BASKETBALL ACT – COLES EXPRESS NBL1 EAST – FINALS CONTENDERS – MEN
By BACT MEDIA UNIT – 5 August 2022
The race to the inaugural Coles Express NBL1 East finals series is heating up! With just two rounds remaining, the Canberra Gunners remain the only team to have locked in a finals spot for the much anticipated NBL1 East finals series starting August 20th.
300-game SEABL MVP and member of the Canberra Gunners NBL1 commentary team Grant Keys breaks down the run home for the teams in contention.
Canberra Gunners 14 – 5. Remaining: Maitland (H), Manly (H), Central Coast (A)
It’s exciting times for men’s basketball in Canberra, with the impressive young Gunners opening up a 2-game lead on top of the NBL1 East ladder, after a less than convincing overtime win against a determined Albury Bandits team last weekend.
It’s been 15 years since a young Anthony Petrie took the Gunners to their last East conference final and the locals have been revelling in the performances of the all-local roster, arguably the deepest in the NBL1 East.
Five Gunners average double figures, with Canberra juniors Glenn Morrison (18&10), Will Mayfield (18&6), Akech Aliir (11&7), James Toohey (14, 4 & 3) and Dhal Feig (13, 4 & 3) leading the way. The Gunners often run 12-deep, with plenty more weapons on the bench in the likes of Mills, Badalassi, Cooper, Brown and Kaye all capable of big games on any given night.
Glenn Morrison in particular has been in great form and must be turning heads of NBL teams looking for a back-up centre. While yet to win a player of the week award, his size, strength, silky low-post footwork, devastating mid-range game and huge defensive presence has made him the dominant centre in the NBL1 East, and made the Gunners a very difficult opponent to beat on the inside through his partnership with the smooth Akech Aliir,
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Gunners who are yet to beat the Illawarra Hawks this season, last week’s 102-77 loss at the Snakepit the latest defeat following an early season loss at home. If the Gunners are to go all the way Coach Pete Herak will need to come up with a plan to stop Kiwi Gardner after he terrorised the Gunners in both games, with 24 points last week after his 29 straight off the plane in round 2.
With just two home games and a final away roadtrip to the Central Coast left, the Gunners would need to lose all of their games not to finish top spot. Coach Herak will want to ensure they don’t have any further lapses and go into the finals with plenty of momentum with a great opportunity to consolidate their place on top and claim the minor premiership this Friday and Saturday night at Belconnen.
Norths Bears 18-7 Remaining: Illawarra (A), Newcastle (A)
After a mid-season slump loosing 5 games in a row, the Norths bears have rediscovered their secret sauce and have powered up into second spot winning 10 of their last 11 games, including an impressive away win in Canberra.
When team-leading point guard Brennan Rymer (22, 4 & 4) went down with an ankle injury in round 14, a finals spot may have looked difficult for the Bears, but experienced import Pat Sanders and Sydney Kings development player Iggy Mitchell have stepped up to fill the void, winning their last 4 games without Rymer.
An impressive double against Hills and Newcastle last weekend sees the Bears move into a precarious second place. They cannot afford to drop a game in their massive final away games against Illawarra and Newcastle, who along with Maitland and Sutherland will be looking for them to slip up in the run home. If they can split their two away games, they should sneak into the finals. Getting a healthy Rymer back will go a long way in helping them achieve that.
Illawarra Hawks 11-7 Remaining: Norths (H), Albury (H), Sutherland (A), Maitland (A)
Two words – KIWI GARDNER. The inconsistent Hawks chances to make the finals will rely on all of this former Santa Cruz Warrior’s talent and experience to lead his team through what is shaping as a challenging last 4 games of the season for the Hawks.
Gardner is in MVP form, his 47 points at 58% in their 2-point win in Manly last Saturday, following 24 points in their big win against the league-leading Gunners, an indication of the class of this man, and his importance to the Hawks. Without Gardner, the Hawks lost by nearly 40 points to Bankstown in Round 13.
If the Hawks are to go all the way they will need the experience of former NBL vet Lucas Walker to step up and take some of the heat off Gardner, as he did in their win against the Gunners, with a 20-piece feed of his own. The versatility and talent of young Fletch MacDonald, son of Hawks NBL great Dene MacDonald, will also be important component. McDonald’s ability to post up, rebound and facilitate has impressed greatly this season and it’s no surprise he is leading his team in blocks and rebounds and second only to Gardner in assists.
It’s a tough run home for the Hawks, but if they can fill the upstairs Snakepit bar full of boisterous fans and at least split their final two home games this weekend, it could set up a massive finals decider against Maitland in the final round.
Maitland Mustangs 11-7 Remaining: Canberra (A), Bankstown (A), Manly (H), Illawarra (H)
Another team with a tough run home, the ‘stangs have had a mixed season with some solid wins but find themselves tied up in a race for the finals after a big 77-91 loss to Sutherland on the weekend, keeping the Sharks in finals contention.
Big New Zealander James Hunter has had a great season leading the team with 17points, 8 rebounds per game, with Daniel Millbourne also stepping up in recent wins against Albury and Hills, but with a lack of depth and a tough Canberra-Bankstown away swing next weekend, a finals spot may come down to their final game against Illawarra at home.
Newcastle Falcons 11-8 Remaining: Bankstown (H), Norths (H), Sutherland (A)
3 weeks ago the Falcons were flying high on top of the ladder but have since crashed to 5th, losing their last 4 games by big margins, and not scoring over 70 points in any of those games.
The Falcons’ big three of Ryan Beisty, Myles Cherry and Matur Maluach have been trying hard and contributing, but the Falcons will need others to step up if they are to make the finals. Their run made all that bit harder with import JaShaun Smith not seen since his 4 points in 13 minutes in Round 16. They do have in their favour one of the easier runs home, with a final decider against Sutherland looming if they can get their season back on track at Bankstown this weekend.
Sutherland Sharks 10-9 Remaining: Albury (H), Illawarra (H), Newcastle (H).
Sitting in 6th position but with only home games remaining and all the momentum after 3 straight wins, the Sharks are well and truly still in the finals race and are my smokey for stealing a spot in the final 4.
The often-spectacular Lochlan Hutchinson and experience of Geoff Gerlach is coming through at the right end of the season for the Sharks, with Sydney Kings DP Archie Woodhill and Jordan Mitchell also posting some big numbers down the stretch, the Sharks could be the danger team in the NBL1 East if they sneak into the finals.
With 9 losses to their name they will need to win their remaining 3 and hope either Norths, Illawarra or Maitland drop 2 games, which could be very likely with their respective runs home. Don’t be surprised if it comes down to their last game against Newcastle in what is shaping up as a massive final play-in game.
Whatever happens, the run to the NBL1 East men’s finals series will be an exciting one to watch, made all the better by what I must say is some of the best commentating going around the NBL1! Matt McQuade’s calls at of the Inner West Bulls is at the top of that list but also loving the Norths commentators and their half time and post-game interviews.
However, in terms of the professional production and commentary delivered this season by the Canberra crew thanks to Wonqy and BACT’s Davey J (with some outstanding contributions from former Gunners Andrew Coulter and James Macpherson), there’s no doubt the Canberra team are leading the way!
Great job to all the staff and volunteers that help put NBL1 games on each week, about time we had a quality product like this promoting all of our great young local talent across NSW and the Territory, keep up the good work!