Mar 6, 2015

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.


No comments:

Post a Comment