Edmonds tying for the fast-paced honors. From this point forward, we'll upload a separate spreadsheet with each set of rankings so older sets can be used for reference. 

[Get the top 16 teams]

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 67 possessions per game. Current average points are in parenthesis next to each ranked team's efficiency numbers.

Updated coaches rankings, released on Jan. 22, have been posted under each team's previous ratings. You can see the full coaches poll here.
                                                                                                                        

1. Umpqua (18-2, 5-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 1 Coaches
Pace: 69 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.06 (81)
Coaches: No. 2

Consider this a makeup call for dropping Umpqua in the last set, but regardless of my guilty concience, the Riverhawks wholly deserve their re-ascent to the top of the rankings. First the boring numbers: They continue to lead the league in efficiency now that region play has begun, and they still shoot a sparkling 48% from the field. The turnover percentage is a little higher than it should be, but it hasn't mattered in the last seven games — all victories. Umpqua has already seen the meat of the brutal Southern Region schedule, having beaten No. 3 Lane 69-61 [box] and former No. 2 Clackamas in a 71-48 blowout [box]. The margin of victory over Clackamas could have been due to poor shooting, but not even Clackamas can make Clackamas shoot 18% from the field. The Riverhawks held Lane under 40% shooting, and trailed at halftime before outscoring the Titans by 10 in the second half. One caveat: Umpqua still has to travel to Lane, Clackamas and Chemeketa, which are difficult places to play regardless of their opponents record.

                                                                                                                         

2. Columbia Basin (13-6, 5-0 East)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked coaches
Pace: 74 | Offensive Efficiency: 75.71 (84)
Coaches: No. 5

The Hawks might be the newly anointed heartthrob-queens of the league, but regardless of their methods they have now charged to the top of the Eastern Region standings with seven consecutive victories. This is all following a 20-point loss to Lane back in late December, and it seems to have ignited something special in Columbia Basin. First came a 10-point victory over Treasure Valley in the region opener, followed by a game in which they were less efficient, had fewer rebounds, fewer points off turnovers and fewer points off the bench, and still managed to come from behind and beat Wenatchee Valley 77-76 [box]. A few days later, the Hawks came from 11 down at halftime to force overtime with Big Bend, topping the Runnin' Viks 88-86 [box] behind a game-high 27 points from Marissa Caballero. Oh, and the next outing? Columbia Basin trailed Spokane by two at the break, and came back to win it 64-63 [box]. Their luck will run out eventually, but winning this many close games against good opponents does massive things for the Hawks' confidence, especially when the tournament rolls around to their back yard in Kennewick. They're the fastest team in the league, are very efficient and take very good care of the ball. It all translates to the league's highest scoring average, but the Hawks might want to be sure people with heart conditions stop coming to games.


                                                                                                                         


3. Lane (16-4, 3-1 South)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 5 Coaches
Pace: 68 | Offensive Efficiency: 73.03 (74)
Coaches: No. 4

The better Lane's 20-point whipping of Columbia Basin looks, the worse their 19-point loss to Wenatchee Valley stinks. That said, the Titans have shown they're able to hang right with No. 1 Umpqua, something no other NWAC team has been able to do since late November. In both games, it's been a tale of two halves. The first 20 minutes have been close both times, only to see Lane fade down the stretch and fall while staying within striking distance. It's a good example of what can happen when Lane keeps their turnover numbers down, and they've managed to cut miscues by 45% in comparison to their season average of 20 per game. If Lane manages to play such a clean game the rest of the way, they'll have a solid chance in the Southern Region, especially because the remaining game with Umpqua isn't in Roseburg, it's in Eugene. 

                                                                                                                         


4. Centralia (17-3, 6-1 West)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 2 Coaches
Pace: 63 | Offensive Efficiency: 71.69 (67)
Coaches: No. 1

Centralia's place as the top team in the league was based on an excellent non-league schedule with the assumption that they'd breeze through the Western Region and emerge pristine and perfect. One problem: They just got blown out by Lower Columbia 63-47 [box]. Now, this could be a sign that Centralia isn't alone in the West as previously assumed, and that might turn out to be a good thing — if the Blazers can top Lower Columbia in the rematch. It's unlikely that Centralia will repeat their dismal three-point shooting performance in the second match up, as so far region play has gone exactly as expected with the Red-Devil'ed exception. They've beaten their other six opponents by an average of 29 points each, including 47-point wins over Tacoma and Grays Harbor and won't see Lower Columbia until Feb. 25 — this time at home.

                                                                                                                         


5. Bellevue (14-6, 5-0 North)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 68.34 (65)
Coaches: No. 8

It's no secret that the Northern Region isn't the deepest league in the NWAC, but taking the first five games of region play and their last seven overall has been enough to bump Bellevue up and get the 'Dogs noticed. And it hasn't so much been who they've beaten, but how it's been done. They took the league's least efficient team by 53 points [box] as an opener for the Northern Region simply to set themselves at the top of the division, but have also won a pair of close battles with challengers in Skagit Valley [box] and Peninsula [box]. And while Bellevue has played tight games with a handful of the NWAC's top teams, there are several troubling statistics which will continually drag the Bulldogs down. Firstly, they're solidly in the bottom-half of the league in terms of shooting percentage at 38% overall. Secondly, a low shooting percentage works if a team plays at a quick pace, and Bellevue simply doesn't. They're actually out of the top-16 teams in terms of offensive efficiency, but still have a solid chance to win the North and get a good seed in the first round.

                                                                                                                         

6. Lower Columbia (14-7, 5-0 West)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 69 | Offensive Efficiency: 74.37 (77)
Coaches: No. 7

It's not often that the Western Region will get two teams in the top eight, but as I've mentioned before, this system is about what has happened lately. And for Lower Columbia, "lately" has been seven consecutive wins, including a huge win over No. 4 Centralia — 63-47 [box] back on Jan. 24. It was at home in Longview, but it's a major confidence booster and goes an awfully long way toward their first region title since the 2010-11 season. With the win over Centralia, they now have victories over all of the other teams in the top half of the west, including 12-point wins over Clark [box] and Highline [box]. The only unnerving fact is that Lower Columbia will have to face all three opponents on the road in the second half of the Western Region schedule, and falling to second in their region could mean a major difference in their seed at the championship tournament.

                                                                                                                         


7. Walla Walla (13-4, 4-1 East)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 7 Coaches
Pace: 60 | Offensive Efficiency: 75.71 (68)
Coaches: No. 3

For the most part, Walla Walla has managed to escape the meat-grinder through the first five games of Eastern Region play. Key words being "for the most part." Usher in their last contest, a 73-58 loss to Big Bend [box] which knocked Dub-Dub from top-five to seventh. And it's not to say the East isn't relatively strong from top to bottom, but Walla Walla lost to one of only two Eastern Region teams with a losing record. All that said, the saving grace for the Warriors has been the other four games, specifically a 16-point win [box] over Wenatchee Valley and a solid victory over Spokane [box]. The real test for Walla Walla, which is still top-four in efficiency, will be their next two games. They take on a spiraling Treasure Valley team, then face No. 2 Columbia Basin — and both on the road.


                                                                                                                         

8. Peninsula (14-7, 4-1 North)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked Coaches
Pace: 68 | Offensive Efficiency: 73.7 (75)
Coaches: No. 6

Peninsula has made a solid argument for themselves this season, especially after playing No. 5 Bellevue to a close five-point loss [box] earlier this week. The most impressive stretch for the Pirates, though, came in the midst of their non-league schedule. They lost to Wenatchee Valley by one in the season opener, and proceeded to win five games in a row, a streak which included wins over No. 2 Columbia Basin, No. 7 Walla Walla, and previous No. 2 Clackamas. Peninsula might deserve to be a little higher in the rankings with all their non-league successes outweighing a relatively weak Northern Region, and as they continue to win region games, their stock will rise. The game on Jan. 28 on the road at Skagit Valley is a big one. Not only would it give Peninsula an edge for second in the region standings, but it gives the Pirates a confidence bump heading into a softer part of the schedule.