Chasing Rings: QBL Grand Final series preview

This week The Pick and Roll previews the massive best-of-three game grand final series that tips-off this weekend with the support of Nothing but Net media anchor Jon Guarna to get his thoughts on these match ups.

Women's Grand Final

Southern District Spartans vs Townsville Flames

Game 1: Friday, 24 August 2018, 6:00pm @ Townsville 106.3FM Stadium Game 2: Saturday, 25 August 2018, 6:00pm @ Townsville 106.3FM Stadium

This will be an intense clash between two squads with extremely deep rosters. The Southern District Spartans earned the chance to defend their championship after eliminating the Ipswich Force 89-84. Ashley Taia led the stat sheet with 23 points, five rebounds and two assists.

"As a squad I think we understood we didn’t play our usual game and relied a lot on outside shots," shared Taia. "We didn’t execute great offense and I think Ipswich’s uptempo defence played a huge role in that, not allowing us to move the ball how we usually do.

"To take the championship we need to stick together as a team and work hard defensively because that controls the tempo of our game. We’re the toughest team defensively to beat because we are all so long and athletic and that energy we bring on defense creates turnovers and steals which in turn energizes our transitional offense."

Taia's Spartans team mate Aja Parham also suggested there was still a lot of room for improvement.

"Last game we didn’t have much rhythm with a little foul trouble so we made it harder than it really needed to be, but happy we pulled it out in the end," Parham added.

"We are looking forward to the fight. They will have their crowd behind them, they’re going to have a lot of energy. We have to go up there and stay together as a team, play together and always be finding the open person and we will be alright. We respect the team we are up against and know we have to bring our A game. We really have to build on our defence and need to be better at our close outs and containments. One of our key strengths is we don’t have to rely on one person across the board. We can really hurt them so we just need to take what the defence gives us, execute and play aggressive and we will be ok."

They now head north to take on the dominant Townsville Flames who beat the Rockhampton Cyclones 111-63, with MVP candidate Darcee Garbin amassing 23 points, 13 rebounds, and two assists.

"From the game against Rockhampton we took our strong ability to get out and run - which I think really put them away," Garbin explained. "We play a very fast-paced style of game which I think really helps us. The Spartans are a great three-point shooting team as well as a great offensive rebound side, so we need to make sure we are boxing out at every opportunity."

Townsville head coach Mike St-Maurice was excited by the challenge that lies ahead against Brisbane for the 2018 QBL title.

"I felt we were able to dictate the tempo we wanted," St-Maurice said on the win over the Cyclones. "We’ve been able to capitalise on other teams fatiguing and that’s pretty much what happened. We were able to get out and run against a tired team.

"We're feeling confident heading into the grand final. The Spartans are a different team though; probably unique across the league. They’re long and strong at every position. They’ve got a lot of experience in that group. They did a great job against us earlier in the year taking us out of the game early. But they say if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, so we’re looking forward to hosting the defending champs this week."

Jon’s thoughts: Townsville's semi-final dismantling of Rockhampton was the most impressive finals performance thus far, but you cannot look past how the Spartans were able to beat Ipswich. The women's competition has been as close as I can ever remember and I think that will carry over into the grand finals. I think this one goes all three games, with the home court advantage helping the Flames to lift the trophy. I'm going with Micaela Cocks as MVP. I see Cocks shooting the ball well and creating for her teammates as she has done all season.

My thoughts: Rockhampton played their grand final during the quarter-finals and simply didn’t have the firepower or staying ability against Townsville. Ipswich took the Spartans all the way in a gritty clash. The Spartans have a roster with great depth while being a completely different outfit to 2017, however they still compete with the best of them. I am also taking the Flames in this one in a clinical fast-paced series of three with the Spartans really throwing down a challenge. I have Garbin for MVP, who brings a great dimension in both aggressive attack and potent shared workload across the court.

What the stars say...

Amanda ‘AJ’ Johnson (Ipswich): “Honestly, it’s going to be an intensely close series. You’ve got the two deepest teams in the conference, both putting shooting clinics on this last week. Both teams play hard and fast, and they will be physical, exciting games. I definitely see it going to 3, but I think with the level of physicality and continuous high pace of play it’ll fall to Spartans. In terms of MVP there’s too much talent in this match-up to even guess. You’ve got shooters hitting 50%, 60% of their 3 point attempts on both sides. Any of the starting 5 for either team could show up and shine this series but if Townsville takes it, I see it going to Cocks or Garbin depending on how the balls falls. If Spartans secure the title, then probably Anderson, Baer or Taia.”

Nat Hurst (Sunshine Coast): “That’s a tough one as both teams run deep. Spartans have the size and scoring ability. Townsville have proven WNBL stars and up-and-coming ones. I think whoever sticks to the coach’s game plan as both squads seem to prepare very well will win this series. If Spartans win then I think it relies a lot on Anderson so her for MVP and if Townsville win I think Garbin or Cocks for MVP with honourable mention to Goodchild.”

Nicole Seekamp (Wouth West Metro): “Spartans are defending champions and have great depth. If Townsville win then Darcee Garbin gets MVP but if Spartans win then it goes to Ambrosia Anderson.”

Abby Bishop (Sunshine Coast): “Spartans. They’re the reigning champs, and they are the deepest team in the QBL. They’ve also been playing some great basketball lately but I expect it to go down to the wire! MVP to go to either Ambrosia Anderson or Micaela Cocks – both very important pieces to their teams!”

Heidi Freeburn (Mackay): “I think Spartans will take it out thanks to their size and experience. They are big all over the floor, can shoot well and attack off the dribble. Ambrosia Anderson as MVP.

Men's Grand Final

Cairns Marlins vs Townsville Heat

Game 1: Friday, 24 August 2018, 8:00pm @ Townsville 106.3FM Stadium Game 2: Saturday, 25 August 2018, 8:00pm @ Townsville 106.3FM Stadium

QBL's oldest rivalry is reignited in the grand final for the first time since 2004. The Heat are looking to defend their title, while the Marlins won in 2016. Townsville also knocked the Marlins out of the playoffs in 2016. The QBL title will remain in one of the two greatest basketball cities in Queensland.

Defending champions Townsville Heat will roll into this series ready to go back-to-back. They had a gritty semi-final battle against a flashy Brisbane Capitals side, winning 90-85. Justin Baker starred with 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

"Now that we have that home final - we are not going to leave anything to chance," Baker explained. "Last season we were not expected to win that championship and now we have added two great pieces of our team in Jordair Jett and the young, poised- to-be great Australian talent in Harry Froling that adds so much more versatility and less reliance on certain players - which means we can spread the potential and makes us more of a confident, solid unit."

This grand final series sold out in less than thirty minutes, a true testament to the program that the management has built from the coaches, recruitment and the massive stronghold of fans. Heat stars Baker and Wilcher commented on what the Townsville faithful meant to this proud organisation.

"If you look at our last game against Capitals when it looked like we were about to pull the ultimate shock job of the season and lose the crowd and their support never faltered, they cheer loudly against our opponent and cheer even louder for us," Baker added. "They never give up on us! Our support from the crowd is unparalleled to any other in the QBL."

"I think it speaks volumes for our home record over the past few seasons," chimed in Wilcher. "We take pride in that and we know that if we are ever not playing well that our crowd is going to get us going and when we are playing well they’ll always be behind us."

The Cairns Marlins continued to show the never-say-die attitude under strong adversity that has not wavered through the playoffs. They are the giant killers coming into this last chance at championship glory. They are ready to repeat what they achieved against both Logan and Mackay in the previous two rounds – spoiling the party at their home courts. Cairns took the semi final against the strong Mackay Meteors 99-96. Christian Jurlina continued to leave his impact with 25 points, four rebounds and three assists.

"The opportunity to compete with high level Taipans players in the lead up to the NBL season has really elevated our plays, "the rising Cairns Taipans star explained. "The fact that we are underdogs and do have nothing to lose that definitely adds to our success. When we play to our potential we hang with the best of them. No matter home or away we are a force to be reckoned with - and we have proven that."

The Marlins have shown what they can do, but their mission this week is at a whole new level against a Heat squad starring the dominant Wilcher, dynamic big man Froling, and the reliable workhorse Baker.

"We need to understand and accept that the Cairns side we have beaten 2-0 this season is not here anymore," exclaimed Baker. "That team is gone, that team no longer exists. They have the same players but they are playing in a completely transformative way. They are playing with fearlessness, moxy and running a whole different style of basketball now. The way Fisher and Jurlina are playing, the emergence of Krslovic and Nwelue as a front court tandem - you have got to respect it! It will be a fresh new challenge for us. To have the upper hand in this one we must focus on ourselves, control what we can control and we like our chances that it will take care of itself if we put all those pieces together."

Wilcher is the reigning grand final MVP, always leading from the front and continuously aggressively. For him, the plan is to go out, dig deep with his side and get another ring with a back to back championship in the process.

"That semi final really taught us that no game is finished until it’s finished," Wilcher said.

"We were disappointed to let a team back in like that but we are even more focussed to close out this series. This Cairns side have been playing with great confidence. They went into that Logan game and beat them when nobody said they would, then went up against a side who had only lost three games all season and eliminated them. So for us it’s about controlling the star pieces that they have. We need to take one or two out of the game and it will help us greatly."

The series stars two of the best coaches and basketball tacticians going around. Townsville’s Rodney Anderson has been at the helm of the defending championships for four years. He typifies the passion and dedication to not only his side but also his town and the sport as a whole. Just like his men, he is here to take the championship and continue to give back to the faithful of the ‘Ville and further solidify themselves as a benchmark in Queensland basketball.

Cairns’ Jamie O’Loughlin is fresh to this role after being appointed in place of departing head coach Jamie Perlman in 2018 – but he possesses strong vibrant coaching experience. His recruitment was a masterstroke for the Cairns management.

Coming into the season the coach had one goal that he made well aware and that was to take the competition. Currently serving as the Taipans’ assistant coach and experience as a former Perth Wildcats assistant he has pure basketball IQ and his players respect him and the methods of coaching and plays that he runs.

Townsville Head Coach Rodney Anderson spoke openly about how his team advanced to the grand final, and what he was expecting.

"For the semi-final our first half was unbelievable - 64 points in the first half and shooting the ball really well," Anderson enthused. "I think we started to relax in the second half - at halftime the word got out that Cairns had upset Mackay and we would be hosting the series if we won and we started playing not to lose. Baker and Froling made some great plays to close it out.

"Cairns have been playing high-octane during the playoffs and we really need to slow them down. They play a Taipans-style of offence - Jamie O’Loughlin and Mike Kelly have really put their footprints on this side and their play. They are playing a lot faster and we need to aim at keeping their scoring down and it should be a close series. We have to step up defensively to take the game away here early."

Confidence is high with this Marlins side, and it was something coach O’Loughlin was well aware of.

"The greatest thing I think we took from that semi final was our resilience" O'Loughlin shared. "Going into a hostile environment against the first seed and not only that we found ourselves in a deep hole in the third quarter down by 19 points there. We stayed the course, reeled it in and the guys made some plays to really position themselves to make a run towards the end.

"We need to keep playing the way we have been - put a lot of effort in defending and our consistent effort on the glass. The guys are pretty happy with their role in the team and how that fits with everybody else. The team has evolved and was critical - a brand new team who has had to find their identity throughout the season."

Jon’s thoughts: I have been tipping against Cairns since the finals started and they have proven me wrong twice already. Cairns has been playing some great basketball so it's hard to tip against them, but I am going to do just that. I think Townsville’s size and experience will get them over the line but I would not be surprised if the Marlins spring a third upset in a row. Since I am tipping a Townsville series win, I am going to go with Baker as MVP. He has championship experience and is a really tough matchup for Cairns. I see him having a big series.

My thoughts: Both teams playing great ball, both coached by two of the best, game winning pieces across the court in both squads – all of those points make for an insanely high quality Grand Final series! I am a true sucker for the underdogs and the romance of sport. Townsville are an all-star side who will really push this series all the way. I have the Marlins here in a three game series though. Christian Jurlina – remember the name! The kid can ball with passion and grit and has showcased that point, off the back of his training experience with the Kings and his season with the Taipans ahead his star will only rise. He relishes the underdog status and it is talk like that which drives him to really louden his success and impact. Anthony Fisher – Mr Reliable and the leader every competitive team should have on their roster. I have been saying it all season and still don’t understand how this guy does not have a NBL roster spot yet other than as discussed the obvious limit of spots in the league. Throw in that emergence of Nwelue and Krslovic as well as this fast paced tempo of play and I can see that winning out in the end over a tight series. Jurlina with the MVP which will lead into a big season with the Taipans.

What the stars and coaches say...

Michael Cedar (Logan): “Youngest Marlins team I can recall versus the defending champs who have upgraded with Jett and Froling. Roster and talent equals Townsville however form equals Cairns. Tough series to choose winner, so going with my heart and home town. Townsville win 2-0 in 2 tough games. Justin Baker to be finals MVP.”

Cam Tragardh (Mackay): “I think Townsville will take it because their size may be a bit too much to handle. Though Cairns are playing really good ball. I think Josh Wilcher will be named MVP. If his usage rate is high in the series, good things will happen. His experience will stand up.”

Damon Bozeman (Toowoomba): “Cairns have been having an NCAA March madness playoff run and I think that will continue through the grand final. Not sure on grand final MVP because anyone on their team can win. They have a lot of weapons.”

Luke Cann (Logan): “Heart says Townsville being a Townsville kid and knowing a lot of their guys. They will go in as favourites but at the moment my brain says Cairns in 3. They have hit their straps at the right end of the season and their game plan is simple but effective. If Townsville can get on the same page as each other than obviously they have the talent to win. Anthony Fisher will be MVP – he is a class act and true point guard. Should be on an NBL roster. If Townsville win it will be Justin Baker as the difference.”

Geoff Tarrant (Brisbane): “Townsville should win this in two games. Too much experience and depth plus the advantage of playing at home should see them win comfortably. Cairns have been outstanding the last few weeks but the travel and lack of depth will take its toll on these guys. Josh Wilcher will be the grand final MVP. He is the man and I doubt that Cairns can put on the sort of pressure that we put on him.”

Matt Adekponya (Gold Coast): “I think Townsville will be too much. Having played in a few grand finals before and having home court is a huge advantage. MVP to go to Harry Froling, he’s playing at a really high level and I’m not sure if Cairns has anyone to slow him down.”

Mitch Young (Logan): “I think the Cairns Marlins will win the QBL GF. They are well coached and are playing great hoops at the right time. Anthony Fisher will be the finals MVP.”

Jack Lopez (Rockhampton): “I think Townsville will win, their size and experience will be a big reason. Wilcher to again win the MVP."

Watch #QBL18 Live Online

You can watch 2018 QBL action live and free online: check the schedule for dates and times.