The latest Associated Press boys high school basketball rankings are out and three CBBN Cascade Division teams -- Richland at No. 4, Kamiakin at No. 6 and Walla Walla at No. 7 -- hold prominent spots in the poll.
Another Cascade team, Eisenhower, is just outside the mix at 7-3.
While it is fun to imagine where teams could end up come state playoff time, division coaches have refrained from getting overly excited about the early polls.
"Rankings and stuff are great for prognosticators, but it's a little premature. We're not real deep into the league season," said Richland coach Earl Streufert, whose team is off to its best start since 1997-98 (12-0).
"Later in the season, the rankings will have more validity," said Streufert, who played and later coached at Walla Walla until the '98-99 season. "This league has good teams, and they will be tested."
Still, the three teams at the top of the division have all been fairly dominant through the first 10 games of the season. The first-place Bombers (10-0, 4-0) lead the league in scoring offense at 73.7 points a game and are third in scoring defense at 52.4 -- a 21.3 margin.
The Braves (9-1, 3-1), who are tied for second with the Blue Devils (8-2, 3-1), are second in offense (65.2) and first in defense (49.4). Wa-Hi isn't far behind, outscoring teams 63.7-52.8 -- a 10.9-point margin.
But the strength of the league doesn't just lie at the top. Even Eastmont, the seventh-place team, has a 5-1 record outside the division and came within two points of beating Richland at home last Friday.
"From top to bottom it's pretty tough. Every night is a big game," said Wa-Hi coach John Golden. "Either playing on the road or at home, there's someone that can beat you."
Winning on your home court is important, but winning away from home is a key for any team that hopes to make a run at the title.
"You've got to steal a few road wins in league. That will be a measure of how good you really are," Streufert said. "Walla Walla got one at Eisenhower (64-55 on Wednesday). That's one more road win in their pocket."
The CBBN has a history of some strong performances at the state tournament, with two teams earning trophies seven times since 1955. In an unforgettable 1979 matchup, Big Nine rivals Richland and Pasco battled for the 4A state title, with the Bombers prevailing 72-59.
However, the best year for the Big Nine was 2004, when the conference swept the 4A Eastern Regionals and sent four teams -- Davis, Pasco, Richland and Walla Walla -- to the state tournament. Only the Blue Devils and Pirates trophied, however, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively.
"Our league lends itself to kids going to state and succeeding," said Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely, a former Kennewick High standout (1996-99). "We play on Friday and Saturday, and we're one of the few leagues in the state that does that. Our kids are used to playing through fatigue.
"At state you might win one night, but do you have the endurance to turn around and play tough the next night?"