- National Teams
Check out our preview of the quarter-finals of the Division 1 playoffs as all four games take place this weekend.
Essex Leopards (1) v Bradford Dragons (8)
Last season’s losing semi-finalists at the Final Four meet in the quarter-finals as the league champions, Essex, host Bradford, who won three of their last four to make the top eight. The Leopards edged a close game, beating the Dragons 63-61 at home in November, before claiming a more convincing 75-63 victory on the road at the beginning of last month.
American guard JP Davis has been a key figure for the Dragons, along with Latvian Rihard Sulcs and Spanish centre Miguel Lorenzo Leis. As for the Leopards, David Ajumobi has been an important presence at both ends of the floor, while young Brit Will Ashby has also impressed.
“We’re not done yet,” said Leopards Head Coach, Robert Youngblood. “There’s three more games and we need to win them all so we can walk out with the play-off trophy. I’m not saying that the first two trophies aren’t important, but the last two are the ones that people remember.”
Dragons’ Head Coach, Chris Mellor, said, “It’s been a tough year for the club, both on and off the court and, as we started 2015, relegation seemed more of a possibility than reaching the playoffs. However, the players stuck together, turned things around and we managed to put in some good performances when it mattered, which allowed us to sneak into eighth place.
“Sunday is a game that everyone is really looking forward to. Obviously, it’s not going to be easy, trying to beat the champions on their own floor, but it’s an unexpected bonus game for us and we go there with no pressure on us.”
Tip- Sunday 12th April, 4pm
Derby Trailblazers (2) v Worthing Thunder (7)
So far this season, the away team has come out on top in all three meetings between the two clubs. In the league, Thunder claimed a 95-93 win on the road in January, before losing their penultimate game of the season, 108-99.
Milton Chavis has been a consistently dominant scorer all season, while Hank Rivers has been a walking double-double and the seventh seeds are confident of pulling off an upset.
“I’m excited for the game tomorrow,” said Chavis. “The season has had its up and downs due to injuries for our team but I feel that we can make a lot of noise in the playoffs. We have been focused this week in practice to correct past mistakes and we’re ready to try and go get a win”
Thunder Head Coach Daniel Hildreth added (via the Worthing Herald): “As we have been saying for months now, league positions would be decided on the last weekend of the season due to the unpredictable manner of the league.
“For us to finish seventh could have meant we played any one of five teams. I think that the best two games of our season have been against Derby. I feel we are very evenly matched and both games have been played at an extremely high level, fast-paced and exciting throughout.
“We feel we are a top four team in this league and there is only one way to show it. I know one thing is for sure, we will do everything possible to make that happen.”
As for Derby, they will be confident of their own talent that extends to their bench with sixth man Raheem May-Thompson stepping up from the bench on numerous occasions. The likes of Chris Shalvoy, Alex Dorr and Dan Watts have also played key roles in helping the Trailblazers achieve a second place finish. And assistant coach Steve Baxter realises there are no second chances when it comes to the playoffs.
“If you don’t win, it’s season over,” he put simply. “Like every other team who have reached this stage of the season, we feel that if we play to the best of our ability, we have a real chance of being successful.
“The competition is a bit of a lottery this year, as there are no teams who are head and shoulders above any another. The parity in the league is quite remarkable this season and every team will rightly feel they can do well.
“Worthing will undoubtedly provide a difficult opponent,” he added. “We’ve beaten them on their own court twice but lost narrowly at home to them prior to that. Like ourselves they are a team who like to play at a fast pace. We are the two leading scoring teams in the league so the potential is there for a really exciting, high octane, game of basketball.”
Tip – Saturday 11th April, 7:15pm
Manchester Magic (3) v Team Northumbria (6)
Manchester are the form side heading into the playoffs having won their last eleven league games to record an impressive third place finish. Ellis Cooper has shone throughout the campaign, earning two Finals MVP awards as Magic lifted the Cup and Trophy titles, while he also recorded a rare triple-double.
“We have had a really good home record since just before Christmas,” Magic Head Coach Paul Middleton told Manchester Evening News.
“We need it to make the top four. But by the same token I think we would have won the league if we’d played like that from the start of the season. I’m really pleased with the second half of the season but there is a bit of a sense of what could have been.”
Standing in their way are Team Northumbria, who were the last remaining challengers for the title before losing their final four games in a tight schedule. The majority of the team have already earned silverware this season after helping their University side claim their first ever BUCS Championship.
And Head Coach, Marc Steutel, is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Manchester again having lost 82-62 on the final day of the regular season last Sunday.
“After having to go through a ridiculous schedule which saw us playing seven games in 15 days, we are looking forward to playing Manchester in the playoffs,” said Northumbria’s Head Coach Marc Steutel. “They are the in form team in the league and I know everybody outside of our group will have the game down as a Manchester win.
“Ellis Cooper is a great talent and one of the players of the year in my opinion. We have to try and work together to limit his impact on the game.
“Playing in front of their crowd, people may say that would add some pressure, but we are looking forward to the occasion and will be as focussed as we can be. Like all season long, we believe in the strength of our group and have enjoyed going through our regular preparation for the game.
“I have been fortunate to work with such a positive and hardworking team this season and we certainly want to give a good account of ourselves in the game. I love our group and hope we are able to play our brand of basketball to give us a chance to be successful. It should also be a great advert for Division 1 basketball that we are looking forward too.”
Tip- Saturday 11th April, 6:30pm
Kent Crusaders (4) v Reading Rockets (5)
Having re-branded from Medway Park Crusaders in the summer, Kent have gone on to make the post-season for the first time since their eighth place finish in the 2011-12 season. Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces’ Rockets side have been plagued with injuries this season and have split their four meetings with the Crusaders.
“This has been a very interesting season for us and many other teams and a very competitive division to be in,” he said. “The top six had to wait right until the very end of the season to find out their positioning and I think these play-off games are going to be fascinating because anyone can beat anyone on any given day.
“But what is important for us is easy; we must focus on ourselves, work really hard in practices and in preparation, and ultimately put ourselves in a place where we are confident but most importantly ready to take on the challenge ahead. I really believe in my players and my staff and this is the week we will be giving our all to try and reach the final four.”
“There is no doubt that Kent will be ready for us too, they have done exceptionally well this season with the young group they have and are a really well coached group. The coaching staff have done a great job getting the best out of the talent they have and being very tactical in doing so and we therefore know it’s going to be a great game and something really good to be a part of. For now though, we prepare, we believe, and we go into Saturday ready to compete and play the Rockets way for a chance to get to the semi-finals.”
Rockets have made the Final Fours for the past two seasons, but may have to do so without American guard Alex Zurn, who is an injury doubt having rolled his ankle prior to making his return from a long-standing injury in the final regular season game. Captain Danny Carter, in particular, has stepped up in recent weeks, but acknowledges his side face a tough task of advancing.
“It’s going to be an extremely difficult game,” Carter said. “Kent play with a lot of energy and intensity. We have had a good week of preparation and will be up for the challenge.
“The season series across all competitions is 2-2, so we know it will be another tight contest. I’m looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to go to our third Final Fours in a row.”
Crusaders Head Coach, Lloyd Gardner is also expecting a tough encounter, but has faith in his side, having just completed his first full season at the helm. American recruit Tola Akomolafe made an instant impact upon his late arrival, while a number of the club’s young Brits including Josh Steel have played their part in helping their side to a top-four finish.
“Reading are a quality team, they have a deep roster and are extremely well coached,” said Gardner. “This will be a difficult game for us but I have confidence in my team, we have prepared well this week and we are looking forward to the game and a chance at reaching the Final Fours.”
Tip- Saturday 11th April, 4:15pm
Image Credit: Paul Phillips