The Lay of the Land. . .

With the leagues just starting up again after the Christmas break we thought now would be a good time to look at the lay of the land in the BNI Premier League. The league is extremely tight this year with only three games separating second and last place in the table. Queens are at the summit with only UU Elks having the ability to match their 7-2 record with their games in hand. Blackstone, Andytown and LYIT look in trouble near the bottom but with a league this close it will only take a run of 2 or 3 good results to climb into the playoff spots.

Action from North Star vs Tigers

Action from North Star vs Andytown Tigers

Slight disclaimer before we get into this – there is no BNI League Pass! (How great would that be?!) We might only have seen each team a very limited number of times and have to base our opinions on those select viewings. It’s very possible that these games don’t give the best impression or overall view of the squad and that’s what the comments below are for. Have we missed something or someone?? Let us know in the comments!

Queens Hornets

Queens are flying high at the top of the table with a record of 7-2. They have a deep and well balanced squad and make good use of their size with their 2-3 zone defense and healthy dose of pick and rolls in their offense. It’s interesting that their 7-2 record mirrors their home/away stats as they have had 7 games in the PEC and only two away. The question for them in the second half of the season is  can they maintain their good form with 7 away games to be played? I don’t expect them to go 7-2 in their last 9 games but with a deep squad they should travel well enough to have a winning record in the second half of the season and will be right up there challenging for a league title.

Kilkeel Knights

The Knights are the surprise package in this season’s premier league but fully deserving of their 6-3 record and second place in the league table picking up some notable wins including a very impressive away win over the Belfast Tropics and a high scoring 96-92 victory away at Blackstone. The Knights have been around for a while but this is their first season in the top division. Their squad was strengthened by picking up the Kisielius twins and Remigijus Danys from last season’s Armagh Magic team and Tomas Banys has to be in the discussion for any league MVP at this stage. They are the top scorers in the league but the issue for the Kinights going forward is now that every team is familiar with them will they be as effective in the second half of the season?

Down Tropics

The Down Tropics have had an unsettled first half of the season with key personnel leaving and joining the squad right up until the Christmas Break. They have a record of 5-4 which includes an early season forfeited game vs the Andytown Tigers. Since Dejuan Flowers joined up with the squad they have a 5-2 record and the American forward is another player in the league MVP conversation and is undoubtedly the most versatile player in the league. However the Tropics have a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the states. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. **Update – Tropics have signed BNI Mercenery Mike Calo for the second half of the season to replace the departed Will Maloney. If Calo can stay injury free the Tropics now have to be considered as one of the favourites for the title.**

Dungannon  Cavillers

Last season’s champions the Cavillers have again had a strong start to this season with a 5-3 winning record. A talented squad with a good mix of size and outside shooting the Cavs have the ability to put up big numbers on offense however the lack of a proper coach means that they are also susceptible to going through streaky patches in games and some scrappy play.  In Simon Bastakys they have the league’s most dominant big man. He is a force at both ends of the court protecting the rim on defense and an excellent offensive rebounder with a soft touch around the rim. The Cavs will be looking to repeat last year’s championship run but it will be a tall order to go all the way two years in a row unless they can get a coach in place.

North Star

The youngest team in the league so it’s perhaps not a surprise that North Star have struggled to put a consistent run of results together. The starting 5 has an average age of just 19 and finished the first half of the season with a 4-5 record failing to pick up back to back victories all year. Age and a lack of size have meant North Star struggled against some of the leagues larger front courts but they have guard play that is up there with the best in the league. Another positive for the Derry side is that they are currently undefeated at home and have 6 of their remaining 9 games at home in the second half of the season.

Ulster Elks

The Elks have only played 7 games thus far and have a record of 5-2 so have the potential to match Queens’s record at the top. The heavy pre-season favourites the Elks have Scholarship player and Bucknell alumni Darryl Shazier along with a host of players with superleague experience. Shazier is another MVP candidate and has the ability to take over a game with his penetration and shooting ability. The Elks have shown their potential with 30 point victories over league leaders Queens and away to LYIT along with an astonishing 107-56 victory over the Andytown Tigers. Losses to North Star and Tropics show that the Elks can be beat but with the talent in the squad they still have to be considered one of the favourites for the championship.

Belfast Star

Star sits at .500 with a 4-4 record going into the second half of the season. The problem for coach McGrattan is the lack of a settled squad and sometimes having too many players in the rotation. Star have a lack of genuine size and strength in the post but have a squad full of talented players and players with superleague experience which means on their day can beat anyone in the division. Michael Dougherty has been in form at the point guard position and one of Star’s best players so far. Come playoff time Star will be a dangerous opponent for whoever they play and easily capable of putting a three game championship run together.

LYIT

IT has had a disappointing first half of the season. The 2009 champions would have expected to be in the mix at the top half of the table but have struggled so far and have a 3-6 record. It’s difficult to pinpoint why IT have struggled as on paper their starting five looks strong with good balance. The loss of Guillaume Detraz appears to have been a blow as the Frenchman was a key player for the past three seasons for the Donegal side. IT have some good young talent coming through the ranks and they will be hoping that the first few months has given these young players enough experience and confidence to be effective role players coming off the bench in the second half of the year as they try and secure a playoff spot.

Ballymena's Marty McDonald and Adam Murray defending North Star's Mate Bencze

Ballymena Blackstone

No doubt the biggest shock of the season has been the form of Blackstone. Perennial title challengers Ballymena have struggled to a 2-7 record at the midpoint of the season. Blackstone can take comfort from the fact that they defeated the league leaders Queens and have had a number of close losses. Hindered by the loss of Peter McNicholl (GAA Duties) and Adam Hillis (Injury) during the first part of the season can Blackstone bounce back in 2012? In a word, yes. Don’t expect a squad with this amount of talent and experience to go 2-7 again. If they get McNicholl and Hillis back and stay healthy home advantage may be a step too far but a playoff spot is a realistic possibility.

Andytown  Tigers

Their first season in the top division has been a struggle for the Tigers. They share a 2-7 record with Blackstone and have struggled against some of the better teams in the league. The focus now has to be able to get enough wins to avoid the automatic relegation spot. The first season in Premier was always going to be tough as it takes players time to adjust to the step up in quality. Tigers will be hoping that some of their more inexperienced players have learned and benefited from the first 9 games of the season and that they have the ability to get some more wins on the board. Influence (and perhaps increased minutes) from some of the premier leagues most experienced players Kevin Craig and Gerard Ryan will be critical in the second half of the season.

Hoops on TV this week

NBA (all on ESPN unless otherwise noted)

In honour of the launch of The Courtside Collective Martin Luther King Jnr Day, the NBA is staging 11 games on Monday. More importantly, two of them tip-off before midnight Irish time. Even more importantly, one of them is a rare Clipper game that doesn’t start at 3.30am.

Monday 

6pm: Chicago Bulls v Memphis Grizzlies
8:30pm: New Jersey Nets v Los Angeles Clippers
1am:  Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics
3.30am: Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers

Tuesday 

6am: NBA Action

Wednesday 

9.30pm: NBA Tonight (ESPN America)

Thursday

4:45pm: NBA Action
5:15pm (As Live): Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Clippers

NCAA (all games on ESPN America)
Note: All these games seem to be repeated ad nauseum, so chances are there’s probably one on as you read this.

Monday (technically Tuesday, but for our intents and purposes games played in the wee hours will be classified under the previous night)

12am: Syracuse v Cincinnati
2am Texas A&M v Kansas

Tuesday

3.30pm (As Live): North Carolina A&T v Coppin State
8pm: College Basketball Live
12am: Michigan v Purdue
2am: Kentucky v Georgia

Wednesday

12am: Villanova at Louisville
2am: Duke at Maryland

Thursday

12am: North Carolina State v North Carolina

Friday

12am: Iona at Fairfield
2am: Boston University at Stony Brook

 

 

Bringing down the house

Last Wednesday, I made the trip across town to St Malachy’s College Belfast hoping to see a battle between Belfast Star and Kilkeel Knights. The last time these two teams met, Belfast Star’s depleted squad couldn’t handle the strong Lithuanian side and Kilkeel came out on top, with a convincing win (87-70).

I arrived 15 minutes late for tip-off… or so I thought. I had no idea what was going on as I entered the gym; both teams were just shooting around (casually) at their respective ends of the court. Upon first glance, it appeared the game was just delayed (for whatever reason) but when I figured it out, it was clear there was no game being played in the historic St Malachy’s gym.

Here’s why:

As it turned out, during the warm-up one of the Kilkeel players (prefers to remain anonymous – probably) was dunking it a little too hard. Apparently, this isn’t the first time the Malachy’s rim’s have been attacked. Rumour has it, Matthew Jackson (currently playing in Liverpool for John Moore’s University) has brought down the basket. To be honest, I didn’t even realise he could dunk it.

St Malachy's Broken Rim

All joking aside, I do hope that St Malachy’s are able to get the hoop fixed ASAP. It’s not particularly helpful for the St Malachy’s players who are preparing for Cup Finals at the end of the month.

On a more positive note, it is great to see that Belfast Star are able to find the funnier side of what was a disappointing incident. Not exactly sure who controls the Facebook for Belfast Star but this is classic (albeit, a little unrealistic – nothing personal, C.J.)

Status update the night of the 'attack'

Bieber Fever (or not)

So, I’m really a not a huge fan of Justin Bieber (I swear) but when I saw this video, I gained a little more respect for the teenage superstar. As for Shaq, he opens up the competition by putting a small wager down, “I’ll let you take my jet anywhere…”. How great would it have been, if Beebs had of replied,

“Mate, forget your private jet, I’ve a horse outside…”

Nice crossover. Lefty jump-shot. And, more importantly, he scored the game-winner on Shaq. Hard to argue with that.

What do you think? Could Bieber beat Paul Dick in a one-on-one? I’d imagine it’d be a close game; I wonder what the odds would be.

Point guard: the best of…

As a basketball player growing up, I always loved shooting the ball (who doesn’t?). I used to spend my entire lunch break on the bottom playground of Lagan College Belfast (my alma mater) shooting around and playing pick-up basketball with friends. Those were the good ol’ days – I’m turning 25 this year, and I think I’m having a pre-mature mid-life crisis. It wasn’t until I left school that my love for shooting was surpassed by another skill; passing.

PG's have to see the floor

Have you ever seen Steve Nash throw a no-look pass; driving into the key with the sole intention of drawing the defence and dishing it off to a slashing teammate? Or, have you witnessed Jason Kidd orchestrate a fast-break like he was the conductor of a world-class symphony? Or, maybe you’ve seen Ciaran McVeigh thread-the-needle on a pass like he was an award-winning mathematician; working out every angle while calculating the velocity and distance of the type of pass needed in a split second?

If you have no idea what I am talking about, check out the top 10 from my favourite PG in the world: Steve Nash.

Over the course of the next few months, I will be interviewing some of the best point guard’s in Northern Ireland, as chosen by the team at The Courtside Collective. We will be focusing on PG’s from throughout the province and across the different leagues, including (but not limited to) U13 Girls, U16 Boys (inc. the development league), the Women’s League, Men’s Premier League and even some of the legends of Northern Ireland playmakers.

Who do you think should feature in The Courtside Collective’s best PG’s? What would you like us to ask them? We welcome any and all your suggestions (even if they are ridiculous). Use comment section below or click here to contact our team directly.


 

";