South, North playing a numbers game

Creating intrigue for a series between South Medford and North Medford is hardly difficult, but tonight's boys basketball clash in the Panther gym stands out with a big gold star for all that is encompassed in the outcome.

As if squaring off against one another in the cross-town rivalry isn't enough to draw interest, an outright Southern Oregon Hybrid title for South Medford is on the line at 7 p.m., along with a chance at a rare four-game season sweep by the Panthers.

But in the back of the minds of those involved, the main topic stands to be how the outcome will affect the Class 6A power rankings.

"There are big ramifications for this one, real big," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy.

The Panthers (20-3, 9-2 SOH) are ranked third in the 6A coaches poll but, more importantly, are fractions of a percentage point ahead of Jesuit for the No. 1 spot in the power rankings, which ultimately will dictate the state playoff bracket for the final 32 teams.

In the Ratings Percentage Index, South Medford and Jesuit each have calculated totals that round off to 661, with the Panthers slightly ahead when the exact figures are considered (661.292 to 660.601). Central Catholic is third with a 634 RPI, but North Medford (16-5, 7-4 SOH) is right there in the No. 4 spot at 629.

Westview (623), Lake Oswego (621) and Roseburg (617) round out the top seven spots, giving the SOH about half of the top entries. The Indians are 16-6 overall and 8-3 in the SOH entering tonight's game at Grants Pass (10-12, 4-7).

A top-eight standing in the power rankings secures home-court advantage in the opening two rounds of the state playoffs, with the second-round winners advancing to the quarterfinals and the state tournament site in Portland at the Rose Garden.

"Our goal all season was to win the conference championship and do our best in the playoffs and make a run at the Rose Garden," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "Once the conference thing went away, we started talking about power rankings and continuing to win basketball games to keep our ranking up there so you have at least one home game at the start and maybe another one."

Beyond sporting their own stellar weighted winning percentages — the Panthers are at .888 (second only to Jesuit's .900) and the Black Tornado are at .771 — both Medford teams have fed off each other and the success of their competition in the other vital 6A ranking factors. In terms of opponent's winning percentage, which counts for 25 percent of the RPI figure, South is second only to Westview's .600 with a .598 rating. North isn't far off at .591.

For the other 25 percent calculated for the RPI, the Medford teams also boast the top two figures when it comes to the winning percentage of your opponent's opponents. North Medford ranks first with a .563 tally, while South Medford is at .562.

"The teams we beat are all having nice seasons and definitely holding up our rankings, and the same could be said for South," said Plankenhorn.

When it came to out-of-area play prior to the conference season, the Black Tornado was a perfect 8-0, almost exclusively on the road, and the Panthers sported an 8-1 record — falling only to Bend, the No. 1 team in the 5A power rankings, in the first road trip of the season. Throw in Roseburg's 5-3 mark against out-of-area teams and the top three SOH squads went 21-4 in the preseason.

The one benefit South and North both enjoy heading into tonight is that, with such high rankings, there shouldn't be too much of a shift in the power rankings. The Black Tornado certainly has more to gain as it looks to solidify its hold on the No. 4 spot or possibly move to third, while the difference for the Panthers between winning and losing likely would mean going into the playoffs as the No. 1 or 2 seed overall.

"Is it really that different if you get that far and you're a No. 1 playing No. 8 (at the state tourney) or No. 2 playing No. 7, I don't know," said Murphy, "but I guess if you're already there at No. 1 you don't really want to give that up, do you?"

The same could be said of earning the league championship outright and not potentially sharing it with Roseburg, which would happen if the Indians and Tornado win tonight. South Medford has won at least a share of nine conference titles in the past 10 years, but having it all to itself for the 2010-11 campaign is ideal.

"I think that's a big part, a real big part," said Murphy. "We set our goals from the beginning that we wanted to win the conference title, and I think outright."

To do it, however, will take a determined effort from his Panthers despite three wins this season over the Tornado. South has won by an average of 14 points, with the closest coming in a 63-56 win in the Abby's Holiday Classic championship.

"Having to play a fourth time is very difficult, let alone think you can beat them for the fourth time," said Murphy. "We've got our work cut out for us."

Last year was the only other time the teams have met four times in one season, with North topping South for third place in the Abby's tourney before the Panthers claimed two of the three conference games to split the four-game series.

"It's one of those funny things where it probably is tough to beat a team four times in one year," said Plankenhorn, "but if you've won two or three in a row, the confidence level has to be pretty high to win the next one."

"We're going to be over there and it's going to be a battle," he added of the South gym, where the Panthers are 11-0 this season. "It's going to be a playoff atmosphere and more of a find-out-where-we're-at kind of thing."

At North's request, the girls basketball matchup between the schools has been moved to Wednesday at the Tornado gym to create the potential for more feverish fan support.

"It should be exciting," said Murphy. "I think our kids have a lot of pride and I think they'll show up and hopefully play as well as they have all year because it's probably the biggest game we've had at this point of the season."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail Follow him at

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