Eagles flying high
Daniel Routledge assesses the play-off chances of BBL champions Newcastle Eagles.
Last Updated: 18/04/12 10:30am
It came as little surprise that Newcastle Eagles were crowned BBL champions last week. The manner in which they won the title, however, was somewhat eyebrow-raising.
Leicester's demolition job on the Raiders, to mathematically end Plymouth's very slim hopes of catching the Eagles, was as impressive as it was unexpected. And then Newcastle lost at home to Mersey on the night they got their hands on the trophy.
You have to give full credit to the Eagles for a fantastic season so far, but can they finish it off and complete the clean sweep? They certainly head into the play-offs as favourites, but there will be several other teams with a realistic shot at getting their hands on the coveted silver and gold basketball.
Before that, however, the regular season comes to an end this weekend, with a few twists and turns left in the campaign. The battle for second is still a three-way race with only a few days to go after Worcester trounced Leicester on Saturday night and then Plymouth beat the Wolves on Sunday.
All of them could still land the runners-up spot, but it is Plymouth who are in the box seat. If they can win at Milton Keynes and Sheffield, they will be second. If they drop just one of those games, however, Leicester can sneak past them. In a three-way tie situation, the Riders would top a little mini-pool of the teams in the head-to-heads courtesy of a superior basket difference.
Worcester, who've spent much of the season just behind the Eagles and indeed ended their campaign there, need Leicester and Plymouth to both lose one of their remaining two games to hang on to it. That ranks more in the possible than probable category to me, but whatever happens Paul James can rightly be proud of his squad's achievements this year.
Behind the top four, all the play-off berths were snapped up at the weekend, with Cheshire's victory over Glasgow slamming the door shut on Mersey and ensuring both they and Guildford, despite their defeat in Durham, will have some post-season games to look forward to.
I still tip my hat to the Tigers, though, for the way they battled right to the end. Winning in Newcastle and at home to the Lions over the weekend was, in the end, not enough for them. The best they can do is draw level with the Jets and/or Heat and they would miss out courtesy of their head-to-head records with Cheshire and Guildford.
Tony G has done a fantastic job with a pretty young and inexperienced group and got them playing their best basketball at the end of the season, despite losing their experienced Spanish point guard Antonio Bustamante with a month left in the season.
They've won four of their last five games as they tried to scramble in at the last second, but unfortunately for them it wasn't enough. If they'd started the season with the line-up they finished it with, you wonder how differently things may have worked out for them.
For all the trophies he's won, you'd have to say what he has done with that team in the last three months has got to be right up there with the best jobs of Tony's career.
Whilst the Tigers were finding their form at the end of the season, one team very much heading in the opposite direction were Milton Keynes. With two games to play, the Lions have lost 13 of their last 14 encounters to tumble all the way down to second from bottom, where they will likely end the season.
It is a staggering miss for me. On paper that looks every inch a top four side, yet somehow they are going to finish tenth. It ranks right up there with the Derby team of 1999/2000 - Cypheus Bunton, Kip Stone, Darrian Evans and more - who somehow contrived to fall out of the play-offs in the final weeks of the season when their coach was hailing them as one of the greatest teams in the history of the BBL in November.
The Lions were seconds away from the trophy final, but since that heartache and the addition of Justin Dobbins, they have just one controversial win to show for the last couple of months. Truly amazing. It just goes to show how fine the margins are in the BBL.