THE Melbourne United Victorian Junior Basketball League (MUVJBL) Under-18 Boys Championship Division begins its first round of finals on Friday, which will see only six teams remain at the round’s end. All games will be played on neutral courts, with Nunawading and Bulleen along with Melbourne and Diamond Valley hosting games at Hawthorn in two of the more exciting match-ups of the round.
Kilsyth Cobras (1st, 13-2-3) vs. Dandenong Rangers (4th, 12-4-2)
In the first round of qualifying finals, the Dandenong Rangers face the Kilsyth Cobras in Knox. Despite Kilsyth’s dominant record, the neutral territory is likely to favour Dandenong, with most of Kilsyth’s success having come from home (8-1-0). With six wins to five on the road, Dandenong enter as unlikely favourites in this contest, but are yet to beat the league-leaders. In their past meetings, Kilsyth won in April (59-53), before both teams fell short in the proceeding months with a 64-64 draw. Kilsyth’s Josh Duach will be closely watched in this match-up, having averaged 13.3 points per game from nine outings. With Roosevelt Williams (11.4) and David Okwera (11.9) also firing for Kilsyth, the Cobras enter likely to match Dandenong’s offensive weapons. For Dandenong, Harrison Bowater (12.7) remains most damaging, followed next by Jyelin Moli (11.7). They also enter this match-up having had every player crack double-digits on the scoreboard last week against Korumburra, with Moli and Riley Simmons leading the way with 21 and 15 respectively.
Nunawading Spectres (2nd>, 14-4) vs Bulleen Boomers (4th, 12-4-2)
The second qualifying final follows soon after with the Nunawading Spectres and Bulleen Boomers going head-to-head in Hawthorn. With the league’s most dominant away record (9-1-0), plus having snared the most wins this season (14), this match seems like a lock for the Spectres. They also currently boast three consecutive wins, having defeated Kilsyth, Dandenong and Diamond Valley over the last month. Last week Bulleen suffered a frustrating 60-63 loss to Bendigo, but should proceed boldly having defeated Nunawading earlier in the year (53-54). The Spectres will look to James Roche , currently sitting third for PPG (19.7) and first for overall points (177). He will be accompanied by Curtis Brecko (11.8), who has also put together an impressive year. Anthony Dell’Orso will be Bulleen’s greatest utility, sitting two below Roche in fifth with an average of 16 points per game. Owen Foxwell has also impressed with 14.3 PPG, including 22 points in last week’s loss.
Melbourne Tigers (5th, 10-7-1) vs Diamond Valley Eagles (8th, 9-9)
The first elimination final pits the Melbourne Tigers against the Diamond Valley Eagles. In their last two match-ups, Diamond Valley got the better in the first (74-61) but lost in horrible fashion a month later (71-39). Currently the Eagles boast consecutive wins, while Melbourne’s last fortnight has been poor, facing a thrashing against Bulleen (41-70) before tying with bottom-enders, Werribee.
Despite their positioning, Melbourne still sit without a top-20 shooter. Ezrah Vaigafa (10.5), Jordan Adams (10.4) and Lyzel Mataika (10.2) have all combined well this season but could struggle against some of the league’s bigger threats. Similarly, Diamond Valley are also without a top-20 shooter. Ethan Bateman currently leads the way with 10.9 PPG, followed close by Matt Marasco on 8.5, but dropping 19 points in last week’s win over Keilor.
Bendigo Braves (6th, 9-8-1) vs Keilor Thunder (7th, 9-9)
The last elimination final pits Bendigo Braves against Keilor Thunder. Last week both teams faced three point margins, with Bendigo defeating Bulleen (60-63) and Keilor falling short to Diamond Valley (57-60). In their last meeting, Keilor snared a 12-point victory over the Braves – handing Bendigo a rare loss at home. With neutral territory for both, Bendigo’s poor away record (3-6-0) could be a talking point in the lead-up. League standout, Caleb Connick, has been the pillar of Bendigo’s offence all season. Currently, he boasts fourth spot for PPG with 19.4 and sits third for overall points (155) from eight outings. William Smythe has also been effective in recent weeks – recording 14 points close behind Connick (15) in last week’s win. For the Thunder, Tonga Matapule Otutaha (14) and Jeffrey Ofoedu (10) have been impressive and should be backed to win the duel with Connick – having both outscored him in their last meeting.