The path to the state regionals looks quite different for Wesco 4A basketball teams this postseason.
Prior to the school year, Wesco and KingCo athletic directors voted to combine their state berths at the Class 4A level for the next two years in every team sport except football.
So instead of Wesco and KingCo holding separate 4A district basketball tournaments as in past years, the two conferences are holding a joint 12-team bi-district tournament to determine state qualification.
The formats for the boys and girls 4A Wes-King Bi-District tournaments are the same.
This year, KingCo 4A is sending seven of its 10 teams to the bi-district tournament and Wesco 4A is sending five of its eight.
The top two seeds in each conference receive first-round byes, which means they avoid the loser-out play-in round and advance straight to the quarterfinals. The other eight teams in the tournament square off in loser-out play-in games, with the four winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Once the quarterfinals are set, the tournament takes on an eight-team double-elimination format.
The top five finishers in the tournament advance to the 16-team state regionals.
The girls tournament tips off with its play-in round Thursday. The boys tournament begins with play-in games Friday.
Under the new bi-district format, the most significant difference is that Wesco 4A is no longer guaranteed two teams in the state regional round. Depending on how the conference’s teams fare in the bi-district tournament, Wesco could qualify anywhere from zero to five teams for the regionals.
The girls bi-district tournament is loaded with top-end talent, featuring four of the top seven teams in the state’s Class 4A RPI rankings as of noon Wednesday: No. 1 Woodinville (20-2), No. 2 Glacier Peak (18-1), No. 6 Eastlake (17-5) and No. 7 Inglemoor (18-4).
The RPI rankings suggest talent-laden KingCo 4A — which sent two teams to the state semifinals last season — is a considerably stronger girls basketball league from top to bottom than Wesco 4A. KingCo 4A’s average RPI ranking is 27.1. Wesco 4A’s is 40.
Furthermore, KingCo 4A girls teams are 3-0 in head-to-head matchups against Wesco 4A squads this season.
That includes KingCo 4A No. 3 seed Inglemoor’s 32-point season-opening win over Wesco 4A No. 2 seed Lake Stevens (though it should be noted Lake Stevens was missing standout point guard Raigan Reed in that game). Also, a Bothell team that went winless in KingCo 4A picked up its only victory of the season against Wesco 4A No. 5 seed Kamiak.
“KingCo’s tough,” Lake Stevens girls basketball coach Randy Edens said last summer after the change was announced. “They’ve got some really good programs. … It’s already been a challenge to get to the Tacoma Dome, and this (new bi-district format) has the potential to make it that much tougher for our (Wesco teams) to get there.”
On the boys side, KingCo 4A and Wesco 4A appear to be evenly matched. Wesco 4A’s average RPI ranking is 35.3, and KingCo 4A’s is 36.3. In head-to-head matchups this season, the leagues went 2-2 against each other.
The top boys team in KingCo 4A is fifth-ranked Mount Si (20-2), which cruised through conference play and claimed the league tournament title. The Wildcats went 15-0 against conference opponents, outscoring them by an average of 22.6 points per game.
The top Wesco 4A boys team is seventh-ranked Jackson (16-3), which also went unbeaten in league play.
Lake Stevens boys basketball coach Mark Hein said last summer that while there’s a risk of one conference losing state berths to the other, the new bi-district format better ensures the best teams advance to state.
“If there’s a year that we deserve to have three or four teams go to (state), then that’s the way it should be,” Hein said. “And if KingCo has a year where they’re superior, I just more and more believe that the end goal is to get the best teams to state.”
The 3A Northwest District basketball tournaments also are slightly different this season.
The tournament format is similar to years past, with two play-in games followed by an eight-team double-elimination format. But instead of teams being seeded based on where they finished in their league standings, seeding is determined by the newly formed 3A district RPI rankings. These rankings — which are separate from the state RPI rankings — only factor in conference games.
The 3A district RPI rankings were created for all non-football team sports in an effort to more accurately seed teams for a district tournament that includes schools from two multi-classification conferences. At the 3A level, the district includes 12 teams from the 15-team Wesco 3A/2A, as well as Ferndale and Squalicum from the 14-team Northwest Conference.
In previous years, Ferndale and Squalicum had to meet certain parameters to qualify for the 3A district tournament. If they qualified, they were slotted into the bracket at predetermined spots.
The 3A district RPI rankings are following in the footsteps of the 2A bi-district model. The Northwest and Sea-King districts — which include 2A schools from three different leagues — are in their third season of using RPI rankings to determine seeding for their 2A bi-district tournaments.
“The 2A schools in District 1 have been using (RPI) with success,” Northwest District athletic director Robert Polk said. “… We felt that it was a nice way to use data to (seed the 3A tournament) instead of some cobbled-together agreement.”