Saturday promises to be one of the most exciting days in the BNI calendar with five great games of basketball on the schedule. TCC is taking a look at the match-ups to let you know what you can expect to see in La Salle.
Ulster Elks vs Kilkeel
The first game has the league winning Ulster Elks versus the fourth seeded Kilkeel Knights. Elks qualified by defeating LYIT 2-0 in their playoff series with a comfortable home win and then Darryl Shazier making two clutch Free Throws with 0.00 on the clock to win the away game and end the series. Kilkeel advanced past North Star winning their series 2-1, the first two games were one sided with the home team taking the win and then Kilkeel used a large first half lead to hold off a late North Star comeback attempt in the elimination game.
All of the signs point towards a win for the Elks here, they finished the season in excellent form and in both previous meetings with the Knights they have bee the victor by a margin of twenty points. The Elks have also overcome their injury problems and should have a full squad for finals day. Both teams have the ability to put up a lot of points but I can’t see the Knights simply trying to outscore the Elks, they are going to have to have a plan to slow down Shazier and to make it a half-court game where they can use their size advantage and passing skills to get open looks and offensive rebounding opportunities.
Dungannon Cavs/Blackstone vs Belfast Star
With the Cavs and Blackstone playing their elimination game late on Friday Night it looks like Star will have the advantage in this one no matter who they play. Star have a deep and balanced squad with the ability to sub in five player units at a time and will be up against either the Cavs or Blackstone who both have talented but shallow squads. Out of the two teams playing on Friday night Blackstone would probably be best equipped to handle two games in such a short space of time due to their youth and fitness but it is going to be a mammoth task for them to upset the Cavs for a second time.
Blackstone defeated the Cavs in Dungannon in the first game before the Cavs came back with a strong reply and a comprehensive win in game two in Ballymena. The first game looked like a shock with a seven seed upsetting a two but if you were paying attention it is clear Blackstone had a strong second half to the season and are a much better team than the seventh seed would imply. It will still be a tough ask for the Blackstone to defeat the Cavs in a second game in Dungannon and the Cavs will be favourites to progress to play Star but being the underdog suits the Ballymena men just fine and I expect a great game of hoops in Dungannon on Friday night.
Relegation / Promotion Playoff: Down Tropics vs Tyrone Towers
Perhaps the game with most at stake, forty minutes of basketball will decide the future of these clubs for next season with the winner earning a spot in the Premier League and the loser battling it out in Division one. The Tropics have a talented squad but found themselves in trouble in the premier league after having to forfeit two games due to lack of players. With a full squad at hand tomorrow the Tropics will be confident that they have the fire power to outscore the Towers. Division one was a one horse race this year with the Armagh Magic reigning supreme at the top of the table, the Towers finished in second place and their reward is this chance to gain promotion to the premier league once again. The Towers have been absent from Northern Ireland’s top division for a number of years and they will be ready for the challenge tomorrow. They have a balanced squad with size on the boards, solid guard play with the ability to penetrate and shoot the three and a healthy mix of youth and experience. This is the most interesting game on the agenda tomorrow and could possibly also be the most exciting, a must watch!
Lisburn vs Tyrone Towers (Women’s Final)
Many may be surprised to not see QUB in this years finals. Tyrone Towers outmuscled the university team in the semi-finals with tremendous performances from Leona Gallagher & Ulster Rockets forward, Eva McCrory. In the other semi-finals, Lisburn came out on top against Andersonstown team despite valiant efforts from the young Tigers team.
This game is difficult to call. On paper, Lisburn would appear to have superior talent on their roster. In the backcourt, Sinead Smye has been performing on a regular basis and will be a concern for Towers if she gets into any rhythm from beyond-the-arc. The same can be said for Susie Dick, who is coming off a lights-out shooting performance in the Irish women’s superleague shield game. In the frontcourt, Nicola Smye has the ability to guard taller and more athletic opponents and will need to focus on protecting the paint and clearing the defensive boards. Helena Fairburn is developing into one of the premier women’s basketball players in NI. Fairburn, an Ulster Rockets forward, went on a scoring run a few weeks back against the top-seeded UL. I expect Helena to pick up the bulk of the defensive rebounds and coach Carla Angelone will be expecting the Ballymena-native to lock down Towers’ Eva McCrory.
The Tyrone side has been very impressive this season. In the backcourt, leadership from Caroline McGrath, who has just returned from injury, will be vital for Towers if and when they face full-court pressure from the tenacious Lisburn defence. Nicola Rafferty and Caoimhe Colgan, the two young gunners, will match-up well with their former Rockets teammates on the Lisburn side. However, the two players to watch out for are Leona Gallagher & Eva McCory. These pair are the best forward-centre in the NI women’s league. Both Gallagher & McCrory are able to knock the open 15-foot jump-shot or take it all the way to the hoop. The two experienced forwards work comfortably against a man-to-man or within a zone-defence.
This game will be about the brut strength of Towers versus the athleticism and outside shooting of Lisburn. Whatever happens, it should make for a great game.