Big V 2015: Impressive Cougars waiting in the wings
Looking at the standings after three rounds, McKinnon’s 2-2 record and fifth place on the State Championship Men table would suggest mediocrity.
The Cougars, on face value, look to be another of the many sides that will be in the finals dogfight come the business end of the season.
Credit: Big V Media
However, a deeper look into the results of season 2015 so far suggests that the Cougars may be armed with the artillery needed to push the top sides, and not only make the playoffs but go deeper than many would have expected.
In fact, they have arguably been handed the toughest run of any team so far, facing Corio Bay and Waverley as well as finals contenders Werribee in their opening four games.
McKinnon’s season began with 100-97 overtime loss to title fancies and back-to-back grand finalists Corio Bay, before a tough 72-67 road loss to the Devils the week after as they played without superstar William Harrison and had Axel Dench on court for just 13 minutes.
Yet in round three, the Cougars bounced back to form with a comfortable 15-point win over winless Diamond Valley before stunning Waverley – who many have tipped to be grand finalists after bolstering their roster over the off-season - with a 101-73 win in the Falcons’ own gym.
Not bad for a side many have predicted to finish mid-table.
The Cougars could easily be 4-0 and be the talk of the league with big wins over top sides, but instead have flown under the radar somewhat with their look of mediocrity on the surface.
Of course, that probably changed with their drubbing of the Falcons, but nonetheless they remain a side that many will continue to overlook in favour of the Falcons, Stingrays and Ringwood.
The loss of former NBL superstar Marcus Timmons over the off-season is probably the main reason that the Cougars haven’t been pumped up after a very impressive first season in the top flight that saw them reach the finals in sixth before being bundled out by Waverley.
On early form, however, they look to have improved and may well be on their way to something even bigger in 2015.
A big question mark was McKinnon’s ability to score the basketball last season against the better sides, and so far in 2015 they have done plenty to dispel that notion with a combined 198 points against two of the absolute top sides in the league.
Their low of 67, of course, came with their two biggest offensive weapons on the sidelines for all but 13 minutes of the match.
After a fantastic 2014, Harrison has already shown signs of further improvement this season and is averaging a monster 28.7 points per game in his three outings to lead his side.
Former NBL big man Dench, who was recruited over summer, has also been brilliant so far in three of the four games, averaging 15 points and 6.5 boards whilst shooting 51% from the floor.
Those numbers would be much higher if his two-point, two-rebound outing against Werribee was taken out.
While Timmons was undoubtedly a star of the competition, his numbers and impact on games didn’t always reflect that, whereas Dench has all the tools to stamp his authority in games.
Suddenly, the Cougars have two genuine stars of the league who are both capable of scoring 20-25+ on a consistent basis, as well as the ability to hurt sides from outside the perimeter and inside the paint at the same time.
Throw in Sam Ayre, who has the capability of going big when called upon, and Neal Mueller, who has scored more than 12 points in three of his four games so far this season, and there’s depth in the roster as well.
It’s a long season and we are only a month in, and there are plenty of teams who will have their say in the title conversation, but there is something brewing at McKinnon that may well lead to success in August.
The message is clear: don’t sleep on the Cougars in 2015.
To find your local club’s fixtures and results, and to keep up to date with all the league news and information over the season, head to www.bigv.com.au or click here.