NBL 2014/15 Round 3 Preview: Hawks host New Zealand looking to kick start season

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Wollongong Hawks vs New Zealand Breakers

WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Tip Off: Sunday October 26, 2pm (Local Time)

Tickets: Click Here

Odds: Wollongong $1.90; New Zealand $1.90

The final game of the round pits two teams looking to find their true value within the NBL core. While many may have argued that the Hawks overachieved last season, some of their following may be starting to question this season's early demise.

While it may be exciting watching their backcourt tandem in Jahii Carson and Gary Ervin, it can become frustrating to fans watching the men in red chalk up numbers in the 'loss' column, especially when playing at home.

So here ponders an early season fixture for the Hawks which could quite possibly answer the question of where they really stand in the competition side of things. Can their big guys such as Oscar Forman, Luke Nevill and Larry Davidson, help out the in-form players like Carson and Tim Coenraad?

On the flip side, New Zealand have looked positive and professional in their opening two rounds; knocking the door over in Perth, before accounting for Adelaide with some ease. Despite their loss to Melbourne and then the result that went either way against Cairns earlier in the week, the Breakers are pushing to become one of the front runners again.

However, are they contenders or pretenders? When Cedric Jackson goes missing (which in honesty, isn't often), is there enough improvement in Corey Webster's game to pick up the slack, or is it just a purple patch for the New Zealand international? Will guys such as Ekene Ibekwe and Alex Pledger dominate the paint for the majority of the season? Again, this match-up could potentially answer some of these pondering questions.

Key Player

Ekene Ibekwe

The Nigerian didn't feature much in the Breakers' outing last week against Melbourne due to foul trouble. This can't happen in match-ups such as this, where the focal point is on both team's guards to light up the scoreboard.

With Ibekwe's length, he must maintain a strong presence inside on defense, while being able to match it with the likes of Oscar Forman down the other end. While Ibekwe certainly won't take 10 three pointers a game (see Forman last week), he will need to be able to give the Breakers that room to move as it enables his teammates like Webster and Jackson an easier path to the rim.

If E-Beks can knock a couple of long range balls early, the Hawks will be in for a difficult time throughout the 40 minutes, even if it's not Ibekwe doing all the damage on the scoreboard.

What To Watch For

Vickerman's Smaller Line-ups

As the team opened up 1-2 in the first two rounds, Vickerman needs to understand the pros and cons of using multiple line-ups throughout the game, and then some. While it's always a good sign to see injury plagued Alex Pledger on the hardwood, there are times when the Breakers need to go small and push the tempo so that the game can swing into their favour.

Coach Vickerman would had hopefully ran with different line-ups through training during the week, which allows guys such as Tai Wesley and Mika Vukona playing the 5, while pushing guys like Thomas Abercrombie and Rhys Carter to either forward positions.

With Wollongong's unique defensive system, this week could just be the time to implement these types of game plans.

Final Word

In what is a tough situation for both teams, having to play their fourth game in under a week and a half, it's looking like it could be a sluggish game. They say defence wins championships, well defence will surely win this contest.

It doesn't look like a high scoring affair will be on offer, as long as most of their work goes into the defensive end and getting stops.

In saying that, the home side must be given slight favouritism (although it's all square in the betting odds department) and with that, the Hawks to win by under a bucket.

Wollongong by 2