The (Late) Midseason Report

Images from an Evergreen 2A Conference boys basketball game between W.F. West and Tumwater at W.F. West High School in Chehalis on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

IN REVIEW: A Look at How the Preseason Projections Are Playing Out the With Prep Basketball Regular Season Nearing Its Conclusion
By Aaron VanTuyl
avantuyl@chronline.com

Technically this is more of a three-quarters’ season report, but we’re still just a few games past the middle of the Evergreen 2A Conference season, and the Central 2B League is still up in the air (on the boys side, anyway), so here’s a look at the 2A and 2B leagues with districts coming up in about two weeks.
It’s worth pointing out that the District 4 2B tournaments got a bracket makeover this year, with a four-game play-in round and then the first round, which means the top two teams in the Central and Pacific won’t actually start play until four days after the tournaments start. The 2A tournaments, though, remain the same. We’ll delve into that sort of thing when districts get closer.

Images from an Evergreen 2A Conference girls basketball game between W.F. West and Centralia at W.F. West High School in Chehalis on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018.

GIRLS
Class 2A
Preseason Favorite: W.F. West.
Has It Changed? Not at all. At this point if W.F. West isn’t in the state championship game it’ll be a surprise. The basic line on Bearcat teams under Tom Kelly is that a good point guard can handle their press and give them trouble. That’s still the case, to some extent, but they score much better out of a half-court offense now. Everyone on the roster can shoot the 3 (they went 17 of 27 in a win over Rochester), and Erika Brumfield cutting to the hoop is worth a bucket or a foul about 90 percent of the time. They won’t necessarily go into a scoring drought if the press isn’t producing fastbreak looks, and if the press is working (spoiler alert: it usually is) there’s nobody that can keep up with W.F. West. There’s a reason they’re widely considered the best 2A girls team in the state (and 6-0 in EvCo play without a significant challenge).
But Can They Be Beat? Sure, if you’ve got a couple good guards to handle the pressure and they have an off shooting night. The problem, though, is that they’re 63 of 149 from 3 in their last six games (42 percent) which makes off nights few and far between.

District Bets: Unless Brumfield and senior teammates Kiara Steen and Julia Johnson get lost at sea or something the Bearcats are going to be in the district finals. Washougal’s the best team in the Greater St. Helens 2A League (the same Washougal team that knocked the Bearcats out of districts in a weird overtime game two years ago), and Beyonce Bea, their leading scorer and reigning GSHL MVP, is pretty good. Still, two of Washougal’s losses were to Black Hills and Centralia — two teams that W.F. West beat by about 90 combined points the first two times they played. That doesn’t inspire much hope for the GSHL’s playoff chances. The best bet’s W.F. West and Black Hills in a rematch.

Who’s Good: The EvCo MVP probably comes down to either Kiara Steen or Erika Brumfield. Steen’s play at the point and outside shooting has been impressive, while Brumfield, at 6-foot-3, continues to be a nightmare matchup worth about a double-double every game. Steen’s a senior, so that could play a role, but there’s no wrong answer here.

Napavine’s Mollie Olson lays the ball up against Wahkiakum on Tuesday in Napavine.

Class 2B
Preseason Favorite: Napavine
Has That Changed? (Stifles laughter) No, no I’m afraid it has not. Napavine’s got the two best players in the Central 2B League in Mollie Olson and Melissa Lee and just last week blew out Wahkiakum (No. 3 in most state polls/computer rankings at that point) by 40 points, and followed it up with a dominant win over Mossyrock. Napavine’s best offense is Olson grabbing a rebound, taking a dribble and throwing a 50-foot pass to Lee in transition for a layup. It’s fast, it’s reliable and it’s disheartening if you’re on the other end. Lee, defensively, is killer on top of a zone, and Olson’s the best passer in the league. Napavine is pretty good.

But Can They Be Beat?: If you can get Olson and Lee in foul trouble, yes, they get significantly more beatable. But if your game plan is just “get these two in foul trouble,” you’ve already got a problem.

District Bets: The talk all season’s been Napavine vs. Ilwaco in the district finals, and nothing so far this season has changed that. Ilwaco’s only loss was to defending 2A state champ Lynden, and Napavine’s only loss in the Best of the West Tournament championship game in Los Angeles. Outside of Napavine, the Central 2B League is in a bit of a slump; Wahkiakum’s good, Mossyrock and Toledo aren’t bad, and Adna could be a threat by playoff time, but on the whole the league doesn’t have the same star power (outside of Olson, Lee and probably Wahkiakum guard Macie Elliott) that it’s had over the past few seasons. If one team’s winning its league games by an average of over 40 points, and four teams are averaging under 30 points a game, it speaks to the overall level of play; not to knock any particular team or player, but the general consensus among coaches is that it’s a down year for the C2BL.

Who’s Good: Look, the MVP award’s going to Olson, or Lee, or Olson and Lee in a co-MVP situation (the most likely outcome). Mark it down.

Images from a nonleague boys basketball game between W.F. West and Mark Morris at Lower Columbia College in Longview on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.

BOYS
Class 2A
Preseason Favorite: W.F. West and Black Hills
Has That Changed? Yes. The Bearcats are back, baby! W.F. West came into the season as a tentative favorite in the Evergreen 2A Conference, with most of its lineup back and point guard Jordan Thomas joining the team from Centralia. Early on they were a bit hesitant, but that’s to be expected with a new guy running the show. Now? Oh my. They’re confident, they know how to play to their strengths, and it’s fun to watch. Throw Thomas (6-foot-4 and probably the best defender in the league) and Colby White (6-5 with a 6-foot mark in the high jump) at the top of a 2-3 zone and it’s an issue. However, when you anchor it with 6-foot-8 Brandon White (the school’s all-time blocked shot leader) and give those two big fast guys up top free reign to gamble, it’s a huge problem — and that’s why W.F. West is winning its league games by an average of almost 20 points. Bailey Cooper’s developed into an efficient, polished scoring threat down low, Thomas can get to the hoop whenever he wants and they get plenty of points off of turnovers. They’re 6-0 in league and 14-2 overall, with their only two losses coming to 3A Kelso (13-3) and 3A Capital (13-3) — and both of those were back in December.
It’s worth pointing out that the preseason poll was pretty varied. Centralia’s in second (9-7, 5-1 league), and of their seven losses, only two have been by more than 10 points; one of those was a 67-44 loss to W.F. West, which shows the separation between the Bearcats and the rest of the league six games in.

But Can They Be Beat?: Two big, skilled guards to handle the pressure and shoot over the zone could prove problematic on one end. They’ve got a few shooters — Brandon White and Tyler Speck are the best options — but part of their improvement has been moving away from the 3; pack in the zone, coax them into relying on outside shots and hope they miss a few.

District Bets: Columbia River’s leading the Greater St. Helens 2A League (12-2, 6-0 league), and beat Mark Morris by 15. W.F. West beat Mark Morris by 15. Columbia River’s ranked No. 4 on The Columbian’s aggregate ranking board, which compiles a handful of ranking systems and polls and boils them into one Vultron-esque mega-ranking, while W.F. West is No. 7 on the same board. With that all out there, signs are pointing to a W.F. West/Columbia River district finale — and the Bearcats haven’t played for a district title since 2007, when they lost to Mark Morris.

Who’s Good: Jordan Thomas is the favorite for the EvCo MVP. He might not be the Bearcats’ leading scorer, but he’s probably the league’s best defensive player and he’s certainly someone to be accounted for on the offensive end. Mostly, though, take a look at the overall picture; W.F. West was 10-11 last year (4-6 league) with largely the same lineup it has right now. There’s obviously been a lot of improvement since then, both in the program and the individual players, but Thomas really ties it together on both ends of the court.

Images from a Central 2B League boys basketball game between Adna and Morton-White Pass at Adna High School on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.

Class 2B
Preseason Favorite: Adna and Toutle Lake
Has That Changed? Only about twice a week for the last month and a half. Adna lost its league opener to Napavine, then Napavine lost to Morton-White Pass, then Morton-White Pass lost to Toledo, and Toledo lost to Adna. At this point Adna’s still the favorite, but as the Central 2B League has a North and South division, the final league standings aren’t quite as imperative as, say, the EvCo standings. Toutle Lake’s also pretty good; they looked like a state favorite in the first quarter of a loss to Napavine, which is the 2017-18 C2BL in a nutshell.
Since there’s no other way to do this, here’s a quick review of the top five teams in the league:
Adna — Cody Young’s super fast, Lyle Metzenberg’s developing inside, Conner Weed’s a glue guy and Austen Apperson, Blake Davis and Trevor Thornburg can all shoot. Great balance.
Napavine — Jordan Purvis can fill it up, Peyton Stanley’s a threat from inside 30 feet, and Dawson Stanley’s a nice two-way point guard, but they don’t have a true big guy or a ton of depth.
Toledo — Reece Wallace has to be accounted for at all times, Junior Arroyo rebounds and finishes well inside, and there’s plenty of role players that can hold their own. They do, however, occasionally start slow, which can be trouble against a good team.
Morton-White Pass — Matt Poquette can drop 40 on any given night and usually draws the toughest defensive assignment, but he carries the biggest load of any player in the league.
Toutle Lake — Nate Hoff’s a pretty good point guard, Michael Adams is solid in the paint and Cam Swanson can shoot. The Ducks are good, but couldn’t beat MWP, Napavine, Toledo or Adna and they’ve got another round with Toledo coming up.

District Bets: You could throw Life Christian (15-1, 12-0 league) in the mix, but the Pacific 2B League, on the whole, is a level below the C2BL this year; LCA, Willapa Valley and Chief Leschi could be the only Pacific teams to win a district game. Adna and Toledo should wind up on opposite ends of the bracket, so they’re acceptable options for title-game bets.

Who’s Good: Matt Poquette’s this year’s C2BL MVP. He gets asked to score, rebound, distribute and guard the other team’s best player, and all he’s done is average just under 30 points a game, dunk about 50 times and sign with Central Washington University.

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