8 games stretch across the weekend in D1M and with 3 teams poised for double header action, the standings could be set for real change come Monday morning. One team already making changes are Worthing, who announced Friday afternoon that they will be replacing Head Coach Daniel Hildreth at the end of the season. We’ll take a look at that one as well as the rest of the games from across D1M. As usual, we’ll also 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.
Reading’s 11 game winning streak faces arguably its toughest test in some time this weekend as the Rockets head South to take on an in from Solent Kestrels team that have won their last 4 games in the league. After a solid win over Derby last Saturday, the Kestrels will fancy their chances of gaining some revenge over a Reading side that defeated them just before the Christmas break.
Rockets Head Coach Manuel Peña Garcés knows his team must perform if their streak is going to continue, “Team Solent are on a good run at the moment and have brought in a new American player since our last meeting and having been in the National Cup final as well as winning the last four games, they will fancy their chances against us being at home too. Coach Matt (Guymon, Team Solent Kestrels Head Coach) has assembled a good unit now and has got them playing some good basketball so I expect this to be a different kind of challenge and one that requires excellent preparation and application during the game.”
For Solent, being the team to end Reading’s streak would be another feather in the cap during a season that has gone from strength to strength. Impressive league form and a National Cup Final place have been fitting rewards for great work by Coach Guymon and his staff. The Kestrels have compiled a roster that will be a force for any team in D1M right now, and they’re a side most will want to avoid come the post season.
Previous meeting – Reading Rockets 101 v 79 Team Solent Kestrels
Should the Rockets survive the challenge from Solent on Saturday, Sunday sees another tough encounter for Berkshire side as they head home to face the ever dangerous Bradford Dragons. Whilst the youth movement in Reading is in full effect, a tough double header weekend could represent a step too far for a number of young players currently exceeding expectations. Still, they say the strongest swords are forged in the hottest of fires, so perhaps this is exactly the type of weekend Coach Peña Garcés needs to get a real look at his roster.
“We return to Reading on Sunday to take on a well-coached Bradford Dragons.” Coach Peña Garcés said. “Coach Chris (Mellor, Bradford Dragons Head Coach) has done a great job with his team and really uses the personnel he has to the maximum and having beat us in Bradford last time we played, I’m sure he and his team will believe they can do the same this time around.”
One interesting point of note, this fixture will take place Bohunt School, rather than Reading’s traditional home at Rivermead. With the side not having played in that venue since mid-November, will a change of scenery upset the rhythm of this young side?
Previous meeting – Bradford Dragons 102 v 96 Reading Rockets
Rihards Sulcs (black kit) battles with Reading's Craig Ponder (red kit, right side) and Joel Keeble when the 2 sides last met in November - Alex Daniel Photography
A tough match up for the Spinners won’t be made easier by current form that has seen the Lancashire side drop their last 5 games. Still, those 5 losses contain defeats by 1 point away to Essex, 4 points away at Lituanica and 3 points at home to Bradford. This is clearly a Spinners side that can be competitive at this level if they can get some breaks to go their way.
The Riders are trending in the opposite direction. A modest 3 game win streak could grow over the next few weeks with this game against the Spinners followed by a home tilt against strugglers Worthing the weekend after. Levi Noel appears to have found some form to match his team’s current upturn, the 25-year-old averages 17PPG over the last couple of matches and will look to keep that going on Saturday.
Previous meeting – Loughborough Student Riders 89 v 67 Lancashire Spinners
Another team struggling near the bottom, Worthing will want to make sure they match any kind of positive result that the Spinners could achieve this weekend. That task will be very difficult though with league leaders Team Northumbria making the long journey to the South Coast. There have been signs of life for the Thunder in recent weeks, picking up a pair of wins in their last 5 games, but that form needs to continue if they are to find a way out of the mix at the bottom. Whilst Lyonell Gaines is still averaging 25.5PPG over his last 4 matches, that is a decrease on his torrid pace from earlier in the year.
It remains to be seen if the Thunder will be distracted by the off court news that Coach Hildreth will not be retained for next season, and if the decision will have a galvanising or divisive effect on the Worthing roster. Thunder Chairman Frank Gainsbury said, “We are enormously grateful for the time and effort Daniel has devoted to the Club over the past few seasons and Daniel has agreed to continue until the end of the season devoting as much work as is needed to ensure that Thunder seek to retain our top-flight status.” Whilst the timing of the announcement is up for debate, it remains to be seen what effect it will have going forward.
The additional drama won’t bother Northumbria, but long distance travel is something that the North East team are going to need to get used to before the end of the season. 12 of their last 14 games are on the road, and with 4 of them already in the books, it’ll still be 8 games before Northumbria get to play on their own floor again. If the team can survive that stretch without a hiccup, including trips to Manchester and Reading, they would be worthy champions.
Previous meeting – Team Northumbria 98 v 67 Worthing Thunder
With the news this week that centre Alex Scotland-Williamson is likely to be a long term absentee after a serious leg injury, Essex will need to regroup and look for ways to move forward as they try to climb away from the D1M trapdoor. As a team that is just 2 points above 13th place and the final potential relegation position, wins need to come along asap. That said, after an OT loss to Hemel on Saturday plus a 1-point defeat to current champions Manchester on Sunday, the Leopards are clearly close to turning a corner.
This trip to Essex comes at an intriguing time for Derby as the two long standing rivals are currently fighting very similar battles. With both teams struggling for form and trying to overcome the loss of key players, the Trailblazers could use 2 points to keep themselves in the title hunt just as badly as the Leopards need them to counter their relegation struggles. “Like Essex, we have been struggling to win games and I’m sure that just like us, Leopards will see this as a big opportunity because they’re playing a team with similar problems,” said Assistant Coach and Performance Analyst Michael Hanson-Morris. “Last weekend they came very close to winning both of their games including their one away to high-flying Manchester. You can argue they were very unlucky to lose and despite missing multiple players, they have shown they can still be a very good side on their day.”
Previous meeting – Derby Trailblazers 83 v 70 Essex Leopards
With the battle for the final playoff spot in 8th heating up, this matchup between 10th placed Hemel and 9th placed Leicester could be huge come the end of the season. With both teams currently sat on 12 points and just a single win behind 8th placed Lituanica, Hemel also currently possess the head-to-head between these 2 owing to a 3-point win back in November. With Leicester facing Team Northumbria, Derby and Reading in their next 3 games, a positive result here would be massive.
3-2 over their last 5, Hemel have some form on their side as they arrive at a section of their fixture list that could see them make some real moves in the coming weeks. This weekend’s game with Leicester is huge, but equally important is next weekend’s match up with 8th placed Lituanica. Throw in a game against Lancashire the weekend after and the Storm could be the side sat in that 8th and final playoff spot as we move into March.
Previous meeting – Hemel Storm 69 v 66 Leicester Warriors
At this stage, making any kind of prediction regarding London Lituanica is largely impossible. Their up and down form reached another level last weekend as they crashed to a 102-57 defeat at home to Loughborough, halting a recent run of good form that had seem the side pushing up the table. That said, there is still every chance Lituanica more than match the champions this weekend, if things go their way.
For Manchester, preparing for this fixture must be a nightmare. With some game film displaying a team prone to 40+ point blowouts, and some showing a side that can beat the league leaders, how do you game plan for that? Well, that’s the task for Coach Middleton this weekend. Being able to call on the services of experienced players like Stefan Gill and Lee Goldsborough will surely help, they’ve been around long enough to deal with a variety of circumstances.
Previous meeting – Manchester Magic 20 v 0 London Lituanica
Stefan Gill is an experienced player for Coach Middleton's Manchester Magic as they head to London this weekend - Alex Daniel Photography
As 2 sides doubling up this weekend, both Leicester and Team Northumbria have the opportunity to put pressure on the teams around them if they can pick up 4 points. With these sides last meeting all the way back in mid-October, it is hard to say if that game will be of much help when predicting this weekend’s match up. Darrell Bethune top scored for the Warriors that day, and he’s now with the Essex Leopards. Leicester have done well to adjust to life without him though and will be a tough side to overcome on their own court. They’re 5-2 at home this season, but a game with Team Northumbria is a serious test for any side.
Previous meeting – Team Northumbria 82 v 71 Leicester Warriors