KEEP POUNDING

The N.C High School Athletic Association finally released its first wave of winter RPI ratings this week.

I was wondering if it would ever happen, to be honest. In the fall, the state organization released the first wave of rankings roughly a month after the start of the regular season. Now, it waited until after the holiday break to reveal the first concise picture of playoff hoops with only a month left in the regular season.

This year is the first the association is using this power rankings system to seed the state playoffs.

As a refresher, the ratings use a simple formula that takes into account a team’s winning percentage, the winning percentage of a team’s opponents and the winning percentage of a team’s opponents’ opponents. That formula is RPI = (0.3*WP) + (0.4*OWP) + (0.3*OOWP).

As you can see, the weightiest term in that equation belongs to opponents’ winning percentage. The tougher the strength of schedule, the higher the playoff seeding. MaxPreps.com gives us a great look at how difficult each of the schedules are for boys and girls teams in the county.

The West Carteret boys have a 7.7 strength of schedule, which beats out everyone else’s in the top 25 of the 3A east region except South Central, which has an 8.3. For the record, both teams are on the other’s schedule. South Central beat West 53-49 on Nov. 22.

The Croatan boys team has a 2.1-rated strength of schedule, and East is rated 2.0.

On the girls side, West played a lot of the same nonconference contests as the boys, so the Patriots have a 3.6-rated schedule. Croatan’s schedule is rated a 0.6 and East’s a minus-0.4.

Now, the strength of schedule is just one indicator of the final ratings. Overall record still plays a big role. For the boys, West is 11-3 overall, East is 6-4 and Croatan is 1-9. For the girls, the Mariners are 8-1, the Patriots are 7-6 and the Cougars are 1-6.

Have I not mentioned the actual ratings yet? OK, OK, here they are.

The West boys are ranked No. 2 in the 3A east region, trailing only Seventy-First (10-2). The East boys are ranked No. 11 in the 2A east, and Croatan is ranked No. 48 in 3A.

For the girls, the Mariners are ranked No. 4 in the 2A east, West is ranked No. 20 in 3A, and Croatan is No. 47 in 3A.

There is a lot to unpack in these rankings, beginning with West and the boys team’s quest to win a fourth straight conference championship. This season, the 3A Coastal comes down to three teams – No. 12 White Oak (10-3), No. 17 Swansboro (13-0) and West.

Swansboro being ranked No. 17 despite being undefeated is a surprise, but the Pirates also had a cookie-cutter nonconference schedule. Their 52-43 win over White Oak in the Onslow County Cup was an eye-opener, but the game with West on Tuesday will be a better indicator of that team’s potential in the playoffs. The Vikings losing that game to the Bucs isn’t a great sign either, that the No. 12-ranked team is ready to knock the Patriots off their perch.

If you’re an East fan, the boys’ ranking has to be a win. The Mariners lost twice to a very talented West team, with their other two losses coming against Washington (6-5) and White Oak.

However, they’re in a new classification this season and playing well despite losing key pieces last spring. Winning the 1A/2A Coastal Plains Conference would guarantee a solid playoff seed, but even if East places second in a three-way battle for first with Jones (8-1) and Northside-Pinetown (7-2), it will still grab a good spot in the postseason.

The Cougars, with their ranking, will have to place high in the Coastal to reach the playoffs. It’s not impossible but unlikely. Even with a decent strength of schedule, the poor overall record is too big an obstacle.

The East girls’ ranking makes perfect sense. The team is loaded with talent, has only lost one game and looks to dominate its conference. The Mariners will battle Southside for the conference supremacy, but even if they place second, their high ranking means a good playoff berth. If they do win the league, the Mariners could very well play at home until the regional semifinal round.

It’s worth noting that Southwest Onslow, which beat East 61-37 on Dec. 21, is only ranked No. 6 in the 2A east. In the 1A east, fellow Coastal Plains team Northside-Pinetown is ranked No. 6 and Southside No. 7. The Mariners defeated Northside 61-43 on Tuesday.

For West, the rankings will only matter if it doesn’t win the Coastal. The No. 20 spot is a low one, but one the Patriots can build on during the final stretch of the season. Getting into the top 16 for a home playoff game has to be their biggest priority after winning the conference.

The Cougars are having a down year, but the conference isn’t having a strong year either. The No. 47 ranking is not ideal for snagging a playoff spot if they place second or lower in the conference, and the strength of schedule offered in the league might not be enough to do the trick. Croatan isn’t out of the picture yet, but three or four losses in the conference might push it there.

There are still four weeks left in the regular season, so there is plenty of time for all six teams to better their positions. Don’t be shocked if the East boys sweep their conference and climb to No. 1 or No. 2 in their classification. Don’t be surprised if the West boys end the year ranked No. 1, or the East girls get in the top four for three potential home playoff games.

As long the odd quarantine here and there due to COVID-19 doesn’t throw anyone off their game, four home playoff games for the Mariner girls in February is a good bet.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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