NBL 2014/15 Round 1 Preview: Hawks, Crocs open season in the ‘Gong

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Wollongong Hawks vs Townsville Crocodiles

Friday 10th October, 2014 – 7.30pm (local time)

WIN Entertainment Centre

Tickets: Click here

Wollongong will host Townsville in the 2014/15 season opener in a match between two sides who many tip will be scrapping it out for a finals spot come February.

Geordie McLeod’s side have retained most of their roster, with movement in the import slots and the addition of Australia big man Luke Nevill the only major changes. The loss of league MVP Rotnei Clarke will be a huge blow, but with former MVP Gary Ervin returning to his original NBL home and excitement machine Jahii Carson coming to the Sandpit, the Hawks have plenty of potential to return to the finals. The fitness of Larry Davidson, who is out indefinitely, and Carson will be key for the Hawks, with the latter expected to play but still under an injury cloud ahead of the match.

Townsville have also made some changes, with the most notable addition to the roster being the signing of former NBA centre Mickell Gladness. The man who once blocked 16 shots in an NCAA game will add grunt and presence to the Crocs in the paint, and the American has already made an impact by taking home the NBL Blitz MVP last month as he helped his Crocs to the Loggins-Bruton Cup. The natural improvement of youngsters Todd Blanchfield and sharp-shooter Clint Steindl will see Townsville be far better than they were in 2013/14.

Key Player

Luke Nevill

Credit: Wollongong Hawks

The Australia centre returns to the NBL after stints overseas and will be thrown in the deep end first up, running into former NBA big man Mickell Gladness.

Nevill was an eleventh hour signing to help cover the loss of injured centre Larry Davidson, and will be looking to emulate his numbers from 2012/13 when he posted 13.2ppg and 4.9rpg whilst playing for the Crocs.

The Hawks are strong at the point guard spot and have solid role players across the floor, so if Nevill can at least break even with his more fancied counterpart in the paint it will give his side a huge boost. Put simply, the performance of Nevill against potentially the best centre in the league this season will go a long way to determining the Hawks’ fate in this clash.

What To Watch For

Gary Ervin’s return ‘home’

The former league MVP returns to where it all began on Aussie soil, finding his way back to the ‘Gong after stints in Townsville and Adelaide. Ervin led Adelaide to a grand final appearance last season and is one of the most dynamic point guards in the league with his ability to get to the rim and create for his teammates. When he is at his best, the import is electrifying to watch and can turn games in a matter of minutes. Returning ‘home’ to Wollongong, where he claimed league MVP honours back in 2010/11, to play on opening night in front of a packed out crowd is sure to bring out the best of Ervin.

Final Word

The Hawks will be looking to build on their incredible late season form in 2013/14 and start strong at home against a team they are likely to be competing against for a finals spot later early next year; however the Crocs will prove a tricky first up challenge. The wooden spoon from last season was a distant memory at the Blitz as the boys from Townsville took home the trophy, and they too will be out to kick off their campaign in fine fashion.

The battle in the paint looms as the key, but with the Hawks being undersized outside of Nevill, there is a big opportunity for the Crocs’ frontcourt, featuring Gladness and the returning Brian Conklin, to exploit Wollongong’s weakness. The home side will need to rely on their quality backcourt, and Ervin and Carson will need to be aggressive and create enough points for their side to combat Townsville’s advantage inside.

Never underestimate a Gordie McLeod coached side, but without Davidson, with Carson coming off an injury and based on Townsville’s pre-season form, the visitors might sneak over the line.

Townsville by 2