NBL 2013/14: Round 1 Preview

photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick via photopin cc

The NBL season for 2013/14 is finally here, and after a long off-season every club will be desperate to start the real stuff off with a win. Round one promises to be massive with some huge matchups and cross-town rivalries set to take centre stage.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Wollongong Hawks

Thursday 10th October - 7.30pm (local time) Vector Arena

The season kicks off in New Zealand where the three-time reigning champions will play host to Wollongong. The Breakers have begun life without star point guard Cedric Jackson poorly, losing every pre-season game against NBL opponents before finally breaking through for victory against Chinese side Dongguan Leopards. They will be keen to start the season proper in far better form, particularly given that they are playing at home.

Wollongong will be looking to improve on their semi-final appearance in 2013/14, with most of their side back for another tilt at the title. The release of star import Durrell Summers has thrown the club into the dark heading into their first game after contract negotiations broke down. The form of remaining import Rotnei Clarke, however, has been impressive over the pre-season, setting the competition alight with some blistering shooting displays. Despite his form, the Hawks have struggled to get going so far and will also be looking to turn their fortunes around.

To win, New Zealand must . . . use their height advantage to control the glass and the paint. Alex Pledger in particular needs to fire offensively against the likes of Larry Davidson and Shane Harris-Tunks, who both give away inches to the Kiwi. Keeping the likes of Tim Coenraad and Dave Gruber off the glass at the Breakers’ defensive end is also a must.

To win, Wollongong must . . . find some support for Clarke on offense. The hot-shooting American can fill it up on the points column, but the likes of sharp-shooters Oscar Forman and Rhys Martin, albeit returning from injury,, have had disappointing pre-seasons and will need to step it up if the Hawks are to get the win. All five players on the floor need to be potent threats on offensive and force the Breakers to play defense, particularly now given Summers has departed and they will be shorthanded.

Verdict: While both teams have had below par pre-seasons, it’s hard to go past the Breakers at home. The vocal crowd at Vector Arena will accept nothing less than a victory for the home side, and they will likely prove the difference if the game is tight. The loss of Summers for the Hawks, especially so close to the start of the season, is massive and they will struggle to pick up the pieces in time for this one. New Zealand by 13

Perth Wildcats vs. Adelaide 36ers

Friday 11th October - 6.30pm (local time) Perth Arena

Perth comes into round one as the early favourite to take out the title after near-misses in the last two seasons. A win at the Blitz pre-season tournament, huge off-season signings in James Ennis and Jermaine Beal, and much of the same squad from last season makes the ‘Cats the most potent side in the league, despite the absence of star centre Matt Knight. A raucous capacity home crowd at the 13,000 seat Perth Arena will be hungry for success early.

Adelaide come into their new campaign after collecting the wooden spoon in 2012/13, and have the toughest road trip in the league first up. There is fresh excitement and expectation in the air at the 36ers after signing former MVP Gary Ervin and fellow American Jarrid Frye, and the Sixers will be keen to show how much they’ve improved with a solid first up showing against the Perth juggernaut.

To win, Perth must . . . play team defence and make the game up-tempo. While Adelaide has shown it likes to score in the pre-season, Perth come in with more offensive weapons. If the game becomes slow, it will suit the much taller 36ers. In saying that, the undersized Wildcats will need to work together to nullify the advantage that Daniel Johnson and Luke Schenscher will have on the glass.

To win, Adelaide must . . . exploit Perth’s lack of quality talls, especially given Knight’s absence. Johnson and Schenscher need to impose themselves early and make Perth play tight interior defense, which will open up the floor for the likes of Ervin, Frye and Adam Gibson to create open shots and easy scores. Slowing down scorers Ennis, Beal and Shawn Redhage will also go a long way to the Sixers getting the win.

Verdict: This game will be a lot closer than their 2012/13 ladder positions suggest. Adelaide looks to be a massively improved outfit this season and the 36ers are considered a strong chance to play finals. If they can get off to a good start and take the crowd out of it, they will be in a good position to strike late, however an injury cloud hanging over Gibson threatens to strike a huge blow on game day. The quality of Ennis and Redhage, as well as the loudest and most intimidating home court advantage in the league, make it impossible to tip against the Wildcats. Perth by 8

Townsville Crocodiles vs. Cairns Taipans

Saturday 12th October - 7.30pm (local time) Townsville Entertainment Centre

Townsville enters the season as somewhat of an unknown. They have seemingly found two gems to fill their import spots, replacing superstar Gary Ervin after he departed for Adelaide in the off-season. However, while Olympian Peter Crawford remains sidelined, the usual suspects in the way of Jacob Holmes and Russell Hinder have fired blanks in the pre-season. We haven’t seen enough of new recruit and former Boomer Steven Markovic to suggest he will be a worthy contributor either.

Cairns come in off the back of a strong pre-season showing, finishing second to Perth at the Blitz and taking a number of big scalps throughout. A team stacked with shooters, the Snakes have been able to keep it going so far and will be a team to watch over the summer if they can keep lighting it up. Off-season signings Stephen Weigh and import Demetri McCamey have slotted in nicely to a side which is as even and deep as any across the league.

To win, Townsville must . . . find some offense outside of Josh Pace and Brian Conklin. So far, the two Americans have filled the stat sheet for the Crocs in each outing, but in the absence of Crawford there has been a significant gap between them and the rest. More avenues to the basket, particularly in the way of veterans Holmes and Hinder, will be needed to keep up with the Taipans’ high octane offense.

To win, Cairns must . . . knuckle down on defense and take the crowd out of it. We all know the Snakes can post a score, but defense will determine how far they go this season. Given the lack of offense that the Crocs have generated over the pre-season, holding them defensively will almost certainly lead to a win for Cairns with points flowing down the other end.

Verdict: The Reptile Rumble brings a rivalry with it that is unmatched anywhere else in the league. The Crocs will be desperate to beat their north Queensland rivals at home, but a lack of offense will make it difficult against a Cairns team firing on all cylinders. Last season we saw these clashes go down to the wire, and this one may well do the same. The two teams squared off last week in a pre-season teaser and Cairns took the win. Look for history to repeat itself, just. Cairns by 5

Sydney Kings vs. Melbourne Tigers

Sunday 13th October - 2.00pm (local time) Sydney Entertainment Centre

The Kings open their campaign at home against the rival Tigers with what is largely a new-look side. Imports Charles Carmouche and Jesse Sanders have shown they will be solid, without being spectacular, contributors this season, while Ben Madgen will play after missing much of the pre-season through injury. Star centre AJ Ogilvy comes in as the prized recruit and will be looking to get his NBL career off to a flying start.

Melbourne has had the pre-season from hell. After going undefeated against quality opposition prior to the Blitz, long-term injuries to star shooter Chris Goulding, import Stephen Dennis and captain Tommy Greer have dealt the Tigers a cruel hand and thrown their early season plans into disarray. They have hit back well since and have shown they won’t go down easily, and with the signing of ex-Tiger Ayinde Ubaka they will be in finals contention once more.

To win, Sydney must . . . exploit the Tigers’ weaknesses and run the floor. With their entire starting backcourt missing, as well as their captain at power forward, the Kings will look to apply the pressure and run the Tigers off their feet. The Tigers will look to slow the game down, and if Sydney can quicken the tempo and generate some easy offense then Melbourne will struggle to keep up.

To win, Melbourne must . . . spread the load and play team defence. Without three of its five starters, the Tigers will be shorthanded and will need to rely on an even spread of contributors offensively. The likes of Nate Tomlinson and Lucas Walker will need to step up in their new roles as starters, while Auryn MacMillan needs to held import Scott Morrison on the glass. Team defence will keep them in the game against a Sydney side which boasts more firepower.

Verdict: On paper, the Kings should win comfortably given the host of injuries the Tigers have sustained. However, you only need to go back a week to see that Melbourne will be competitive after they managed to split two games in Adelaide against the 36ers. It’s unlikely Ubaka will play, meaning Tomlinson will again be left to run the team. If the Kings get out to a lead then it will be very tough for the Tigers to catch them. Sydney by 5