Jan 25, 2015

Bellevue men still clinging to top spot

NWAC Men's Basketball

We'll get to it shortly, but the league saw an absolutely fantastic overtime showdown between No. 1 Bellevue and No. 2 Edmonds back on Jan. 21 that is too hard to keep out of the intro and both sets of rankings. As Bellevue — the slower and more efficient of the pair of heavyweights — came out with the victory, it brings to mind a piece written several years ago on what it takes to win at the upcoming tournament. Portland wowed viewers last spring by getting hot and pulling together a group of unbelievable talent at the right time, but it seems the slow-paced and defensively-minded teams have an edge when so many games are crammed back-to-back. 

Once again, remember that these rankings are most often a "what have you done for me lately" grouping of thoughts, and teams are more likely to jump around than in the coaches poll. 

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 UmpquaShorelineGreen 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. Bellevue (18-2, 5-0 North)
Pace: 59 | Offensive Efficiency: 83.85 (76)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

This is exactly the type of match up I like to see in the results: Two highly-ranked teams in a tight game with the region lead up for grabs. Such were the stakes. Bellevue won round No. 1 with Edmonds, winning 84-82 in overtime [box] in what I'm thinking will be a huge victory come tournament time. It gives Bellevue a little extra room atop the Northern Region standings, possibly getting Bellevue out of a more difficult first-round match up. It also is a major confidence booster, and proves that the Bulldogs have the mental fortitude to hang on and win a nail-biter despite being outscored down the stretch. Four Bellevue players scored in double figures, led by 19 from Don Holub. What will be more interesting will be how the rematch plays out on Feb. 18, when Bellevue and Edmonds could meet in another top-two showdown. Bellevue remains as the slowest-paced team in the rankings at 59 possessions a game, but is efficient with their chances regardless of their pedestrian shooting percentage.


2. Edmonds (16-4, 4-1 North)
Pace: 70 | Offensive Efficiency: 78 (84)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

And now the other side of that huge game in Bellevue. I cover high school athletics full time now, and there are times where I wonder how different the conversation would go if I were talking with a different coach but asking the same questions. This is one of those instances. While Bellevue basically played their game — almost exactly their average regulation points and shooting percentage — Edmonds was caught once again by their inability to score the basketball. They still play somewhat quickly, and their points per possession stat has jumped in the last several weeks, but shooting 37% from the field against a slow-it-down team simply won't bring about wins. The Tritons seem to have fixed some of their problems on offense, and have picked up the scoring pace and shooting percentage, and it seems they're now on the level with No. 1 Bellevue, at least for now. The rematch in late February will be fascinating, and could be for the region title.


3. Clark (13-5, 6-1 West)
Pace: 63 | Offensive Efficiency: 85.15 (82)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

The Penguins have lost just once in their last six games, a tight, anybody-can-win-this contest with Lower Columbia in which Clark was outscored by two in each half and lost 80-76 [box]. Since then they've been on a roll, pasting four of the five opponents on their current five-game winning streak. The largest such victory was a 106-66 thumping [box] of South Puget Sound (they have an awesome new logo) on Jan. 24. The sparkling stat from this sizzling contest was in the turnover column: Clark scored a whopping 33 points of SPSCC's 18 turnovers. The Penguins are fourth in the NWAC in steals at 10.78 per game, and have made a living on the break. It's part of what helps Clark reach the league average in points while playing at a slightly lower than average pace — layups are usually a pretty high-percentage shot. Like Edmonds and Bellevue, the Penguins have a big game on the horizon in a visit from No. 8 Highline, who has won four in a row and technically leads the Western Region.


4. Columbia Basin (11-8, 4-1 East)
Pace: 70 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (86)
Previous ranking: No. 7, Unranked Coaches
Coaches: Unranked

I was a little uneasy in ranking Columbia Basin a few weeks ago, bringing them into the rankings for the first time this season in seventh. At the time, the question was whether their victory over then-No. 3 Big Bend was a fluke, but 10 wins in their last 11 games make things seem as though that's not at all the case. Their one trip-up, and this might have Wenatchee fans upset, was an 86-69 loss [box] to the Knights back on Jan. 14. The Hawks got outscored by 18 from beyond the arc in that game, which is an ironic taste of their own medicine. Columbia Basin shoots from distance at a pretty decent clip, and when they get rolling, well... they do things like blowing the doors off a fast-paced Spokane team to the tune of 110-95 [box]. CBC hit 15 three-pointers in that game, six more than usual, and nailed 13 in their 109-103 victory [box] over Yakima Valley. Will the hot shooting hold for the rest of the season? Maybe. Will the hot shooting continue once they step into the cavernous Toyota Center? Probably not. Either way, this team is hot.


5. Wenatchee Valley (14-6, 3-2 East)
Pace: 62 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (86)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

Two losses in their last two games would normally drop the Knights further than one spot, but I'll keep them there because of how they kicked off the Eastern Region run. Wenatchee had arguably the most difficult early stretch of any of the ranked teams: Hosting Spokane, traveling to Columbia Basin and hosting Walla Walla, all ending in wins for Wenatchee. Then they faded in the second half and lost to unranked Treasure Valley and unranked Blue Mountain. What's interesting, though, is that in both games the Knights shot FAR below their average number of free throws. In the Blue Mountain game back on Dec. 31, for instance, Wenatchee Valley shot 38 times from the charity stripe. On Jan. 24 in an 86-76 loss [box] they shot 15 free throws. Though they've sped things up in the last few weeks, the Knights still play as one of the slowest-paced teams in the top-16. That means that they need high effieciency (and plenty of free-throws and good shooting percentages) to keep up with the other faster-paced teams in their region. I'll keep WVC in fifth for now, but this next stretch will be telling: they play Big Bend on Jan. 28, and then will have rematches with Spokane and Columbia Basin in the coming weeks.


6. Big Bend (16-5, 4-1 East)
Pace: 64 | Offensive Efficiency: 81.25 (80)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

In the last set of rankings, I talked about how Big Bend turns the ball over a little more than they should, and I called their upcoming league game with then-No. 7 Columbia Basin a "good challenge." Big Bend, to their credit, cleaned up the turnover act considerably. In the first match up, they had 16 miscues. In the second, just 13. It made for a big difference in the competitiveness of the game, but Columbia Basin still managed to pull out an 85-84 victory [box] despite winning the turnover battle by seven. The Runnin' Viks also nearly let a win slip through their fingers in a battle with Blue Mountain (5-12, 1-4 East) back on Jan. 16. They held an 11-point lead at halftime, but were forced to hold on and win a low-scoring 68-66 game [box] at home, a result which is surprising given the difference in record and the improved turnover statistics. Coming up, though, they'll have a chance to prove themselves and jump back toward the top of the rankings in a trip to take on Wenatchee Valley, with whom they're almost neck-and-neck in points per possession and pace.


7. Highline (14-5, 6-1 West)
Pace: 66 | Offensive Efficiency: 79.3 (80)
Previous ranking: Unranked, No. 5 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

It's always seemed a little unfair to keep Highline out of the top eight, given that they've led the Western Region for much of the season thus far. The reason? They don't have much by way of signature victories, and have lost many of the bigger games they've played in. And while they play in a relatively weak division (five of the Western teams are below .500), picking up five wins in a row is enough to get just about anybody noticed, and for their efforts they'll get a shot at taking down No. 3 Clark this week — at at home. This is a big chance for Highline to prove they belong in the discussion and erase a few ugly losses from earlier this year before the Western Region schedule takes its toll.


8. Chemeketa (14-6, 5-0 South)
Pace: 67 | Offensive Efficiency: 83.3 (87)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 8 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

Chemeketa's overall offensive pace has dropped a little in the last few weeks, but the Storm are on their best run of the season: Eight straight victories, including the first five games of the Southern Region schedule. Given, as plenty of readers have trumpeted over the years, the South isn't the strongest region in the NWAC, but it has produced two title teams in the last two years and five champions in the last eight seasons. Might it be that all the banging and moving and shaking in the South preps teams for the rigors of the championship tournament? Chemeketa shoots a decent percentage from the field, and has continued their unreal free-throw numbers to the tune of 27 attempts per game. At this point the Storm look like frontrunners in the Southern Region, but they'll need to keep a sharp eye out for an effecient and slow-paced Umpqua team, as well as Clackamas — hate me, c'mon — as the Cougars often go on a hot streak late in the season.


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