#FinalFours set to play out this weekend in D1M, D1W and D2M

We have reached the #FinalFours in the NBL’s top divisions and 12 teams need to be cut to 6 before the Senior Playoff Finals at the National Basketball Performance Centre on the 22nd and 23rd April. With just 1 game left between a chance to make a marquee matchup and ending the season early, the line between success and failure couldn’t be finer. We’ll take a look at the games in D1M, D1W and D2M to see who could be heading to Manchester and who’ll be staying at home.

D1M
#1 Team Northumbria

Regular season record: 23-3

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 5-0

Previous round result: 94-75 v Hemel Storm

D1M fixtures against Loughborough Student Riders this season:

19/11/16 – Team Northumbria 74 v 68 Loughborough Student Riders

25/02/17 – Loughborough Student Riders 68 v 75 Team Northumbria

So far, so good for the #1 seeds as they confidently saw off the challenge of Hemel to begin their playoff campaign. Potential MVP candidate Malcolm Smith carried his regular season form into that game and finished with 33 points. If Northumbria can keep him hot, he’s going to have a big say against Loughborough. Both regular season games between these sides have been close and the last times the teams met in February, it was a 1-point game heading into the 4th. There’s a lot to suggest this will be a close contest but Northumbria will feel they have enough quality at their disposal to win here and secure a place in Manchester 

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#5 Loughborough Student Riders

Regular season record: 15-11

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 3-2

Previous round result: 78-61 @ Derby Trailblazers

D1M fixtures against Team Northumbria this season:

19/11/16 – Team Northumbria 74 v 68 Loughborough Student Riders

25/02/17 – Loughborough Student Riders 68 v 75 Team Northumbria

After hitting the road and defeating Derby to start the playoffs, Loughborough will be looking to stage an even bigger upset this weekend. Whilst knocking off the Trailblazers was an impressive feat, Northumbria represent another step up and it will be interesting to see how the Riders cope with that. With Malcolm Smith scoring 33 against Hemel and 30 when these sides last met in Loughborough, the game plan for the visitors to try and slow down the American could be key. Can they do it? Even if they can, Blayne Freckleton, Lewis Champion, Jack Preston, Siman Stewart, this Northumbria roster has a lot of talent on it. Keeping Smith under control is probably priority #1 though.

Northumbria Head Coach Marc Steutel has managed to get the best from a talented roster this season - Mansoor Ahmed

#2 Manchester Magic

Regular season record: 21-5

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 4-1

Previous round result: 87-62 v Bradford Dragons

D1M fixtures against Team Solent Kestrels this season:

15/10/16 – Team Solent Kestrels 77 v 79 Manchester Magic

05/03/17 – Manchester Magic 74 v 68 Team Solent Kestrels

Another game between 2 sides that were evenly matched in the regular season, both fixtures were decided by just a couple of baskets. That said, the Magic are 12-1 at the Amaechi this season and the only team to go there and get there a result were Team Northumbria. Having not lost at home since February, expect the Magic to enter this fixture feeling they are favourites to secure a place at Belle Vue in a few weeks’ time. Simon Anumba and Duane Morgan have begun to solidify themselves as a quality scoring tandem for the reigning playoff champions and with the talent of Stefan Gill, Lee Goldsborough and Jack Minster to add in, this is a tough team to beat.

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#6 Team Solent Kestrels

Regular season record: 15-10 (with 1 void game)

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 3-2

Previous round result: 87-71 @ Reading Rockets

D1M fixtures against Manchester Magic this season:

15/10/16 – Team Solent Kestrels 77 v 79 Manchester Magic

05/03/17 – Manchester Magic 74 v 68 Team Solent Kestrels

Much like Loughborough, Solent can head out onto the road this weekend with the knowledge that an upset win isn’t an unlikely scenario. Knowing how to play this Magic team hard, it would only take a few strokes of fortune in their favour to decide a close game. Marquis Mathis was relatively quiet when the sides met a month ago so Coach Guymon will be no doubt looking to get the American involved early here. Also, the Kestrels put 31 points on the board against Reading in the 4th quarter last week. If this game is tight with 10 minutes to go, that’s certainly something that Solent can draw from to help them pull out a result.


 

D1W
#1 Team Solent Kestrels

Regular season record: 19-1

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 4-1

Previous round result: 72-58 v Reading Rockets

D1W fixtures against Bristol Academy Flyers this season:

15/10/16 – Team Solent Kestrels 66 v 39 Bristol Academy Flyers

14/01/17 – Bristol Academy Flyers 44 v 50 Team Solent Kestrels

The one statistic that may be most important to this game is that Team Solent are 10-0 at home this season. No team in D1W, including Southwark, has managed to go to Solent and get a result. Their average margin of victory at home is 23.6PPG but this is playoff basketball when the stakes are raised and the opposition are the best the league has to offer. Only Charnwood have managed to come close to the Kestrels on their own court, losing by a single point in mid-February. The Flyers did beat Charnwood twice this season though.

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#5 Bristol Academy Flyers

Regular season record: 12-8

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 5-0

Previous round result: 62-43 @ Barking Abbey UEL

D1W fixtures against Team Solent Kestrels this season:

15/10/16 – Team Solent Kestrels 66 v 39 Bristol Academy Flyers

14/01/17 – Bristol Academy Flyers 44 v 50 Team Solent Kestrels

As a team that is getting stronger and stronger as the year progresses, Bristol must be feeling that if they are going to spring an upset, the time to do it is now. Wins over Essex and Barking at home in early February led to back to back victories over Charnwood to end the regular season before enjoying a road playoff success over BA a week ago. This game is a step up again but the Flyers keep upping their game when needed. Can they do it once more? The last time these sides met it was a low scoring battle and Ekimini Essien was a non-factor. Coach Till would love to keep the American out of the headlines once again this weekend.

Kalina Axentieva (black kit #6) head a great 4th quarter for Solent as they overcame Reading to begin the playoffs - Mirrorbox Studios

#2 Southwark Pride

Regular season record: 19-1

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 5-0

Previous round result: 83-55 v Anglia Ruskin University

D1W fixtures against Charnwood College Riders this season:

12/11/16 – Southwark Pride 78 v 59 Charnwood College Riders

11/02/17 – Charnwood College Riders 47 v 51 Southwark Pride

In a mirror of the other #FinalFours match up in D1W, this Southwark side can be pleased with the fact they were a perfect 10-0 at home this season. When this weekend’s opponents Charnwood last went to CoLA, they lost heavily. That should also provide confidence for the hosts in this one as they look to set up a potential rematch with Solent should the Kestrels triumph against Bristol. Kahleah Edwards has been an important cog in the Pride’s offence down the stretch, including a 35-point outing against Reading a few weeks ago. She’ll look to once again help her team as they try amd get to Manchester.

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#3 Charnwood College Riders

Regular season record: 14-6

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 2-3

Previous round result: 65-50 v Essex Blades

D1W fixtures against Southwark Pride this season:

12/11/16 – Southwark Pride 78 v 59 Charnwood College Riders

11/02/17 – Charnwood College Riders 47 v 51 Southwark Pride

Southwark have derailed Charnwood’s season on multiple occasions this season. The Riders were 5-0 when the teams first met in November and the Pride handed the team their 1stloss of the season. A 2nd loss to Southwark in early February effectively eliminated the Riders from a title challenge and consigned them to a 3rd place finish in the league. With the potential for the visitors to have their playoff dreams ended by Southwark, can the Riders to anything to avoid a 3rd straight season defining loss to the London side?


 

D2M
#1 Kent Crusaders

Regular season record: 19-3

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 5-0

Previous round result: 83-58 vs Derbyshire Arrows

D2M fixtures against Ipswich this season:

26/11/16 – Kent Crusaders 80 v 75 Ipswich

04/03/17 – Ipswich 62 v 66 Kent Crusaders

By Coach Gardner’s own admission his team were not at their best last time out against the Arrows and they’ll need to improve going forward if they are going to achieve their goals as a team.  That’s going to need to be the case against a dangerous Ipswich side who know they can give Kent a game this year. John Shodipo is an under the radar pick for D2M MVP, he is helping Kent get it done and should be a factor this weekend. He also helps to get the best from some of the Crusaders young stars, RJ Eytle-Rock and Amin Adamu.

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#4 Ipswich

Regular season record: 12-10

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 3-2

Previous round result: 98-64 v London Westside

D2M fixtures against Kent Crusaders this season:

26/11/16 – Kent Crusaders 80 v 75 Ipswich

04/03/17 – Ipswich 62 v 66 Kent Crusaders

A packed out Coplestone was too much for Westside last week but Ipswich are having to leave their home court and hit the road for this one. Without the crowd involved it remains to be seen how Coach Drane’s team will perform but their previous game in Kent back in November was a tight one. Leigh Greenan has top scored for Ipswich in both of their meetings with the Crusaders this season, suggesting his powerful game in the paint could be important here. Luke Mascall-Wright’s 32 points last week could also be an x-factor if the youngster can keep that form going for another week.

Ipswich's Caleb Fuller (blue kit) and Kent's RJ Eytle-Rock (red kit) will be a key battle this weekend - Pavel Kricka

#2 Team Newcastle University

Regular season record: 19-3

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 3-2

Previous round result: 67-65 v Tees Valley Mohawks

D2M fixtures against Thames Valley Cavaliers this season:

12/02/17 – Team Newcastle University 74 v 66 Thames Valley Cavaliers

19/03/17 – Thames Valley Cavaliers 80 v 82 Team Newcastle University

With the top 3 sides in D2M being relatively well-matched, it was always going to make for exciting playoff basketball as soon as the teams collided. When these 2 sides met a few weeks ago in London it was a cracking contest with a single basket score line. More importantly in that game, American Richard Austin suffered a concussion that has limited his involvement in Newcastle’s activities since. If he will be able to suit up against the Cavs this weekend, that remains to be seen.

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#3 Thames Valley Cavaliers

Regular season record: 18-4

Record in the last 5 regular season games: 4-1

Previous round result: 94-89 v Nottingham Hoods

D2M fixtures against Team Newcastle University this season:

12/02/17 – Team Newcastle University 74 v 66 Thames Valley Cavaliers

19/03/17 – Thames Valley Cavaliers 80 v 82 Team Newcastle University

Considering how closely matched the teams were when they met in late March with Richard Austin available, could the American’s potential absence swing the balance of power here or will the game taking place in the North East even things up? Martelle McLemore is still the undisputed leader for this team and he’ll look to put the team on his back regardless of who he’s lining up against. Philip Perre and Luke Sanders are both solid assets for the London side and they’re both hitting form at the right time. You’d probably edge this game to Newcastle, but given the news on Austin, it really could be a coin flip.