A CASE can be made for all eight teams in the Men’s SBL Finals that they are capable of winning the 2017 championship setting the stage for a fascinating next five weeks starting with the quarter-final Game 1 contests this Saturday night.
All four Game 1 quarter-final games take place on Saturday night with three of the four higher ranked teams getting to host the opening contest.
The only one to buck the system is the Stirling Senators hosting the Geraldton Buccaneers so that Games 2 and 3, if required, next weekend can both be at Active West Stadium.
The other three matches see the Willetton Tigers host the Perry Lakes Hawks, the Joondalup City Wolves play the Cockburn Cougars and the Perth Redbacks take on the South West Slammers.
The Buccaneers will be the only higher-ranked team having to play on the road in Game 1 of the quarter finals on Saturday night as they take on the Senators at Warwick Stadium.
Stirling ended the season in sixth position with a 15-11 record while Geraldton ended up third at 19-7.
The Senators’ playoff spot was in jeopardy only a matter of weeks ago but they responded well winning seven of their last nine games. The two losses in that stretch were competitive efforts against Willetton and Geraldton.
The Buccs might not be in great winning form entering the playoffs winning just two of their last seven matches. But the losses on the road in that time to the Tigers, Redbacks and Wolves could have gone either way.
It’s going to be an intriguing series and which teams’ stars step up the most will likely win.
Stirling has Cody Ellis, Rhys Vague, Corban Wroe, Ash Litterick and Drew Naymick who can all have a big impact while Geraldton has imports Mo Barrow and Dwayne Benjamin, guards Jackson Hussey and Matt Hancock, and veterans Aaron Ralph and Mat Wundenberg.
It’s then a grand final rematch from last year when the Wolves take on the Cougars with Game 1 on Saturday night at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
The two teams were the standouts all season long in 2017 and it seemed a natural it would culminate in the grand final where the Cougars managed to win.
While it is the same two teams again, both have made plenty of changes 12 months later with the Wolves biggest difference being swapping import big Kevin Davis for Ryan Wright.
But the Cougars have a new coach in Adam Nener and Marcus Goode, Najee Lane, Sheldon McIntyre and Julian Pesava making way for Jalen Billups, Lochlan Cummings and Seva Chan.
Ben Ironmonger and Gavin Field are two important players for their respective teams who also missed last year’s grand final through injury.
The Wolves finished the 2017 regular season in second position with a 20-6 record while the Cougars ended up seventh at 15-11.
They met twice along the way with the Wolves opening the season with a three-point home win and then winning by seven later in the year at Wally Hagan Stadium.
Wolfpack coach Ben Ettridge won’t be buying into the rivalry with the Cougars, but is fully aware of the challenge they pose.
“The change in the finals format now gives us a massive advantage with the first game at home and we’ll be hoping to get another big playoff crowd here to take care of business this Saturday night,” Ettridge said.
“You never underestimate a team with Gavin Field in it and they are a club that likes adversity. Adam Nener has done a great job as a first-year coach, Billups is a handful and Lochlan Cummings has been doing some unbelievable things. They’ve got all the pieces and it will take our best 40 minutes to get it done against them.
“What I tell the guys is that every game is important but each game has different meaning and right now we have to defend home court, and then go down and get one there. When you start playing into rivalries, match ups and all that you lose focus on what the grand scheme is and these guys understand that.
“We’ll be going out to try and beat Cockburn, no matter what happened last year. We’ll be trying to stop Gav and Billups and Lochlan Cummings, and making sure Steve Van Lit doesn’t get open looks, then that’s what we do.”
Willetton has been a powerful force all season long in the Men’s SBL to earn the minor premiership but the Tigers have an interesting challenge ahead in the form of Perry Lakes in the quarter finals starting with Game 1 at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
The Tigers finished on top with a 20-6 record and with Ray Turner, Jay Bowie, Nic Cody, Damien Scott and Kyle Armour they have a tremendous starting five with good contributors Andrew Black, Lachie Evans, Michael Collins, Hayden Noordhoek, Dan Casey and Mitch Clarke.
But the Hawks aren’t the usual No. 8 seed. They are coached by Matt Parsons who led the Cougars to last year’s championship and have a team consisting of Matthew Adekponya, Ben Purser, Brian Carlwell, Rob Waters, Ryan Smith, Ryan O’Sullivan and Rob Cassir.
That’s a more than capable group so the stage is set for a tremendous quarter-final battle.
Tigers coach Stephen Black isn’t too concerned about home court advantage or not considering how well his team has done on the road in 2017, but he’s looking forward to setting the tone of the series on Saturday night at Willetton.
“It’s good to be starting at home but it really didn’t bother me either way how it went. This last game to Lakeside was only our second loss on the road and we haven’t lost away to any of the teams in the playoffs so we’ve had a reasonable away record anyway and not as good at home in comparison,” Black said.
“But I think it’s more about that confidence that we can control our own destiny and those opportunities are there for us because we’ve legitimately earned them.
“I think that while any of the bottom top four teams could knock off the teams in the top four, I think by now we should have a good understanding of what we do well as a club. Knowing that will be good enough is where that confidence will come from.”
The most fascinating and exciting of all the quarter-final series could very well be between the Redbacks and Slammers with Game 1 taking place Saturday night at Belmont Oasis.
Both teams are star-studded, experienced and clearly in championship mode. It wouldn’t surprise for the winner of this series to end up going all the way, but with the way the system is one of them will also be a first round loser.
The Redbacks ended up in fourth place with a 16-10 record and with a team including Shawn Redhage, Lee Roberts, Michael Vigor, Joel Wagner, Ben Smith and Marshall Nelson, clearly they have the talent to go all the way.
But so do the Slammers with Tre Nichols, Brian Voelkel, Clive Weeden, Michael Lay, Teny Puot, and with Chris Douglas and Travis Durnin back from injury as well.
The two teams playing exciting basketball. They have amassed squads ready and able to win in 2017, and it’s going to be a series you don’t want to miss.
Slammers coach Charles Nix is hoping that the strengths of his team as they play an up-tempo and exciting game can hold them in good stead now at the business end.
“I think by this time of the year every team understands what their strengths are and one of ours is that we can play at a high pace and that we can be effective at that pace,” Nix said.
“We understand our strengths but I’m certain the other teams know that too so they’ll be looking to make adjustments to take that away from us. But we are hard to contain when out and running so we have to do everything we can to put ourselves in that position.”
WEEK 1 MEN’S QUARTER FINALS SBL FIXTURES
Joondalup City Wolves v Cockburn Cougars – Joondalup Basketball Stadium 7pm
Willetton Tigers v Perry Lakes Hawks – Willetton Basketball Stadium 7pm
Perth Redbacks v South West Slammers – Belmont Oasis 7pm
Stirling Senators v Geraldton Buccaneers – Warwick Stadium 8pm
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia