THE Geraldton Buccaneers, Joondalup Wolves, Perth Redbacks and Perry Lakes Hawks all earned top four places in the Men’s SBL heading into their quarter-final Game 1 matches this weekend against the Rockingham Flames, Willetton Tigers, Stirling Senators and Lakeside Lightning.
The four quarter-final series’ in the Men’s SBL for 2018 all have plenty of intrigue and that will see the higher ranked teams Joondalup, Perth and Perry Lakes host their respective Game 1’s this weekend but Rockingham has the chance to start strongly as the No. 8 seeds at home to Geraldton.
There is just the one game on Friday night to open the 2018 playoffs with the defending champion Perth Redbacks hosting the Stirling Senators at Belmont Oasis.
There are then three Game 1 matches taking place on Saturday night with the Perry Lakes Hawks playing the Lakeside Lightning at Bendat Basketball Centre, the Joondalup Wolves facing the Willetton Tigers at HBF Arena and the Rockingham Flames taking on the Geraldton Buccaneers at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
The teams who would participate in the Men’s SBL playoffs for 2018 were locked away a couple of weeks ago with the Cockburn Cougars (11-15), Kalamunda Eastern Suns (10-16), East Perth Eagles (9-17), South West Slammers (7-19), Mandurah Magic (5-21) and Goldfields Giants (5-21) slipping out of contention.
There is just the one Game 1 of the quarter finals taking place on Friday night with the Redbacks hosting the Senators at Belmont Oasis.
Just the sheer talent across both teams make it a contest well worth checking out and it’s certainly not going to be easy for the defending champion Redbacks to advance to the second round at the expense of the Senators.
Stirling has had good teams the past two years but come up short in the quarter finals against Willetton in 2016 and Geraldton in 2017, but the Senators will be determined to go further in 2018.
The Redbacks have backed up their 2017 championship by finishing 2018 in third position with a 19-7 and entering the playoffs with a six-game winning run.
Coming off the championship, the Redbacks have retained the likes of Shawn Redhage, Joel Wagner, Lee Roberts, Michael Vigor, Ben Smith and Zac Gattorna but have also added star pairing Mo Barrow and Jackson Hussey.
That means there are great expectations on the Redbacks coming into the playoffs again in 2018 but the Senators too have every reason to expect good things.
Cody Ellis continues to lead the way for Stirling but he has plenty of support not only in the form of point guard Corban Wroe and the emerging Ash Litterick and Jayden Coburn but impressive imports Justin King and Robert Anshila.
Caleb Davis as a versatile hot outside shooter with good size is a potential X-factor for the Senators too.
Add in the fact that there’s some good history from regular season battles in recent years between the Redbacks and Senators and even coaches Nik Lackovic and Mike Ellis don’t always see eye-to-eye making it what should be a tremendous quarter-final match up.
Their two meetings during the regular season saw the Redbacks win at home 105-84 in Round 8 but the Senators on 94-89 at Warwick Stadium on May 25.
The action then turns to Saturday night starting at Bendat Basketball Centre with the on-fire Hawks hosting the dangerous Lightning.
Perry Lakes’ season was hanging by a thread with a five-game losing streak after a defeat to the Perth Redbacks.
But that turned out to be their breaking point with the Hawks not having lost since and winning the last 12 matches of the regular season to finish the campaign with an 18-8 record in fourth position.
Their quarter-final opponents are a Lakeside still reeling from the horrific broken leg suffered by import guard Jack Isenbarger, but who did well to steady and finish in fifth position with a 15-11 record and coming into the playoffs having won two straight.
The Hawks are in their second season coached by Matt Parsons and are attempting to get out of the first round after three years of heartbreak where as the eighth seed they pushed the Wolves, Cougars and Tigers but just came up short in Game 3’s on the road.
This time around they have home court advantage in the first round and with a core group of Ben Purser, Brian Carlwell, Rob Cassir, Ryan Smith, Travis Hayto and even teenager Mitch Clarke added to with Lochlan Cummings and Jacob Holmen, there’s no reason the Hawks shouldn’t be aiming to go all the way in 2018.
But the Lightning can’t be taken lightly even without the presence of Isenbarger. They are still led by Daniel Alexander who can do it all while Jarrad Prue remains a force inside and Bryan Michaels can light it up.
Now Corey Shervill is back as part of a group of strong contributors including Rowan Mackenzie, Michael Garbellini, Matt Vinci, Hayden Bell and Nick Palleschi.
That sets the stage for a tremendous quarter-final battle and during the regular season, the Hawks won 99-82 at home in Round 8 but the Lightning won their earlier season meeting 116-104 at Lakeside.
The Wolves and Tigers certainly isn’t the usual first round playoff match up either when that series gets underway at HBF Arena on Saturday night.
It will be the first ever playoff match held at the new Joondalup venue and it shapes as quite the tremendous contest.
The Wolfpack and Tigers did play one another in the semi finals of 2016 with the Wolves prevailing on their old home floor at Joondalup Basketball Stadium in Game 3.
They were both again semi finalists in 2017 with the Wolves making it to a third successive Grand Final while the Tigers fell short against the Redbacks having finished the regular season on top of the table.
Joondalup finished the 2018 regular season in second position with a 21-5 record. The Wolfpack were in top spot for much of the season before a run of losses at the hands of the Redbacks, Buccs, Giants and Hawks in the back end of the season.
However, they still did enough to finish second with the additions of Jalen Billups and Brian Sullivan this year to the likes of Trian Iliadis, Seb Salinas, Rob Huntington, Reece Maxwell, Ben Ironmonger, Jordan Wellsteed and Damian Matacz.
Willetton hasn’t quite been able to recapture its form of last year where they were regular season champions with the departure of Ray Turner and absence of Nic Cody.
Injuries to Jay Bowie haven’t helped either but with Damien Scott and Kyle Armour still firing and import big Badou Diagne fighting hard, they did enough to finish seventh at 13-13 despite losing their last two matches.
It all sets the stage for a fascinating quarter-final battle and their two regular season battles set the stage with the Wolves opening their new building with a Round 1 92-86 win. The Wolfpack also won 83-68 in Round 10 at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
The last Game 1 quarter-final battle on Saturday night takes place at Mike Barnett Sports Complex with the Flames hosting the Buccaneers.
Rockingham might have finished in eighth position and Geraldton first, but the Flames will host Game 1 before Game 2 takes places at Active West Stadium next Saturday night with the decider to also take place in Geraldton the next day.
That gives the Flames the chance to win on their home court to open the series and put the pressure right back on the regular season champions.
The Buccaneers come into the playoffs with great expectations too having bowed out in the semi finals in each of the past two years, including a heartbreaking Game 3 semi-final loss at Joondalup last year.
They ended the regular season with a 23-3 record on an eight-game winning run and having won 17 of their last 18.
It’s a group still featuring veterans Mat Wundenberg and Aaron Ralph, but now includes imports Gokul Natesan and Colter Lasher, and a supremely talented locally classified trio of Earnest Ross, Marcus Alipate and Liam Hunt.
Rockingham might enter the series as significant underdogs, but between Greg Hire and Kevin White, they have almost 400 games of NBL experience and two of the most tenacious and competitive basketball players in the country.
Add in some X-factor with Curtis Washington, the experience of Ryan Godfrey and a strong local contingent led by Justin Beard, Luke Roberts, Callum Beard and Beau Samuelson, and it’s not a Flames group that will go away quietly.
Geraldton won the first clash between the teams back in Round 2 at home 91-74 before also winning big in Rockingham 99-63 in Round 8.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – QUARTER FINALS WEEK 1
GAME 1 (BEST OF 3)
Perth Redbacks (3) v Stirling Senators (6) – Belmont Oasis 8.30pm
Perry Lakes Hawks (4) v Lakeside Lightning (5) – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.00pm
Joondalup Wolves (2) v Willetton Tigers (7) – HBF Arena 7.00pm
Rockingham Flames (8) v Geraldton Buccaneers (1) – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 8.00pm