Basketball teams log solid first half

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 4, 2009

Three of the four area Division I teams have reached the halfway point of their conference schedules, and the news is good for all.

Gonzaga made it through the West Coast Conference not only unscathed but with an average winning margin of 23.1 points in its bid to win an unprecedented fifth straight title. The Zags play five of their last seven games at home.

Washington State (9-11), Eastern Washington (9-12) and Idaho (8-10), which is one game short of halfway, have all exceeded last season’s win totals. The trio won 13 games among them last season.

WSU’s Cougars have two Pac-10 wins – a number they haven’t surpassed since 2001 – with the promise that more should be on the way.

EWU’s Eagles, 1-15 last season in the Big Sky Conference, are 4-4, although six of the last eight games are on the road.

Idaho’s Vandals are 5-2 in the Western Athletic Conference after going 3-13 the past two seasons. They have six of their final nine on the road.

Number crunching

Now is the time when RPI becomes important to NCAA tournament “bubble teams,” those that might not win their conference automatic bid but have good records to think about dancing. Think Gonzaga in recent years.

The NCAA tournament committees say RPI is just a small part of the process, as is strength of schedule, factoring in all 340 Division I schools.

We decided to help confuse you with numbers, using three available RPI sources and comparing last week’s numbers for the local teams, which all picked up at least one win or lost to strong teams.

What’s interesting is the discrepancy between the three rankings and how wins can hurt while losses help, depending on the starting point and opponent.

Gonzaga, with road wins of 28 and 36 points, improved its RPI a couple of notches (a high of 29) but saw its SOS fall from five to nine spots (a low of 78).

WSU lost to a strong Arizona State team but beat lowly Arizona and had its RPI improve from two to 12 (a high of 148) and its SOS go up as many as 29 (a best of 142).

Eastern, with a win over Montana State but a loss to league power Montana, went up as much as 19 (a high of 248) and its SOS improved by more than 50, according to two services (best of 211).

Idaho beat lowly Hawaii, moving up just a few spots (best of 209) and its SOS fell up to 25 (low 252).

In averaging the three available rankings, the Pac-10 is sixth among the 32 conferences, the WCC 15th, WAC 21st and Big Sky 26th.

Tip-ins

Here’s an interesting WCC statistic: Average attendance for women’s home games is 690. Seven schools are less than that number (the closest is 586) while Gonzaga averages 2,501. … Katie Appleton became the 12th member of the WSU 1,000-point club and jumped into the top 10 on the Cougars’ all-time scoring list with 1,015 points. … EWU had 13 3-pointers in a 90-75 win over Montana State, one shy of the school record. … Idaho had never beaten Hawaii before Sunday’s 66-50 home win, shooting a season-best 94.4 percent from the line (17 for 18) and 47.8 from 3-point range (11 for 23). … Saint Mary’s Louella Tomlinson, the nation’s leader in blocked shots, rejected the Pilots five times after swatting no Gonzaga shots Thursday.

Local watch

Portland is two games behind Gonzaga heading into Sunday’s game at the McCarthey Athletic Center because of a last-second shot that beat Saint Mary’s by one on Saturday. The Pilots were led by Tara Cronin (Gonzaga Prep) with 13 points and eight rebounds. … Weber State junior Tonya Schnibbe (U-Hi) had 27 points and 25 assists as the Wildcats split a pair of games. … Portland State sophomore Kelli Valentine (Mead) ran her streak of double-figures games to seven (13 points, nine rebounds) as the Vikings took over the Big Sky lead with a 72-62 win over Montana. All that good was undone when PSU lost 94-90 to Montana State on Saturday despite Valentine’s 18 points and 11 rebounds. … Montana Tech junior Jessie DePell (Freeman) is fourth in the Frontier League in scoring at 15.8 ppg and is leading in free-throw percentage at 87.3.



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