Thursday, June 7, 2018

Take a look at where each team is standing as we hit the Queen’s Birthday holiday break with only six rounds remaining in the 2018 regular season.

A change to the structure this year has seen conferences removed and now the top eight teams at the end of the regular season will advance to the playoffs.

Championship Contenders

The comfortable front-runner for the Championship at the halfway point, the Bendigo Braves (10-0) do not look like losing a game, especially with only one more game for the season coming against a current top-four team. They have won their contests by an average margin of 24.6 points so far, own the best defence in the competition, are shooting 53% from the field (compared to the league average of 44%) and are 34% from distance- 2% better than the league average.

Coming off a WNBL Championship, Kelly Wilson is full of confidence and averaging 10.8 assists per game which is 5.7 more than any other player while Nadeen Payne (23.1 points), Kara Tessari (11.8 points) and Ash Karaitiana (11.2 points) are enjoying her distribution.

The Nunawading Spectres (9-3) are yet to meet Bendigo, and won’t until the last game of the regular season, but they are doing all they have to in order to stay in touch with the Braves. They own a 5-1 record on the road and have won their past four games, including a big win over Kilsyth to leapfrog them into second spot.

Izzy Chilcott and Vanessa Panousis have lit it up throughout the season, combining for 28.1 points per contest and Marena Whittle (18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds per game) has been a constant factor while Hanna Zavecz and Jacinta Vandenberg combine length and size to make for an intimidating front court that will certainly give the Braves something to worry about come the post-season.

Most people’s early prediction for the women’s Championship, the Kilsyth Cobras (8-3) have faltered slightly in the past few weeks, losing consecutive games to Nunawading and Bendigo to drop to third place. There is no denying their level of talent, but they must be able to find enough touches for all their stars. With Angela Beadle’s numbers well down on her MVP season in 2017 and even their leading scorer, Steph Blicavs, averaging her lowest output since 2010. Recording 82.7 points per game through their first nine outings, the Cobras have produced a total of just 122 points in their past two games while shooting 35% but this team certainly has time to turn their form around.

Finals Contenders

Rounding out the top four, the Dandenong Rangers (8-4) are staying in touch with the best in the league courtesy of a 4-1 home record. There has not been much flash about the Rangers in 2018 but Tayla Roberts (19.3 points, 10.9 rebounds) remains one of the most intimidating presences in the paint, Tessa Lavey sits second in the league for assists, Kiera Rowe is a rising star and Tess Madgen has made a successful return to the court ahead of her WNBL season.

Winning four of their past five games, the Sandringham Sabres (8-5) are also utilising a strong home record of 4-1 to make their way up the ladder after a shaky start to the season. Rachel Jarry has made a huge difference to the team but arguably, Jasmine Simmons has been even more impressive with 17.3 points on 59% shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. However they are only middle of the road in terms of defence, surrendering 76 points per contest, which will need to improve if they are to match it with the best in the competition.

Lauren Nicholson has exploded in 2018 and right now, looks to be on track for the MVP award. She sits second in the league with 24.5 points per game and has also recorded four double-doubles with 8.9 rebounds overall and since she has gotten some more help on court, the Launceston Tornadoes (7-5) have improved their record after starting 1-4. Lauren Mansfield returned from Europe but has since gone down with an injury but even in her absence, the Tornadoes were able to string together six wins in a row thanks to Alex Wilson and Emma Haywood and Ellie Collins stepping up.

A game back on Launceston, the Melbourne Tigers (6-5) are only one win behind what they tallied in the win column last year. Rebecca Cole has been in and out of the team due to national 3×3 commitments but leads the competition with 25.4 points per game while Monique Conti and Louella Tomlinson are holding up the back and front courts respectively. Their depth may hold them back from making a charge further up the ladder but with all their pieces in place at the right time of the season, no team will want to face the Tigers.

The defending Champions are yet to make too many teams feel their wrath in 2018 but the Geelong Supercats (6-6) are still sneakily inside the top eight thanks to consecutive wins heading into the break. Injuries have hampered them and they have often hit the court with only seven or eight players but Isabella Brancatisano has been a star with 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per contest. Having only played four out of 12 games at home, the Supercats do have a healthy run to the playoffs including playing their last four games at The Geelong Arena.

Knocking on the door

Sitting only just behind Geelong on percentage at the moment, the Sydney Uni Sparks (6-6) are aiming to reach the playoffs again after making the post-season in their debut last year. Shanae Greaves and Lara McSpadden are a solid front court pairing and Tahlia Tupaea controls the tempo well while also leading the competition in steals but they need a spark from someone like Madeline O’Hehir or Susannah Walmsley to get back into the top eight. After a 4-2 start, Sydney Uni have won just two of their last six games.

Following their best ever season opening, the Canberra Caps Academy (5-5) looked like this may be the year in which they break their six-year drought of missing the finals. However, since that 4-1 start they have slumped and an ACL injury to Kate Gaze may have been the turning point in their season. However, Keely Froling (21 points, 11 rebounds per game) continues to lead them and the likes of Abby Cubillo, Sarah McAppion and Rosemary Schweizer all have the ability to take over a game and gives the Caps Academy a couple more victories in the second half of the year.

A rough start to 2018 saw the Hobart Chargers (5-6) win just one of their five first games (by a point) while also giving up an average of 91 points. They have been able to rectify that since Round 5 and have now won four of their last six games to stay in touch with the current playoff teams. They have more than enough firepower through the ever-reliable Kathleen Scheer as well as recruit Brittany Smart and Sharna Thompson who is developing into one of the strongest scorers in the league but must continue to work diligently at the defensive end to keep their form going.

While it may be a harsh assessment for a team in their first season, the Diamond Valley Eagles’ 5-7 record is disappointing. Only three players including Maddison Rocci have played every game which has not helped their cause but with a front court of Lauren Scherf (21 points, 14.5 rebounds) and Ezi Magbegor as well as WNBL talent in Abigail Wehrung and Chevannah Paalvast, the Eagles still have not been able to get the wins on the board. Five of their remaining eight games come against clubs outside the top eight though and with only one win separating them and Geelong, there is still time for Diamond Valley.

Fighting for survival

A game further back than Diamond Valley, the Ballarat Rush (4-6) have pulled off a couple of impressive wins against Dandenong and Hobart but have dropped three of their past five and also recently departed import Courtney Williams. It will be interesting to see how they address her absence in the second half of the year but a horror run between Round 11-14 that sees them play Nunawading twice as well as Kilsyth and Bendigo makes any finals run a difficult prospect.

The Albury/Wodonga Bandits (3-9) won their first two games of the season in a rare achievement for the club but they have not had much to smile about since then. Emilee Harmon has done all she can, averaging 24.3 points and 9.1 rebounds and Kristi Mokube has impressed with 15.9 points and 9.1 boards but the defensive end has let them down.

Over the past two seasons, the Centre of Excellence (2-11) have been one of the best teams and a finals contender in years they were not eligible. Now that they are eligible, they have been unable to string much success together with a young roster in unfortunate circumstances. Most of these players have more pressing issues at hand though with eight players named to the Under-17 World Cup team including the likes of Shyla Heal, Isabel Palmer, Jade Melbourne and Eliza Hollingsworth.

An 11-game losing streak to start the season ensured the Frankston Blues (1-12) were never going to make noise in the post-season but they have been much improved over the past few weeks, including recording a big win over the CoE. The inclusion of Stacey Barr (23.1 points per game) makes them far more formidable and now with Stephanie Reid making her return to Australia from college, there should be a couple more victories on the horizon in the second half of the year to get them off the bottom of the ladder.