With the National Cup and National Trophy both settled for another year, all attention is back on D1M as teams enter the final month of the regular season. With lots of games still to play, expect plenty of pivotal double-header weekends for many sides from here on out. As usual in our preview, we’ll provide the score of the previous game that teams have played this season in D1M. With the primary tie breaker between two sides being their head to head record (including points difference) between each other over the 2 fixtures in a season, teams are not only looking to win but also secure any potential tiebreakers should two sides be equal on points come the end of the regular season.
A huge game at the top of the table, Manchester took last week off in order to retain the National Trophy. What a game to get back into the action with though, hosting a table topping Northumbria team on Sunday. With both teams on 3 losses, the Magic need to win their 3 games in hand to catch Northumbria and remove their cushion at the top. With Manchester facing a long trip down to Worthing on Saturday, how fresh will the current champions be for this encounter?
6 games stand between Northumbria and the end of the season. 5 of them are on the road and this game will be a solid indicator of their ability to stay the course and keep up their title challenge down the stretch. With Manchester and 3rd placed Reading still needing to play each other, a loss wouldn’t be terminal to Northumbria, but a win would continue the momentum they’ve built by winning their last 4 in a row.
Previous meeting – Team Northumbria 82 v 77 Manchester Magic
Stefan Gill has been a great addition to the roster for a successful Manchester Magic side - Mansoor Ahmed/AhmedPhotos
Loughborough’s 4 game winning streak has helped the Midlands side to establish themselves in the battle for 4th with Derby, but that form will be put to the test this weekend as they welcome leaders Team Northumbria to town on Saturday. Wins against Leicester, Lituanica, Lancashire and Worthing represent results against opponents generally struggling in the standings, but Northumbria are a big step up. Can the Riders rise to the occasion?
Northumbria need to make sure they keep their focus on this game as it would be easy to look past Loughborough with that game against Manchester on tap for Sunday. As we’ve seen across the NBL this season, it’s easy to drop the ball on Saturday when facing a big clash a day later. With players like Malcolm Smith, Siman Stewart and Jack Preston though, Coach Steutel has plenty of experience and quality to call upon to get this a W in this one.
Previous meeting – Team Northumbria 74 v 68 Loughborough Student Riders
In their quest for D1M survival, Worthing face a tall order to grab 2 points this weekend as Manchester head to the South coast. After dropping 4 games on the spin, including a crushing defeat to fellow strugglers Lancashire Spinners last Sunday, the Thunder might be able to sneak past Manchester if they try and keep too much in the tank for their game on Sunday, but that is a long shot. Worthing will also be sweating on the fitness of Brendan Okorokwo after he missed last weekend with an ankle injury but regardless of the roster available for the hosts, the Magic are a team that Coach Hildreth can’t help but admire, “Manchester are full of talent and experience and are extremely well coached,” said Thunder coach Hildreth. “The addition of BBL star Stephen Gill to this year’s team is one to watch, the little man consistently finds ways for his team to win.“
Much like Team Northumbria, Manchester can’t look past this fixture and divert their focus to Sunday’s match up too quickly. With Lyonell Gaines, the Thunder have a genuine match winner who can hurt the Magic given the chance. All of Manchester’s 3 losses this season have come on the road, that is something that the Champions need to keep in mind as they take the long trip down the country. If everything goes to script though, Manchester should have too much quality in this one.
Previous meeting – Manchester Magic 95 v 77 Worthing Thunder
At the start of the month, Leicester had a 4 game home stand in front of them and the opportunity to use that stretch to grab some points in their attempts to stay away from the relegation battle. Losses to Hemel, Northumbria and Derby have meant the Warriors are still empty handed for the month and a game against a confident Reading side is unlikely to be a turning point. March will be a huge month for this team and they’ll want to be done with February as soon as possible as it hasn’t been kind.
Reading are currently on a run of form that the side haven’t enjoyed since the 08/09 season, underlining just how impressive their current stretch of 14 wins has been. Despite already beating Leicester once this season and with momentum on their side, Rockets Head Coach Manuel Peña Garcés is refusing to take anything for granted “It is important we take one game at a time, prepare well for each opponent and be ready for the challenges they are likely to throw our way. It is about continuing to learn, build, and execute in this part of the season and not look further ahead than our next game and that is exactly what myself and my players will be doing.”
Previous meeting – Reading Rockets 93 v 73 Leicester Warriors
And with Reading lining up to face Lituanica on Sunday, each of the top 3 sides in the division face a double header weekend in what could be a pivotal weekend of action. In somewhat of a rare occurrence for this time of the year, these 2 sides are yet to meet in the league. The Rockets will no doubt be hoping their current form and the confidence within their squad will more than make up for a lack of familiarity with their opponents on Sunday.
London Lituanica look like a team in free fall at the moment. After a 5-1 run stretching back into December that included a win over Team Northumbria, Lituanica are now in freefall, dropping their last 3 games in D1M by scores of 45, 13 and 31. Throw in a loss to Manchester in the National Trophy Final last weekend and this is a team trending in the wrong direction at an important part of the season.
Previous meeting – 1st game this season
Mantas Guzys is carrying the load for a depleted Lituanica side at the moment - Mansoor Ahmed/AhmedPhotos
Derby start a double header of their own knowing that a title challenge is probably unattainable but 4th place is still a very much in their grasp. With a trip to Loughborough still on the cards before the end of the season, the Trailblazers have 4 winnable games before that point, starting with this game against Lituanica.
This Lituanica side hasn’t been good on its travels this season and a trip to Derby isn’t likely to be good for that form either. After the Trailblazers 98-61 demolition of Leicester last week, you have to wonder what the London side are likely to be in for this Saturday. They could once again surprise us all, but at the moment this side is trending in the wrong direction in the face of a difficult pair of fixtures.
Previous meeting – London Lituanica 86 v 78 Derby Trailblazers
With a 2nd home game in as many days, Derby will appreciate a lull in their schedule as they look to regroup and focus on finishing the regular season with as much momentum as possible. With Loughborough also in double header action, the Trailblazers know that a slip up this weekend would be costly. Like Saturday though, this is a winnable game for Coach Shaw’s side.
Last Sunday, the Spinners grabbed a valuable 2 points in their fight for survival as they knocked off fellow strugglers Worthing. This week provides a difficult test as Lancashire head to Derby, but if 2 points prove elusive it isn’t the end of the road for this side. With fixtures against Westminster, Essex and Leicester still to go before the end of the year, a win here would be a bonus but isn’t a necessity.
Previous meeting – Lancashire Spinners 59 v 82 Derby Trailblazers
This game however, the Spinners will be best served putting all their effort into in the hope of grabbing a win. 2 point winners when the sides met in Hemel, Lancashire will be hoping they can use that game as a spring board to another victory. Mark Rangeley had 24 points that day, look for more of the same on Saturday from the 26-year-old.
A small 3 game winning streak for the Storm behind the return of Nik Rhodes and the introduction of Khapri Alston has meant that Hemel have climbed up the table and currently sit in 8th. The significance of that isn’t lost on Hemel Head Coach Dave Allin as his team strives to stay in the playoff picture, “We’re now in a play-off spot and our focus is to hold on to it, however, we have a lot of tough games to get through starting with a long trip to Lancashire. I expect a really difficult test; having beaten us by 2 in the reverse fixture I’m sure Spinners will target this as a game in which they can pick up points to move them up the table. But, our team is very different now and playing much better. It should be a good contest".
Previous meeting – Hemel Storm 88 v 90 Lancashire Spinners
Khapri Alston has been a key piece for an improving Hemel Storm team - Linda Titmuss
Yet another side on double header duty, Loughborough will be hoping that playing both their games at home this weekend is enough to keep them energised and firing on all cylinders. They’ll need it as well with Bradford coming to town. The Dragons topped the Riders by nearly 20 when the sides last met, so there’s a lot to play for between teams that may need the head to head once all is said and done.
Bradford have the luxury of being one of the few teams playing just 1 game this weekend and can focus entirely on how to stop a Riders team in a solid vein of form. After 3 straight losses to tough opponents in Northumbria, Reading and Solent, the Dragons need to find a way to get back on track if they’re going to improve on their 7th place in the table.
Previous meeting – Bradford Dragons 95 v 76 Loughborough Student Riders
It’s been 6 games without a win for Essex as they’ve slid back down the table and into a 3-way tie for the final potential relegation spot in 13th. The Leopards will be hoping to cash in on a home tie with the winless Warriors as they desperately need 2 points to come their way. With games against Leicester, Lancashire and Worthing still to go, the Leopards’ D1M future is still firmly in their own hands though.
Credit to Westminster for fighting all the way to the end. Last week they hosted a strong Solent team and led for large portions of the game before getting pipped at the last to lose by 3. They surely represent a banana skin for any opponent they still have to play, particularly if they are playing on their own court. They still get to host Leicester, Lancashire and Worthing before the end of the season. One of those games could easily get Westminster into the W column.
Previous meeting – Westminster Warriors 57 v 90 Essex Leopards
The Warriors might be best served taking it easy Saturday and focusing on Sunday’s home tie with Leicester as an opportunity to grab their 1st win. With Leicester facing a difficult game against Reading of their own first up on the weekend, their losing streak could reach 6 by the time these sides meet. Could a Westminster side with nothing to lose grab an upset against a team low on confidence and struggling for wins?
Leicester need to be professional and stick to the basketball that has allowed them to notch 6 wins so far this season. Leaning on Rodney Sanders will be a good tactic, the American led the scoring for Leicester when these 2 sides met back in November. The Midlands side jumped out to a fast start that day and they’d love to do the same this weekend to settle any potential nerves as quickly as possible.
Previous meeting – Leicester Warriors 85 v 60 Westminster Warriors
The highest placed team in the league to only have 1 game this weekend, it’s possible that the Kestrels will lose some ground on 4th and 5th place for the time being. Still, at 4-1 over their last 5, Solent are in a good place right now to keep their form going and really make a push up the standings with 7 games to go. They’re not going to be a welcome opponent for any team down the stretch.
The need for Essex to beat Westminster on Saturday is exaggerated further by their tough trip South to play Solent on Sunday. Few teams have gone to St Mary’s this season and found success and as a team with just 1 game on the weekend, the Kestrels will be rested and ready to go. The Leopards did beat their opponents when the 2 sides met back in November, with veteran Mike Martin rolling back the years for a 34-point outing. With Alex Scotland-Williamson out for the season, the pressure will be on Martin to carry the load this time to.