Feb 12, 2015

Umpqua women lead Southern Region, rankings

NWAC Women's Basketball

Every year, there's always one region which ends up as a complete mess around this time of the year. This time, surprisingly, it's the South. Umpqua has asserted itself as a clear leader, but behind the Riverhawks loom four teams within a game of one another as the season winds down. Portland, seeing one of their best stretches in history, is within striking distance of a tournament berth but will need to unseat one of three powerhouse programs: Clackamas, SW Oregon or Lane. 

The NWAC tournament will once again be held at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash., beginning on Saturday, March 7 with the finals being played on March 10. The Northern and Southern regions will match up in the first round, as will the Eastern and Western. Basically, the top seed from the North will take on the fourth seed from the South, the second northern seed will play the third southern seed and so on. You can check out the full, blank bracket on the NWAC's championship page, along with plenty of other information.

We've decided to skip the efficiency ratings this week and focus purely on match ups and what teams need to do in order to muscle their way for a better seed in the upcoming tournament. Ratings will be published along with the final set of rankings, after the last game of the regular season has been played and before the tournament begins on March 7.

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. Umpqua (21-2, 8-0 South)
Previous ranking: No. 1, No. 2 Coaches
Coaches: No. 1

Their numbers have fallen a little over the past few weeks, but it hasn't changed the final result in the least. The Riverhawks were even able to shake off a horrible first half from the field and rally to beat No. 2 Lane 65-63 [box] on Feb. 11, coming from six down at halftime and putting a 20% shooting first half out of their memories. Their 12th consecutive win is a big one, as it all but clinches the Southern Region title for Umpqua for the second consecutive season and pushes the Riverhawks a little further ahead of the bloodbath behind them in the standings. Southern Region teams No. 2-5 are all within a game of one another in the region standings with just a handful of contests remaining now that the league's second-highest scoring team looks to be out of reach.


2. Lane (18-7, 4-4 South)
Previous ranking: No. 3, No. 4 Coaches
Coaches: No. 7

Lane's record in Southern Region play is admittedly not the best, but in the case of the heavy-hitting south you have to consider that the top four teams have a combined record of 68-25, and that 11 of those 25 losses have come since the start of region play in January. With Umpqua seemingly ahead of the pack for good, it's come down to who will rise above the remaining pool and grab the second seed. Lane has been bitten twice by Umpqua, most recently in a 65-63 loss [box] to the Riverhawks on Feb. 11, but realize the only one team has been able to hold Umpqua to fewer points, and they don't play in the NWAC. Also, Lane has played in four consecutive games (vs. NWAC opponents) decided by five points or less and lost three of them. If the Titans can work out a way to play two full halves over the next few weeks, they'll have a shot at the second seed in the South and a solid run at the tournament.


3. Walla Walla (17-4, 8-1 East)
Previous ranking: No. 7, No. 3 Coaches
Coaches: No. 3

With five games remaining and the Warriors sporting an 8-1 record in region play, it looks like it might again be DubDub's year in the Eastern Region. You have to go back to the 2010-11 season to find a year in which Walla Walla wasn't in the top two at the end of things, but they've only won a single Eastern Region title in the last four seasons. Their lone loss against fellow Eastern Region foes this season came back on Jan. 24 on the road at Big Bend, a game in which the Warriors simply couldn't shake the shooting woes [box]. Since then, they've been averaging 75 points a game and have taken down some pretty impressive opponents — namely former No. 2 Columbia Basin in a 77-68 road victory [box].


4. Bellevue (18-6, 9-0 North)
Previous ranking: No. 5, No. 8 Coaches
Coaches: No. 5

Let's everyone take notice of the Northern Region's first representative in the top four since the Dec. 8 season preview edition. The Bulldogs, winners of their last 11 games and holder of the second-longest such streak in the league, have blown through the first month of Northern Region play. They've won all but two of their nine region games by ten points or more, and have really only been threatened once: A 67-62 win [box] on the road at No. 8 Peninsula. The Bulldogs don't shoot particularly well, aren't a great scoring or rebounding team and don't even shoot a good percentage from the charity stripe, but they seem to have an x-factor about them which goes beyond the fact that the Northern Region might not get more than one team out of the first round of the upcoming NWAC tournament. Remember that Bellevue has beaten No. 5 Lower Columbia twice this season, beat No. 3 Walla Walla back on Dec. 20 and has stuck with Spokane in both their games.


5. Lower Columbia (19-7, 12-0 West)
Previous ranking: No. 6, No. 7 Coaches
Coaches: No. 4

When last we met, the talk about Lower Columbia centered on their 63-47 win [box] over Centralia back on Jan. 24. I used terms normally reserved for young, growing teams and a league fighting to gain traction and relevancy — things like "confidence booster" and pointing out that the Red Devil's win over Centralia came at home. Well, as it turns out, Lower Columbia just might be that darned good. The Red Devils won their 12th consecutive game — that's a league high — in an 84-35 trouncing [box] of Green River on Feb. 11, and have now seized control of the Western Region with four games to go. Now, all eyes are fixed on the biggest Western Region match up of the year when Lower Columbia visits Centralia on Feb. 25 with the region title and No. 1 seed on the line.


6. Centralia (21-3, 10-1 West)
Previous ranking: No. 4, No. 1 Coaches
Coaches: No. 2

If it seems a little unfair to drop the Blazers, who have the league's second-best overall record, that's because it is. At the same time, until Centralia can prove their ugly loss to No. 5 Lower Columbia — a team who is surging at the moment — they won't pass up the Red Devils in the rankings or the Western Region standings. A loss in the rematch could be disastrous. Example: As things currently stand, Centralia will face No. 6 Columbia Basin in the first round of the tournament at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. That's in the defending-champion Hawks' home town in prime-time, and a prime reason why the Blazers need an excellent finish down the stretch of Western Region play.


7. Columbia Basin (14-9, 6-3 East)
Previous ranking: No. 2, No. 5 Coaches
Coaches: No. 6

The law of averages finally got to the Hawks over the last two weeks. The magical streak of last-second thrillers hasn't ended, but the stretch of wins for Columbia Basin has quickly morphed into a stretch of three consecutive losses. Fresh off a wild come-from-behind 79-77 victory over Blue Mountain [box], Columbia Basin promptly ran out of gas. Their final game in January, a 77-68 loss [box] to No. 3 Walla Walla snapped an eight-game winning streak and seems to have set the Hawks on their... uhh... back-talons. Blue Mountain returned for revenge a few days later, followed by a 78-60 thumping [box] at the hands of Wenatchee Valley on Feb. 11. Is the Eastern Region just that competitive? Yes, but these are games Columbia Basin needs to win if they want to avoid a difficult seed at the tournament, or worse: missing the postseason altogether.


8. Peninsula (14-5, 8-1 North)
Previous ranking: No. 8, No. 6 Coaches
Coaches: No. 8

Two weeks ago, what the Pirates needed was to top Skagit Valley and hold on to the second spot in the Northern Region. Not only did Peninsula come away with a 63-59 win over the Cardinals [box], they've also won the three games since and are a half-game behind No. 4 Bellevue for the Northern Region lead. When Bellevue first entered the rankings, it looked like the 'Dogs might run away with the north and enter the tournament with a huge winning streak — and for their part they've won their last 11 games — but Peninsula is positioning themselves as a challenger in the North. The rematch on Feb. 22 is a big one, as it likely decides who gets the lowest seed from the Southern Region in the first round of the championship tournament.


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.