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.


1 comment:

  1. CBC lost by 17 pts on their home court....then when a rematch game happened a few days ago...CBC beat them by 2 pts.