NBL1 Men’s finals preview: Qualifying and Elimination finals

FIFTEEN rounds down and eight teams remain in the hunt for the inaugural National Basketball League (NBL)1 Men’s title. Four games play out over the weekend, with Ballarat Miners securing the minor premiership and up the other end, Bendigo Braves sneaking into the finals in eighth.

EF2: GEELONG SUPERCATS vs. DANDENONG RANGERS
Saturday July 27, 7.00pm
Geelong Arena

Last time they met: Geelong Supercats (74) defeated Dandenong Rangers (69)

In a fairly even contest, Geelong took home the points at the same venue they will square off at on Saturday night, with an 18-12 third term the real difference between the sides. Lewis Thomas (21 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals) and Demarcus Gatlin (15 points, 10 rebounds and two assists) were the best for the Supercats, while Dexter Kernich-Drew (16 points, four rebounds and two assists) and Tim Lang (15 points, 11 rebounds) never stopped trying for the Rangers.

Recent form:

Geelong Supercats have been inconsistent in the run home, winning four of the past seven, but two of those three losses came against minor premiers Ballarat Miners, while the third was against a desperate Bendigo Braves outfit in the final round.

Dandenong Rangers have won four of their past five games after dropping the two games prior to that, donning the same win-loss ratio as the Supercats.

Key Players:

Demarcus Gatlin (Geelong Supercats) – 20.7 PPG | 7.4 RPG | 3.9 APG | 2.4 SPG

The prolific 193cm guard has been a steadying influence for the Supercats this season, rarely having a poor game, and most importantly able to pad up stats across all the key areas. It is no surprise that Gatlin looms as the wildcard for the Supercats, particularly off the boards with Lewis Thomas and Ma’alo Hicks the other dangers to watch for the Rangers.

Lucas Barker (Dandenong Rangers) – 15.3 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 6.8 APG | 2.0 SPG

Dandenong has an even spread of contributors, with the Rangers often having different top scorers each week. Barker has been the one consistent force across the season, with just he and Tim Lang being the only players to start in all 20 of the matches. Barker is more of the playmaking type, assisting his teammates almost seven times per game, whilst hitting the scoreboard and getting off the boards despite being 185cm.

How will it play out?

Remarkably Geelong are the lowest scoring team in the competition despite sitting sixth, averaging just 80.8 points per game. However the Supercats are also the second best defensive team behind the Miners, keeping their opponents to a stingy 79.8 points per game. It shows that if the Supercats are to win, it will likely be a low-scoring contest, whereas Dandenong prefer higher scoring contests, ranked fourth overall for most points (91.7 per game) and eleventh for points conceded (88 per game).

QF1: BALLARAT MINERS vs. KILSYTH COBRAS
Saturday July 27, 7.30pm
Mars Minerdome

Last time they met: Kilsyth Cobras (71) defeated by Ballarat Miners (87)

It has been almost two months since the Miners and Cobras faced off on the court, as Ballarat got up by 16 points, surviving a third quarter challenge from the home side to run away with the contest 31-17 in the final term to win 87-71. Jerry Evans Jr (22 points, five rebounds) and Josh Fox (19 points, 18 rebounds) were sensational for the winners, while Isaac Turner (20 points) and Peter Hooley (12 points, nine rebounds) were the best for Kilsyth.

Recent form:

After dominating the season with just two losses in the opening 13 rounds, the Ballarat Miners have not won since July 6, dropping back-to-back games to Waverley Falcons and Melbourne Tigers. It may not be a huge concern considering they had top spot locked up for some time, but they do not have the most impressive form coming into the finals.

Kilsyth have had a mixed bag of results leading into finals with four wins from the past seven games, suffering a heavy loss to Frankston Blues in Round 14, but managing wins over finals sides Dandenong Rangers and Nunawading Spectres in the past few weeks.

Key Players:

Jerry Evans Jr (Ballarat Miners) 19.2 PPG | 7.6 RPG | 1.8 APG | 1.9 SPG | 0.7 BPG

The 208cm forward is a man mountain and hard for any side to stop on his day, with more than a quarter of his points coming from the line after being fouled heading to the basket. He is not a huge threat from beyond the arc, but he gets right under the post and makes opposition sides nervous with his offensive drives, and has been Ballarat’s key scorer during the season.

Tohi Smith-Milner (Kilsyth Cobras) 15.7 PPG | 8.4 RPG | 2.1 APG | 0.9 SPG | 0.5 BPG

The Melbourne United forward-center is similar to Evans Jnr in the fact that he stands at 206cm and is a hard man to move. There were some nervous moments in the late part of the season when he had an ankle concern, but he bounced back to finish the season strongly and looms as the key in a well-rounded Cobras attack. Hooley and Turner are among the others to watch.

How will it play out?

Ballarat Miners are a defence-first side, averaging the lowest points conceded by a mile, restricting their opponents to just 76.2 points per game, whilst ranked sixth overall for points scored with 90.2 per game. The Cobras have made it into the top four off the same philosophy, ranked fourth for least points conceded (84.1), but a lowly eleventh for points for (85.8). It means the clash is likely to be low-scoring, but chances are that Ballarat will be able to find more ways to the basket with so many scoring options.

QF2: FRANKSTON BLUES vs. NUNAWADING SPECTRES
Saturday July 27, 7.30pm
Frankston Basketball Stadium

Last time they met: Nunawading Spectres (73) defeated by Frankston Blues (86)

In the game that was played early on in the season, but ultimately handed Frankston the home final, the Blues started strongly to lead by nine at the first break, and then broke even with the Spectres in the third term before running out 13-point winners. Five players reached double-figure points and at least six rebounds for the Blues, led by Majok Majok (18 points, six rebounds) while Najeal Young (15 points, 12 rebounds) picked up a double-double. For Nunawading, Costa Hronopoulos shot 21 points, five rebounds and two assists, while Simon Conn (16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks) was consistent across the board.

Recent form:

Frankston Blues have had a remarkable revival since starting the season at 1-4, winning 13 of the next 15 games to not only secure a finals berth, but become a genuine contender when the whips are cracking. With nine wins in their past 10 games, the Blues are the most in-form side in the competition winning their past eight matches.

Nunawading Spectres have won seven of their past 10 and whilst they lost the right to a home final due to the head-to-head loss to Frankston, the Spectres are surprisingly better on the road than at home. With a mediocre 5-5 home record, the Spectres have not had such trouble when bonding on the road with nine wins from 10 games and the only loss coming against Kilsyth Cobras. With four wins from the past five games, the Spectres are heading into the finals series in fairly strong form.

Key Players:

Damon Bozeman (Frankston Blues) 20.0 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 2.6 APG | 1.6 SPG

The 190cm guard is one of three Frankston players to have started in every game this season, giving the Blues great consistency throughout the year. With just over 51 per cent accuracy from the field, Bozeman could have averaged even more than his 20 points per game, but he gets the numbers across the board, particularly defensively with 1.6 steals per game, and 78 of his 96 rebounds coming off the defensive board.

Simon Conn (Nunawading Spectres) 19.4 PPG | 10.2 RBG | 2.1 APG | 0.7 SPG | 0.7 BPG

The huge 206cm centre will be a real issue for Frankston, as he positions himself well under the boards to be one of the most prolific rebounders in the competition. Nunawading has not had a consistent line-up the whole year, with Conn’s 19 starts the most of any player. Of his 19.4 points per game, 81.5 per cent come from the field, with most of them close to the basket. Not a renowned three-point shooter with just four triples made in season 2019, Conn is one who teammates look to close to the rim given his accuracy.

How will it play out?

Unlike the first two finals, expect this to be a high-scoring extravaganza. Ranked first (Frankston – 94.2 points for per game) and second (Nunawading – 92.8 points per game) for points for, both these sides know how to win big and put plenty of pressure on the opposition guards. Nunawading is the slightly better defensive side, ranked seventh in the competition for least points conceded (84.6 per game) to Frankston’s ninth placed ranking (87.8).

EF1: MELBOURNE TIGERS vs. BENDIGO BRAVES
Sunday July 28, 1.00pm
Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC)

Last time they met: Melbourne Tigers (69) defeated by Bendigo Braves (73)

You have to go back to the opening round of the season to see these two sides going head-to-head with Bendigo Braves getting up in a four-point thriller over the Tigers. They had control for most of the day, with the home side piling on 14 points to eight in the final term to cut the deficit to just four by the buzzer. Ray Turner scored 16 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in Bendigo’s win, while Matthew Andronicos (16 points, seven rebounds) was also busy. For the Tigers, Nic Pozoglou was the standout with 18 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and two blocks, while partner-in-crime Dane Pineau had 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Recent form:

After three consecutive losses – including a heartbreaking one-point defeat to Frankston, Melbourne Tigers found form in the remaining weeks, winning their three last games heading into finals to secure a top eight spot.

Bendigo had to dig deep to make finals, winning four of the past five to scrape into the top eight and steal eighth spot. They toppled the Geelong Supercats in the final round which would give them confidence after less than convincing wins over league battlers Knox Raiders and Diamond Valley Eagles, as well as a loss to Albury Wodonga Bandits.

Key Players:

Nic Pozoglou (Melbourne Tigers) 19.2 PPG | 10.2 RPG | 3.3 APG | 1.9 SPG | 0.6 BPG

The Illawarra Hawks forward might have only managed five NBL games in the 2018/19 season, but if his form is anything to go by in the NBL1, expect him to find himself a part of the action more often. Pozoglou averaged 19.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, one of the few to end the season with a double-double average. He also set up teammates and won the ball back from the opposition, being a one-man show when times were tough, and enjoying a great partnership with Pineau when the two were in together on 13 occasions.

Ray Turner (Bendigo Braves) 22.9 PPG | 12.3 RPG | 2.0 APG | 1.0 SPG | 1.3 BPG

The 206cm forward will be up there in contention for the league best and fairest after a massive season for the Braves. Like Pozoglou, Turner finished the season with a double-double average with 22.9 points and 12.3 rebounds, whilst having a couple of assists, and a steal and block per game. At his height he is hard to contain, particularly close to the basket, and he gets it done at both ends with the bulk of his rebounds coming off the defensive boards. His free throw percentage is a little low compared to others at just under 70 per cent, but he knows how to put the points up regardless of whether he makes it to the line.

How will it play out?

Melbourne Tigers are ranked tenth overall for points for (86.9 per game), but still well ahead of Bendigo Braves (84.5) who sit in the bottom four. Defensively it is the other way around with Bendigo third overall for least points conceded (82.5 per game) compared to Melbourne who is still relatively strong defensively (84.5). Melbourne are capable of putting up a big score, but also matching the Braves defensively, and in terms of home and away records, with the Tigers winning 10 of a possible 11 games at MSAC – the last time they lost at home was the opening round to Bendigo – they have turned their home court into a fortress. Bendigo is mediocre on the road with five wins from 10 games.

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