THE quarter finals in the Men’s SBL sees all Game 1 match ups take place this Saturday night as the top four teams, Rockingham Flames, Geraldton Buccaneers, Joondalup Wolves and Lakeside Lightning, try to take an early lead over more than capable lower ranked opponents.
Only two of those top three teams will take home court advantage for their Game 1 match up with Game 2 then to be at the home of the lower ranked team next weekend with Game 3, if required, back at home for the higher seeds.
The other two quarter-final match ups are flipped around due to the presence of regional teams and in those cases, the lower seeds host Game 1 before Games 2 and 3 are both on the home floor of the top ranked teams.
All four Game 1’s take place on Saturday night with the Rockingham Flames playing the Perry Lakes Hawks at Mike Barnett Sports Complex in a rematch of last year’s semi-final battle.
The Warwick Senators play the Geraldton Buccaneers at Warwick Stadium with the Senators trying to win at home before heading to Geraldton next weekend.
It’s the opposite case for the Goldfields Giants who host the Lakeside Lightning at Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium on Saturday night as they mark their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
The Kalamunda Eastern Suns are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 as well but they have their work ahead up against the Joondalup Wolves in Game 1 at HBF Arena.
The series between Rockingham and Perry Lakes could very well be the most anticipated of the four quarter-final match ups in a rematch of last year’s semi finals.
The Hawks prevailed in that in three games before going on to win the championship and now they have finished the 2019 regular season in fifth position with a 18-8 record having won seven of their past eight matches.
Their major personnel changes from last year are the additions of Perth Wildcats championship winners in the NBL Shawn Redhage and Clint Steindl while Lochlan Cummings has gone out.
Rockingham, meanwhile, has finished this season in fourth position also at 18-8 and having dominated Perry Lakes in their two matches during the regular season.
From the team that reached the semi finals last year, the Flames are now coached by Ryan Petrik and have Josh Ritchart, Caleb White and Chudier Pal as additions.
With both teams having expectations of going a long way in 2019, it’s quite the quarter-final battle and Hawks coach Matt Parsons is looking forward to it.
“I think like most teams around this time of the year you are kind of waiting for playoffs to start and that’s kind of the real season so you’ll definitely see effort levels increase. You have to play anyone, anywhere and anytime and we have Rockingham who put on a hell of a show down there,” Parsons said.
“They have a great game night atmosphere and we have to be ready for that, but it’s playoffs and it’s nil-all. You just get on with it and try to scrap out a win. There’s nothing pretty, it’s all just tough basketball.
“Rockingham is very well structured defensively especially and they have good leadership with Greg and Boof, and those guys do a really good job of keeping them together and fixing any issues. Then they have some young kids who can get hot.
“For us it’s about making sure that the guys who we expect things from will do that because they are that quality, but it’s making sure that the lesser-known guys aren’t the ones that have career-nights. We just have to make sure we play everyone as honestly as possible.”
The Senators and Buccaneers then do battle in Game 1 at Warwick Stadium just six days after playing at the same venue. The Buccs won that game on Sunday despite being without Marcus Alipate and DeAngelo Isby while the Senators were minus Caleb Davis.
Both teams should be back to full strength for Game 1 on Saturday night and it’s a match up featuring two teams who certainly have thrown everything into contending for the championship in 2019.
The Senators have brought back most of their core from the team that reached the semi finals last year and Cody Ellis, Caleb Davis, Rob Anshila, Justin King, Ash Litterick and company are looking to try to get back to at least the point they reached in 2019.
Teen star Wani Swaka Lo Buluk is running the point for them while Ngor Manyang is also having the best season of his career.
But this is a Geraldton team looking to hit back after a string of disappointing finals exits led by veterans Aaron Ralph and Matt Wundenberg while Colter Lasher, Liam Hunt and Marcus Alipate should all be better equipped in their second seasons in the SBL.
Whether it’s the battle of veterans like Cody Ellis and Aaron Ralph or young guns like Wani Swaka and Alex Ducas, this series promises plenty.
Buccaneers coach Dayle Joseph is fully aware of what’s at stake.
“Either of us that go out are going to be disappointed in the season. They’ve made some really big improvements over the year with some good additions and keeping their core together, and they would certainly be hoping to go further this year,” Joseph said.
“That makes it a pretty big first round match up and really whoever we played was going to turn out that way. But we are looking forward to being back here now to get things started.”
Then at HBF Arena, a Wolves team who has again finished as the regular season champions as they chase a fifth successive Grand Final appearance welcomes the Eastern Suns back to the post-season.
The Wolfpack secured the regular season championship with a big win over Kalamunda last Saturday night to finish with a 20-6 record but that wasn’t a true indication of what the Suns were capable.
They were missing Louis Timms and Josh Braun, who have combined for 47.2 points, 18.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game this season. While Timms won’t be back with a knee injury, the Suns do expect Braun to play through a sore ankle.
The Suns have returned to the finals for the first time since 2012 and they did so ending up in eight position with a 13-13 record but prior to the last two weeks, they did a tremendous job with a six-game winning streak to build good momentum despite being well short of full strength.
Now while the Suns will still be short of strength against a Wolves team ready for the post-season and aiming for another Grand Final appearance having welcomed back Kevin Davis and welcomed Ridell Camidge and Earnest Ross in 2019.
Eastern Suns coach Mark Utley is just proud of his group for reaching the finals and now is looking forward to having a crack at the Wolfpack.
“We are just happy to play anyone. Our goal was to make the playoffs and for the first time in seven years we’ve done that so it doesn’t really matter who we play, we’d be happy to play anyone,” Utley said.
“We will reload now and just see how we go. We have nothing to lose and we haven’t been to the playoffs in a long time so it’s important now for us to enjoy that experience.
“People like Carl Aylett, Cooper Lowe and even for Corey Easley who have played for years and years but he’s enjoying his basketball this year, and Jono it means a lot.
“We made a decision a few weeks ago to start our leaders in Ryan and Jono and I think that’s paid off for us in terms of character as well.”
The last series in the quarter finals features the Giants up against the Lightning with Game 1 to be held on Saturday night in Kalgoorlie.
Goldfields is back in the finals for the first time since 2015 in Wayne Creek’s first season back in charge as coach. The Giants secured their finals berth by winning their last two home matches against the Mandurah Magic and South West Slammers.
They now take on a Lakeside team who finished the regular season in second position with a 20-6 record.
The Lightning have added Michael Vigor to Jarrad Prue to the front court this season along with adding another shooting threat to Jack Isenbarger with Jobi Wall while also having welcomed experienced point guard Kyle Armour in 2019.
It’s a deep, experienced and talented Lightning outfit but the Giants can give themselves a real chance of the upset with a win at home on Saturday night.
With four stars in the form of Patrick Burke, Mayo Malek, David Humphries and Jay Bowie, and experienced role players Daniel Forlano, Brandon Holloway and Jerome Reid, and it’s certainly a more than capable Giants outfit.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – QUARTER FINALS WEEK 1
Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames v ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 7.00pm
Bethanie Warwick Senators v Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers – Warwick Stadium 7.00pm
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – HBF Arena 7.00pm
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants v Lakeside Lightning – Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium 7.30pm