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.

The Top Four

Two teams have gained a game’s separation on top of the ladder with the Kilsyth Cobras (9-2) and Ballarat Miners (9-2) owning the same record to sit first and second respectively.

They will only meet each other once this season, in Round 12, but Ballarat will be confident of success as that meeting will be held at the Minerdome and they are currently the only undefeated team at home in the league.

Peter Hooley and Davon Usher are powering Ballarat’s offence, each averaging 20 points per game while Hooley also sits fourth in the competition for assists with 5.5 per game. Josh Fox has also proven to be a strong addition as he is one of only six players to be averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 12.2 rebounds (second best in the league) per contest.

Kilsyth’s depth will hold them in good stead down the stretch of the 2018 season with the luxury of playing Felix von Hofe off the bench evidence of their impressive roster. Isaac Turner has been very effective, shooting 49% from the field and 41% from deep, Dane Pineau and Sean MacDonald are solid contributors and Cobras mainstays Owen Odigie and Chris Patton continue to deliver each week.

With national 3×3 commitments interrupting their 2018 campaign so far, the Nunawading Spectres (8-3) have impressed but consecutive losses heading into the mid-season break dropped them out of the top two.

Simon Conn is not quite at his MVP level of last season but is still a dangerous player alongside Dain Swetalla while Tom Wright’s 18.2 points per game and Costas Hronopoulos (who has doubled his career average to 9.9 points this season) is taking the heat off Shane McDonald who still sits second in the competition for assists with 6.5 per contest.

The Hobart Chargers (8-3) have turned the Derwent Entertainment Centre into a fortress and their 6-1 record at home has helped them keep pace with Nunawading as has the combination of Tre Nichols (25.9 points, 5.4 assists per game) and Craig Moller (22.2 points, 12.7 rebounds).

Rounding out the Eight

Playing an extra game than the top four teams has the Dandenong Rangers (8-4) sitting just outside a top four place despite owning the same amount of wins as Nunawading and Hobart.

Last year’s Runners-Up got off to a slow start but they have won four of their past five with NBL duo Rhys Vague and Anthony Drmic as well as the efforts of point guard Lucas Barker (who leads the league in assists) crucial to their 2018 Championship chances.

Coming out of nowhere, the Melbourne Tigers (7-4) looked destined for a third straight season of missing the playoffs but a seven-game winning streak has them right in the hunt at the mid-season break. There is no question that MVP candidate Tom Wilson (a league-best 26.2 points per game) and Dexter-Kernich Drew (24.4 points- third in the competition) have been the catalysts for their turnaround but they will need help from their bench and a more-rounded team performance to maintain this form into the playoffs.

Eligible for the finals for the first time since they played as the AIS, the Centre of Excellence (7-5) are a legitimate threat but with international tours and graduation having the potential to distract them, the back half of 2018 will be a tough task.

Only two of their seven victories have come against top-eight teams which could be a concern but of their remaining games, only Kilsyth and Hobart are current finalists which makes for an appetising run home.

N/W Tasmania Thunder (7-5) round out the top eight and have played one more game than the top four teams but are still within striking distance as they sit just three games out of top spot. Consistency has been their issue but after a 1-3 start, six wins from their past eight games has shown they are a threat but they must improve their 1-3 record on the road.

Knocking on the door

There are a couple of teams not accustomed to sitting outside a finals position, especially this late in the season, but with only six rounds remaining, it is very unlikely that the Geelong Supercats (6-5) Bendigo Braves (6-5) and Mt. Gambier Pioneers (4-6) will all feature in the 2018 playoffs.

Grand Finalists in each of the past five years, the Pioneers are struggling with injuries this season and have lost Brad Hill but the addition of Sam McDaniel will give them hope and their starting five including Tom Daly, Erik Burdon and Luke Jamieson cannot be counted out.

Bendigo own the fifth best defence in the competition which will give them a chance to re-enter the top eight but despite the return of Jeremy Kendle and addition of Ray Turner who sit fourth and fifth respectively for points per game in the league, the Braves own the fifth least productive offence overall and they have dropped four of their past five games.

Finalists in each of the past 20 years, the longest run in SEABL, Geelong are right around the mark thanks to the efforts of John Davis, the evergreen Nathan Herbert as well as DeMarcus Gatlin. They will need the likes of Maalo Hicks and maybe someone like youngster Matthew Johns to step up in the final six rounds though if they are to overtake a current top-eight team. A clash against Bendigo in Round 12 and then a double-header against the Braves and Mt. Gambier in Round 14 could be season-defining match-ups.

The other team still in with a shot is the Albury/Wodonga Bandits (4-7) who had a 3-1 record after Round 3 before falling in six of their last seven outings. A return to that early season form will put them back in the hunt but they must arrest their defensive slumps as they have given up over 100 points on three occasions this year and surrender an average of 92 points per game compared to the league average of 84.9.

Fighting for survival

In their SEABL debut, the Diamond Valley Eagles (3-9) always had their backs against the wall but they have taken some momentum into the second half of the season with two wins from their past three games.

Michael Best has shone with 18.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game but the Eagles have been unable to find their stoke from distance, shooting 26% from the three-point line as a team and hitting just 5.3 three’s per game compared to the league average of 7.8.

The Sandringham Sabres (3-10) and Frankston Blues (2-11) have just five wins combined between them but both claimed victories in their last game before the Queen’s Birthday break which will give them confidence heading into the last six rounds. The Blues have added Dan Trist in recent weeks and Sam Muldrow was the Round 9 Player of the Week, signalling they can still do some damage.

Winless after nine rounds, the Canberra Gunners (0-10) are also losing games by an average of 19.6 points but they will be looking at clashes against Sandringham and potentially the CoE or Albury/Wodonga as their best chance to get on the winners list before the season is out.