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.


1 comment:

  1. Big Bend has the "easiest foursome"....0-2. Oh Well!