BNI Premier League – Week 12 Preview

Monday 23rd Jan

LYIT @ Down Tropics

One of the most intriguing match ups of the week and very tough to call. Tropics have lost perhaps the leagues most talented player, Dejaun Flowers, and had trouble fulfilling a fixture with North Star in week 11. LYIT have lifted themselves out of trouble with two wins to start 2012, a double OT win at home to the Cavs and a one point victory over the Tigers in Andytown. LYIT have championship experience and no doubt it was this experience that helped them make sure they picked up two vital W’s that could so easily have been losses.

The Tropics have a shallow but talented squad and it’s very worrying that it is unconfirmed if Mike Calo will be available. It is expected that LYIT will be without Seamus Hickey for the game and they travelled with only 7 players to Tigers last week. IF the Tropics have a full squad then home court advantage could see them squeak out a close win.

Line: Tropics -2.5

 

Ballymena's Adam Murray will be hoping they can get a much needed win this week.

Wednesday 25th Jan

Queens Hornets @ UU Elks

A top of the table clash with Queens currently at the summit with Elks close behind with two games in hand and a higher winning percentage. Elks have won their last four games by a huge average margin of 28 points while Queens have struggled since the break losing away to North Star and the Kilkeel Knights. When these sides met earlier in the season Elks won by 31 points in the PEC and it will take something special for Queens to turn it around and get a win in JTown. Elks have to be favourite for this match up but it will be a lot closer than the first meeting between the sides.

Line: UU Elks -8.5

 

Wednesday 25th Jan

Dungannon Cavs @ Belfast Star

The latest word is that this game has been postponed due to the broken backboard in St Mals. Any update on this let us know!

 

Saturday 28th Jan

Kilkeel Knights @ North Star

Kevin Stanley attacking the basket vs Andytown

Another intriguing match up that is very hard to call. The Knights are on a roll with four wins on the bounce and sitting in second place in the table but North Star are undefeated at home and have some impressive victories in Bishops field including a 22 point victory over Queens a week ago and an impressive performance and win over the Ulster Elks. A lot will depend on how the (ridiculously) long journey from Kilkeel to Derry affects the Knights and how North Star can cope with the Knights height advantage inside. Another close game where home court advantage could make the difference.

Line: North Star -1.5

Sunday 29th Jan

Andytown Tigers @ Ballymena Blackstone

There is no doubt about it, this is the most important game of the week! Both sides have been struggling for form although the Tigers have shown that they could be on the verge of a change of fortune as they have had two agonising losses to begin 2012. (Losing by 4 points away to tropics and a single point at home to LYIT.) Ballymena can never be underestimated, especially in St Pats, as they have a talented squad and their poor form has been a shock to the league this year. Andytown beat Blackstone by 10 earlier in the season but once again home advantage could make all the difference in this game. It’s almost too close to call and is a “pickem” game but we give Blackstone the slight advantage due to playing at home. (Especially in January – sub-zero temperatures expected in St Pats!)

Line: Blackstone -0.5

What everyone’s been waiting for…

I love watching basketball almost as much as I love playing it. So, on Thursday I travelled down from Derry to see the Belfast Star and University of Ulster Elks’ game in Jordanstown. I decided to film the game in the hope of picking up some good highlights and maybe, just maybe, a TCC top 10 candidate or two. I got a little more than I was hoping for – as some of you may have already heard from Facebook, Twitter or even the leaked video of the excitable Connor O’Dornan and his bold prediction that alley-oop could potentially be the TCC number 1 play of this season. It comes from Matt McColgan and Darryl Shazier of the UU Elks. I could keep typing but I’ll just let the video do the talking…

 

 

What’s your thoughts? Got something better? Remember, The Courtside Collective are interested in all games across both the Senior and Junior leagues. Get in touch with us at team@thecourtsidecollective.com if you would like us to feature your team.

 

Triumph and Disaster

Tension mounts at both ends of the table as Premier League heads towards final stretch.

If-

With BNI’s Premier League clubs already in action again this New Year, it is becoming clear that players and coaches at both ends of the table will be fighting it out all the way to the finish.

The new league format for 2011-12 has provided an environment of intense competition that has seen ‘struggling’ teams (such as Blackstone) defeat title-contenders (Queens Hornets), and one which has provided carrot-and-stick motivation for everyone involved.

Not only is there a compelling chase for top spot under way, but the new promotion/relegation structure looks to have guaranteed what may be the most dramatic battle of all.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

and treat those two imposters just the same:

Having seen Blackstone (who are 2-8 and propping up the league table) fail to trouble the Elks last Sunday night, it seemed that survival might be looking highly unlikely for them.

However, there is still much to play for and Blackstone are not the only Premier League ‘heavyweight’ facing a fight to retain their position at the top table of NI basketball.

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

and stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

LYIT, perennial title contenders, boosted their survival hopes on Saturday with an excruciatingly close one point victory of fellow strugglers and newcomers the Andersonstown Tigers at LaSalle.

The victory for LYIT takes them three wins clear of bottom place and on to a 5-6 record, putting them right back in play-off contention with both North Star and Dungannon Cavaliers on 5 wins apiece.

Saturday’s win is especially significant for LYIT as it came on the road for a team who are traditionally much stronger at home.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Blackstone make the trip from Ballymena to Dungannon on Sunday, searching for that elusive win that might kick-start their season. A win against last season’s champions would move the Braid men to 3-8 and lift them off the bottom of the table.

With an away trip to LYIT coming up, as well as visits to St Patrick’s by Kilkeel and Belfast Star, Blackstone face all four of the teams immediately above them in the table in the next few weeks.

There has been a notable shift in spirit around the training sessions in Ballymena this week, with a renewed sense of unity between players and coaches, and Coach McKee will be hoping the club’s senior figures can galvanise the squad for a vital set of games.

If-

Blackstone’s prospects seem poor going into tomorrow’s game with just two wins to their name but they will be reassured by the fact that both of those victories came against two of the league’s best: Queens and Kilkeel.

 

To everyone’s surprise, Belfast Star still sit in eighth place on a 4-5 record and will have a very significant part to play in the clawing for survival, although it is unlikely that they should find themselves in Division One next season. The experience of Coach McGrattan both on and off the court should help keep them out of the bottom two.

With so many key matches still to be played and just 3 games separating them, any one of the league’s lowly quintet could still turn things around. A run of three or four results would see any of the bottom clubs vaulted out of danger and into play-off contention.

However, with LYIT winning this weekend, the tide is swelling against both Blackstone and the Tigers, both of whom might well sink from view if they do not get a win soon.

For all teams in the bottom half, the psychological challenge remains the same. LYIT are not out of the woods and must meet their recent triumph with humility and focus; the Tigers can only be helped by facing their newest disaster with dignity and resolve.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

As for Ballymena, the real battle begins on Sunday; underdogs with untold potential. Can they trust themselves when all men doubt them? Can they force heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn?

Their end-of-season drama might yet be the most riveting of all.

If- by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 Ryan Hayes

Superleague preview

Both Ulster Rockets and Belfast Star are competing this weekend in the Irish Superleague. Ulster Rockets play host to Dublin-side Meteors on Saturday while Belfast Star journey to Cork to face Demons on Sunday afternoon. 

Ulster Rockets vs Meteors

Ulster Rockets are due to take on Meteors this weekend in an important league fixture. The last time these two teams met, Rockets suffered a disappointing loss (54-40) and are hoping that tomorrow’s showdown in La Salle sports complex will be a different story. Meteors are a strong and talented squad with a deep bench. Hugh Kilbride, Coach of the Meteors, focuses on full-court pressure defence, which caused problems for the Rockets in the previous match-up. However, Breda Dick is confident that her women have put in the necessary work and are better prepared to deal with the high-intensity defence played by Meteors. Rockets are in their first year in the Superleague and are currently in 6th place, competing for the final playoff spot.

Game Details: Saturday 21st January / La Salle Sports Complex / 6.30pm Tip-Off / Admission £3 per adults / Children FREE

Belfast Star vs Demons

Belfast Star travel south this Sunday to play Cork-side, Demons, who are currently top of the Southern Conference with 32 points. Although Star are amidst one of their most challenging season’s to-date, Coach Adrian Fulton believes that his players continue to work hard and learn from their experiences:

Game Details: Sunday 22nd January / Cork – Mardyke / 3.15pm Tip-Off

North Star defeat Queen’s Hornets

Temple (left) tries to pass over Wynne

North Star used a huge third quarter run to overcome league leading Queen’s Hornets in Sunday’s premier league match-up in Derry. The result has had the effect of tightening up the already close league table giving Queens just their third loss of the season and putting North Star back to .500 with a record of 5-5.

The first half was a closely contested affair with both sides trading baskets from the outset and neither team managing to stretch a lead past 6 points.

The third quarter would be decisive as North Star would hit five three pointers on their way to winning the period 27-7 and creating a 22 point lead going into the fourth.

Queen’s pressure defense forced some turnovers early in the fourth but the outside shots just weren’t falling for the Belfast side, who were without MVP candidate Rory Leddy O’Neil, and the home team managed to hold off the Hornets to win 78-56.

Check out some of the video highlights from the game below:

 

Scoresheet

North Star: Daryl Harkin (22), Kevin Stanley (22), Paul McGuinness (12), Niall McDermott (6), Emmett Harkin (6), Hugh Barbour (3), Niall Toland (3), Kieran Temple (2), Michael Brennan (2), Gary Campbell.

Queens: Tony McGaharan (10), Andrew Dolliver (9), Gareth Devlin (9), Igor Kruiper (8), Conor McElroy (7), Kevin Smith (5), Dave Tierney (4), John Wynne (4)

 

Want to see your team featured on The Courtside Collective? Get in touch with us at team@thecourtsidecollective.com 

 

 

 

I know it’s not your fault Ricky…

Lord knows being a basketball fan in Ireland can be tough at times. Games start in the middle of the night and co-workers and friends look at you with a mixture of bemusement and bewilderment (“Oh yeah, basketball, Michael Jordan…”) whenever you bring the subject up.

But the worst thing is the disconnect from the basketball world. No one at the water cooler is talking about the latest drama surrounding the or Kobe taking 96 shots the night before. Unless you’ve got a trip to Canada or the States planned, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the internet and that Nike outlet in Antrim if you want to do any shopping for kicks or whatnot.

So that brings me to Ricky Rubio. Like most NBA fans, I’ve been taken in by his game, passing skills and marvelous hair. With this in mind, I’d thought I’d head to NBA.com and buy me a Wolves 9 Rubio jersey T-shirt, cause I’m fresh like that. The shirt cost $24.99 and I figured shipping would be around the $10-15 range, especially when I got an ad telling that shipping more most items started at $12. All in all, a fair deal. So imagine my surprise when this popped up…

 

I did not proceed to checkout

 

Yep. $63 for one T-shirt. Isn’t this mental? What’s an international handling fee? Have you had any similar experiences? And if you’re heading Stateside anytime soon…

Matt McColgan: the ‘glue’

Matt Colgan, a current Ulster Elks starter, is a great player to have on your team. He does the little things: sets good screen, crashes the boards and is comfortable guarding bigger players on the block or quicker guards on the perimeter. The other thing about Matt is that he used to be short – real short. Now however, as Matt celebrates his 24th Birthday, he is a deceptively long-armed, and well-respected, 3/4 man. Matt has played two years in the USA; at a private school in NY, Doane Stuart, and for a D3 college near Philadelphia, Cabrini College.

Deirdre Brennan, Matt’s coach from the Ulster Elk’s Superleague days, referred to him as a ‘glue player’. What is a glue player, I hear you ask?

Andrew Thell, from ‘Empty the Bench’, sets out a good criteria for how exactly we should determine whether a player fits the definition:

We all use the term, but everybody’s definition of a “glue player” is different, so I was forced to come up with a few of the rules when generating this list. First, players who are among their team’s top two scorers were not considered. Those are the team’s stars. Second, the glue player must be solid defensively, so no three-point specialists or instant offense guys have been included. Third, this award is about generally unsung heroes whose play leads to team success, so only the guys on playoff-caliber teams are included’

(Read more: click here)

For those of you that don’t know Matt or haven’t seen him play. He has pretty decent hops – of course it helps when your arms operate like go-go-gadget. Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself on Thursday night in UUJ as Belfast Star take on the Ulster Elks (8.15pm tip-off).

On that note, I’ll leave you with a terribly poor quality clip of a high quality play from Matt.. ironically, against Belfast Star a few years back in 2008.

From all of us at The Courtside Collective, Happy Birthday Matt.

 

 

Olympic rings spark anticipation of Olympic hoops

Great Britain, Lietuva, Espana or good ol’ USA?

As I made my way into the sports hall of St Patrick’s College in Ballymena on Sunday night, to watch Blackstone face the Elks in their first game of 2012, I was struck by two things: the familiar coldness (so often the harshest of welcomes for visiting teams), and the instantly recognisable colours and concentric circles of the Olympic games.

To see that the Olympics has already arrived in our local schools and sporting venues in such a visible way with 192 days to go, has sparked (for me) the first real flames of anticipation and excitement about the upcoming Games; particularly the basketball.

As you may be aware, the Olympic basketball tournament (under FIBA’s structural system) will be made up of twelve nations. So who’s in thus far, and how did they get there?

Although the USA faltered in 2004 (claiming a ‘paltry’ bronze), they have automatically qualified for this year’s finals by winning the FIBA World Championships in Turkey in 2010. Spain and France qualify as winners and runners-up of Eurobasket 2011 in Lithuania, while the FIBA Americas Championship has furnished us with two more potential heavyweights in the form of 2004 Olympic Champions Argentina and their neighbours Brazil. Australia, with their strong hoops pedigree, represent Oceania; 32nd ranked Tunisia are the surprise package from African qualifying; and China make their 8th consecutive finals appearance on behalf of Asia.

Thankfully, for all those concerned with local basketball (and I assume that is most of you, faithful readers), home interest was confirmed in March 2011 when FIBA granted Great Britain automatic host qualification for the finals by a 17-3 majority vote.

FIBA’s decision to award automatic qualification to the Luol Deng-led Great Britain squad was by no means a formality but may prove hugely significant for basketball here. That, however, is a story for another day. Watch this space…

So far then, we have nine qualified nations for the 2012 games, but who can we expect to see joining them in London this July and August?

A further twelve teams will compete in the Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament during the first week of July, so watch out for television coverage on (probably) Eurosport and/or Espn. The nations still in with a chance of Olympic glory on the hallowed hardwood will be drawn from all continents and the qualifying tournament itself promises to be nail-biting, with only three places at the finals up for grabs.

Europe:

  • Greece
  • Lithuania
  • Macedonia
  • Russia

Americas:

  • Puerto Rico
  • Dominican Rep.
  • Venezuela

Asia:

  • Jordan
  • S. Korea

Africa:

  • Angola
  • Nigeria

Oceania:

  • New Zealand

With the draw yet to be made, there’s no telling who will emerge from the qualifying tournament. However, previous form, the FIBA World Rankings and your humble writer suggest that the teams to watch are Lithuania, Russia and Greece.

Greece have drawn upon a Europe-wide roster and a strong domestic competition in recent years, with Greek clubs among the leading Euro League contenders each year. Ranked 4th in the World, they won’t be going there to make up the numbers. A glittering array of stars from Spain’s ECB (Vasileiadis, Mavroeidis, Bramas) and the NBA (Kosta Koufos of the Denver Nuggets) will see to that.

Russia currently sit just outside the World’s top ten but have a strong track record at the Olympic games having claimed a medal nine times. Unlike Greece, their national squad is entirely domestically based with even Andrey Kirilenko back in Mother Russia playing for CSKA Moskva. They have a strong sense of unity and a rich basketball heritage; they will make their presence felt.

It’s worth considering however, that each of Russia’s previous podium places were claimed under the flag of the Soviet Union which included the talents of players drawn from a number of other, now independent, nations.

Enter Lithuania…

Lithuania (Lietuva to many of our readers) first participated in the Olympic games in 1992 and, given the vast array of Lithuanian talent on display every week in the BNI Leagues, none of us will surprised to learn how they fared. The Lithuanian men’s basketball team has reached the Bronze medal game at every Olympic Games in which it has competed, seizing the medal on three occasions.

Lithuania’s strength lies in their long-range shooting threat and revolves around the clinical guard play offered up by the deep-shooting trio of Mantas Kalnietis, Rimantas Kaukenas and Sarunas Jasikevicius. All three are 6’4”  three-point-draining guards who lead the national team in scoring average with 32 points per game between them. It is this same spread of perimeter shooting threat that many us are familiar with, having played against the Cavaliers of Dungannon or the Knights of Kilkeel among others, that leads me to predict that Lithuania will secure one of the three remaining qualifying places for London 2012.

 

Who do you think will make up the rest of the qualifiers?

Who are you tipping for Olympic medals? 

Will you be cheering on Great Britain, Lietuva or someone else entirely?

 

Your comments, tips and national fervour are welcome below…

TCC’s top 10 – it could be you!

McGaharan (Ulster Elks) takes on David Wilson (Down Tropics)

Every year at The Courtside Collective we will be counting down our top 10 BNI plays of the year (that get caught on camera). So whatever local game you’re at – get recording! It can be a play from a game at any level and at the end of the season the TCC team will decide on our Top-10. These  plays will go to a public vote with the winning player and the person who filmed the footage winning an exclusive TCC T-Shirt and other goodies.

Here is a short clip of two plays that could be already in the running; Seamus Hickey hitting a high-arcing, buzzer beating three-pointer and North Star’s Bencze Mate with the sweet behind the back pass. Let us know what you think in the comments!