Jan 9, 2015

Bellevue men lead rankings into region play

NWAC Men's Basketball

Last year we always assumed the Southern Region would shake itself out and, being stubborn, it never did. The South has always gotten flack for as long as these rankings have been a thing, and yet they've managed to capture two of the last four NWAC titles. Once again, it looks like the South is being its good ol' self, but the Western Region has joined in the fray. Neither region has a standout as of yet, with four teams legitimately in the mix at the start of region play.

The Northern and Eastern regions, however, are entirely different. Bellevue and Edmonds have emerged as frontrunners with entirely differing offensive styles in the Northern Region, while Big Bend, Wenatchee Valley and Spokane are clearly ahead of the remaining teams in the Eastern Region with Columbia Basin making a solid run at relevancy. 

In the last set, we used a beta system to rank a team's pace by adding and dividing and multiplying some numbers together and calling it good. The league has stepped forward and offered the actual possession stats, and we rolled out a new efficiency rating system last week with the women to fairly positive results. This edition [Get the top-16 teams] adds a few things, including a free-throws per game stat which helps to show exactly why certain teams can accomplish their high points-per-possession numbers.

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.

From this point on, expect the rankings to be published about every two weeks on Sunday or Monday until the NWAC tournament arrives in early March. Coaches rankings, which were released on Jan. 8, can be found beneath each team's rating.


1. Bellevue (13-2, 0-0 North)
Pace: 58 | Offensive Efficiency: 83.2 (74)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

Over the last several seasons, we've seen Bellevue rack up a handful of solid seasons. They tied for first in a highly-contested Northern Region last year, marking the first season with at least a share of the region title since 2009-10. In each one of those successful years, the Bulldogs have only gotten past the first round of the tournament just one time, which begs the question: Is this finally the year for Bellevue? Among the top-16 teams in terms of efficiency, Bellevue plays with the slowest pace of just 58 possessions per game. They commit just 13 turnovers per game, an excellent job of scoring on the few possessions they DO have. It's a formula which tends to do well at the championship tournament,  which generally sees the slower, defensively-minded and efficient teams succeed. Coming up, they've got 5-8 Shoreline before they'll take on Olympic — the fastest-paced team at 72 possessions per contest.


2. Edmonds (13-3, 0-0 North)
Pace: 72 | Offensive Efficiency: 76.05 (84)
Previous ranking: No. 4, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

In the last set of rankings, we covered how Edmonds' low shooting percentage was killing their offensive efficiency. There are still several unsettling numbers which stick out for Edmonds, one of which is their three-point shooting: second-to-last in the league at a dismal 28 percent. Overall percentage is in the bottom third, which is why it's fairly amazing that Edmonds manages to score just over 84 points per game. The reason? Blinding speed and the second-best rebounding in the NWAC. Edmonds plays a full 14 possessions more than a team like No. 1 Bellevue, and actually takes better care of the ball. Much of the reason Edmonds gets so many extra chances is due to their ability to get out in the passing lanes, which gifts the Tritons an extra ten possessions on a nightly basis and has led to five consecutive victories — the second-longest streak in the league.


3. Big Bend (12-4, 0-0 East)
Pace: 65 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (79)
Previous ranking: No. 2, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

Big Bend was on an impressive run before it was cut short in a 91-78 loss [box] to Columbia Basin, a loss which gives some interesting insight into a major weak spot in the Runnin' Vik's game: Turnovers. Big Bend had 26 of them, and while it's 10 higher than their game-by-game average, the Vikings still rank among the worst of the efficient teams in terms of turning over the rock. Imagine throwing the ball away on a quarter of a team's possessions, which is about where Big Bend sits. There's your background, now consider this: Big Bend still manages 79 points per game, and ranks ninth in offensive efficiency. It helps to be third in the league in three-pointers attempted, while shooting a somewhat decent percentage. One interesting thing to watch: Big Bend hosts Columbia Basin in a rematch on Jan. 21. CBC is also one of the hotter teams in the league, and should make for a good challenge.


4. Wenatchee Valley (11-4, 0-0 East)
Pace: 60 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.9 (75)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

The Knights are another slow-paced, but efficient team. They trail Bellevue with 60 possessions on a given night (see what I did there), and have almost identical numbers both on offense and defense. The Knights don't shoot an awful lot of three pointers, and they're not at the top of the list in field goal percentage. What Wenatchee Valley DOE do, and does extremely well, is get to the free-throw line. They're second in the league in free-throws per game at 25, which is impressive because the leader — Chemeketa at 28 — plays at a far quicker pace. The Knights only loss in this last section of games came on a night where they shot 13 percent from three-point range and were outscored 27-6 from beyond the arc and still only lost by three [box] to Grays Harbor. They'll have a fast-paced and efficient challenger in No. 5 Spokane in their next contest, and should the Knights manage to keep the pace slow and control things from the get-go, they'll have a chance to make a huge statement in the Eastern Region.


5. Spokane (10-5, 0-0 East)
Pace: 69 | Offensive Efficiency: 88.4 (94)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

A faster than average pace often doesn't always translate to an efficient outcome on the offensive end, but Spokane is different. They're far and away the best offensive team in the league at just over 94 points per game, and pace is only part of it. They run about 69 offensive possessions per night, and are about average in turnover-per-possession percentage. The difference is that the Sasquatch score on far more of those possessions than any other team in the league. The efficiency coefficient is a good way to balance, as it takes pace out of the equation and Spokane is still easily at the top of the list by a full four points. And unlike many of the other running teams in the league, Spokane is actually in the middle of the pack in steals and is able to hold opposing teams down on defense instead of games turning into a regular track meet.


6. Clark (8-4, 1-0 West)
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.9 (81)
Previous ranking: Unranked, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

With eight wins, Clark might look like a questionable choice to make the top eight, considering the three Western Region teams who have more wins. However, as we've discussed before, this is a set of rankings built on what teams have been up to lately, and Clark's resume of late has been a solid one. Something seems to have clicked after the Penguin's loss to Clackamas on Dec. 20, and Clark has won their last three contest by a considerable margin. Most impressive was a 78-58 [box] win over previous No. 5 Green River in which Clark muscled the Gators to a 47-29 rebound advantage and outscored Green River by 15 in second-chance points. Clark is the most efficient of the Western Region teams, and will only see one region foe who is better on the glass even though Clark is in the middle of the league pack in terms of boards. Unfortunately for Clark, their chance to prove themselves comes quickly: Lower Columbia — the only team from the West who has better boarding numbers — looms in the Western Region opener.


7. Columbia Basin (7-7, 0-0 East)
Pace: 70 | Offensive Efficiency: 76.05 (83)
Previous ranking: Unranked, Unranked coaches
Coaches: Unranked

Another somewhat curious choice in place of a team like Highline or Umpqua, both of whom are leading their regions, Columbia Basin makes the list as simply the hottest team in the league at this point. They've picked up six in a row, two of which came against teams ranked in the last set. Green River was the first to fall victim back on Dec. 19, but CBC has also managed victories over Portland, Everett, Blue Mountain, and a 113-86 barn-burner [box] against Grays Harbor. The most impressive win, though, was their most recent. Columbia Basin shot a cool 11-22 from distance and picked up 26 turnovers against No. 3 Big Bend on New Years Eve, runnin' past the Runnin' Viks 91-78 [box]. It might have been a flash in the pan, but no one has been able to prove it for the last month.


8. Chemeketa (9-6, 0-0 South)
Pace: 68 | Offensive Efficiency: 84.5 (88)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 7 (tie) Coaches
Coaches: No. 8

Every once in a while, my brain will catch a number that simply doesn't fit. Usually it's a mistake when data is entered into the efficiency spreadsheet, but in the case of Chemeketa's unreal free-throw numbers, it's reality. The Storm have shot 423 freebies through 15 games, at a clip of 28 attempts per game. They're not the lightning-quick (again, see what I did there?) Chemeketa team we've seen in the past, but they still manage nearly 88 points per game — good for second in the league behind No. 6 Spokane. And at 9-6, they're just a half-game behind Umpqua for the lead in the Southern Region, which looks like it might end up as much a clustered mess as it was last season. Getting to the line means drawing fouls. Drawing fouls means putting opponents in foul trouble, which forces opponents to change up rotations and put their big men on the bench.


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