The stage is set for the Senior NBL Playoff Finals this weekend as 12 teams face off in 6 games over 2 days to crown champions from across the league. With the National Basketball Performance Centre in Belle Vue set to once again act as a fitting backdrop to the excitement and tension that is sure to ensue, let’s take a look at the 6 match ups and what to expect from the weekend.
Sunday 23rd April – 3:30pm
Loughborough Student Riders v Manchester Magic
Manchester will be going all out to secure a 2nd straight D1M Playoff title when they hit the court in front of what is sure to be a partisan crowd on Sunday afternoon. After already dispatching Bradford and Team Solent during their post season run, only Loughborough stand in their way of ultimate success. Having already beaten the Riders by 19 at the Amaechi in November and by 21 in Loughborough to begin March, the Magic will have plenty of confidence that they can make it 3 out of 3 on the season and come away with more silverware to add to the National Trophy they won in February.
Loughborough are a changed team though and will feel their recent upturn in form is enough to see them past the Magic. The Riders have won their last 5 including victories over a strong Rockets team in Reading and Derby twice. Still, no victory was more impressive than the one over league winners Team Northumbria last time out, on their own court no less, to book a place in the Playoff Final. With an excellent blend of youth and quality from players like Alex Roberts, Josh Ward-Hibbert, Levi Noel and Henri Langton, Coach Jarram’s team will be full of confidence after their recent exploits. They’re also no strangers to the big occasion, competing on multiple fronts across a variety of competitions, finding success in most of them. Can that transfer to Sunday’s final?
Loughborough Head Coach Mark Jarram, “It is never easy to make a final and we are all excited to be here, especially in our first outing in Division 1. However, all season we have strived to be playing our best basketball at the end and that is what we have achieved. We have had an excellent run to get here and it has all been about defence. Hopefully we can continue to do that one more time against a very talented and difficult to guard Manchester team!”
Manchester Coach Paul Middleton, “We are delighted to reach the Play-Off final for the 3rd straight year and look forward to what promises to be a fantastic game against a very talented Loughborough side that have put together some quality performances in recent weeks. Our players and coaching staff know all too well that these guys are a talented group and extremely well-coached by Mark Jarram. They have so many offensive threats and are well-organised defensively so we will have to be at our very best if we are to have any chance of retaining the trophy.”
Manchester's Duane Morgan was the MVP when his side lifted the National Trophy earlier this season. Will he manage another big game this weekend? - Mansoor Ahmed
Sunday 23rd April – 1:15pm
Team Solent Kestrels v Southwark Pride
As two teams that have been inseparable throughout the season, this could be one of most hotly anticipated games this weekend. Splitting their regular season games with each side winning on their own court, Solent did enough to secure the head to head over the Pride that ultimately brought them the D1W title. Southwark did exact some revenge in late January with a humbling 57-22 win that brought the National Cup to London rather than the South Coast, but the 4th instalment of this thrilling rivalry could top them all.
With the stakes unable to get any higher, Playoff Finals success is the pinnacle for both of these sides this season. Still, only one team can take that honour and somebody will be left with the disappointment of coming so close before falling away. Will it be Jodi Jerram and D1W MVP Ekemini Essien that will add playoff success to a league title? Or will Southwark get the last laugh behind Ire Ozzy-Momodu and Emerald Ekpiteta? Both teams finished the season 19-1, what will it take to separate them?
Solent Head Coach CJ Lee, “After winning the league and getting to the National Cup Finals, anything less than a Championship Final appearance would have been disappointing for us. However, the reality is that making it to Elite Eights and Final Fours was a massive challenge. This year there have been half a dozen teams or so that could beat any other on their day. Many games have been won or lost by 5-points of less. I'm so pleased that my team has demonstrated the character and fortitude to be one of the last two standing, but we need to go one better for our season to be complete. We have the utmost respect for Southwark, and with the record between the teams being 2-1 in Southwark's favour, you could see we literally have a score to settle.”
Sunday 23rd April – 11:00am
Kent Crusaders v Thames Valley Cavaliers
In what is sure to be an intense battle between 2 well matched opponents, if this Final is the equal of the games these sides played in D2M this season it will make for excellent viewing. Kent have taken on all comers this year after being relegated from D1M 12 months ago. Retooled and refocused, Head Coach Lloyd Gardner deserves a lot of credit for developing talented youngsters Amin Adamu, RJ Eytle-Rock and Dan Akin. With all 3 players looking to have bright futures, John Shodipo’s role shouldn’t be understated as the 28-year-old voice of experience within this team. Overocoming a tough Ipswich side in the last round was a test for this Crusaders team but Thames Valley will be another step up on Sunday.
One reason for that step up is Martelle McLemore. The standout for the Cavs, the 28-year-old has BBL experience on his CV after time spent with Guildford. On his day, he’s as good a player as there is in the league and it will be up to Kent to find a way to stop him. Team Newcastle couldn’t in the last round and McLemore’s 27 points helped his side triumph in the North East and book a place in Sunday’s Final. Don’t sleep on the rest of this Thames Valley roster though. The athleticism of Philip Perre is always on display, Robert Banks Jr. is a talented youngster with National Team potential and Luke Sanders is a valuable guard at both ends of the court. 2 divisions separated these sides a year ago, now they compete as equals. Which team will come out on top?
Kent Head Coach Lloyd Gardner, “We are delighted to have made the playoff finals. It is a fantastic culmination to what has been a successful season for us. We know what a threat Thames Valley will be in this game as we have already faced them three times and every time has been a close encounter. However, we are motivated to finish our season on a high and hopefully we will be ready for the challenge that they will bring.”
Saturday 22nd April - 2:15pm
University of Nottingham v Team Birmingham Elite
Fending off the best that the South division has to offer, the #1 and #2 teams in the North division have both booked a place in Saturday’s final. That means there will be an air of familiarity on display as these sides have already faced off twice this season. With Team Birmingham taking a low scoring affair on the 1st weekend of the season back in October, University of Nottingham grabbed some revenge in January after a high scoring 82-77 win. With Team Birmingham topping 70 points in each of their last 4 games, the Elite have the players to get the scoreboard moving if required.
University of Nottingham are an offence first team as well though, leading the North division with an impressive 77.3PPG this season. Also reaching the 70-point mark in their 2 playoff games to date, there has been no drop off from this team either now the post season is underway. With recently crowned divisional MVP Gabriela Bronson in their ranks and Coach of the Year Andrea Congreaves on the bench, will that give Nottingham the edge in this one? Or will Team Birmingham’s hot form be too much to handle?
Nottingham Head Coach Andrea Congreaves, “I am extremely proud of the team and their achievements this season. Reaching the Playoff Finals is a testament to the hard work, dedication and commitment these young ladies have shown all season long.”
Birmingham Head Coach Robin Hall, “We are delighted to be here today as this is the pinnacle of a successful season for the club. Being here today is a reward for the hard work, dedication and great attitude this team has sustained throughout the season. It has been a pleasure the coach at a fantastic club, working with the players and the coaching staff. We look forward to the Playoff Final against Nottingham as we’ve both beaten each other this season.”
Saturday 22nd April – 4:30pm
Team Birmingham Elite v Middlesex LTBC
As the closing game on Saturday, Team Birmingham will be hoping to make it 2 wins on the day with their D2W side playing during the afternoon. Standing in their way will be a resolute Middlesex LTBC side that wants to add playoff success to a D3M North league title. Coming from different divisions, these sides are yet to meet this season so both clubs will be somewhat of an unknown quantity come the Final.
Team Birmingham certainly have a lot to shout about regarding their season. A 17-3 record ensured the side walked away with the North division crown and at 82PPG on offence, Birmingham only have Middlesex as an equal for production in D3 this season. LTBC also average 82PPG, but the main difference between these sides could be on the defensive end. The South champs allow a reasonable 72PPG, but Team Birmingham have been outright mean on D this season, allowing a stingy 56PPG. Will Middlesex be able to find a way to put points on the board? Or will Birmingham defence go missing when they need it most? The Elite have conceded 67 and 71 in their post season games so far.
Birmingham Head Coach Steve Hansell, “We are delighted to be here today as this is the pinnacle of a successful season for the club. Being here today is a reward for the hard work, dedication and great attitude this team has sustained throughout the season. Today you can expect the same desire from this group, we hope we can go one step further than our disappointment in the National Shield Final. We’ll give it our best shot as we have done all season.”
Middlesex Head Coach Aurimas Kolesnikovas, “We are really delighted to make it to the finals. The club is celebrating its 10th year and we have had a really good season so far and winning the playoff final would be a cherry on the cake for us. We know it’s going to be tough but we have to go and give our best to make this season from good to great.”
Meris Mazalovic lays one in for Team Birmingham Elite - Team Birmingham Elite
Saturday 22nd April – 12:00pm
Swindon Shock v Northants Tauras
A pair of divisional winners will contest our curtain raiser on Saturday as South West champs Swindon Shock take on Midlands rivals Northants Tauras. Few teams have been able to slow Tauras down this season as they have averaged a shade under 90PPG behind the offensive exploits of divisional MVP Arnas Maziliauskas. The 25-year-old Lithuanian has been a consistent force for his team and it remains to be seen how the Shock will deal with him.
Still, Swindon have plenty of quality of their own. American Antonio Wilburn has enjoyed a strong season and is getting hot at just the right time. Scoring 17 points in the team’s narrow win over Team Wolverhampton, he then dropped 35 in Manchester a week later as the Shock beat the Giants II to seal a place in the Final. Former Solent Kestrel and Bristol Academy Flyer Spencer Wells completes a dynamic duo. Can they fire Swindon to victory or will Maziliauskas have another trophy to add to his collection?
Swindon Assistant Coach David Colclough, “Our guys have been talking about this moment for about 4 years and it’s good to see that we are ready and focused. We have a club and town we’re playing for and we get to play the season out until the last game.”
Northants Head Coach Darius Maldutis, “Team goals this season have already been achieved. But this team deserves not only to play in the finals. This team deserved to win the Final!”