The BBL is 11 games old, for most clubs, so now is the perfect time to recap the first Mikemester. What is a Mikemester? Well, Mike Conley wears the number 11, here at Focushoops.com we love Mike Conley and needed a catchy name for our first-third roundup. Perfect.
With most sides having played 11 games we are now one-third of the BBL season down and 2018-19 is shaping up to be one of the most open and exciting ones to date!
The London Lions lead the way at the one-third mark with an impressive 9-2 record which includes a statement victory on the road at Leicester and at home over Newcastle. The Lions have dropped their two games in close circumstances, on the road to Plymouth in the opening weekend and at home to the Riders on Sunday. They have retained much of their core from last season with just two additions in Ladarius Tabb, who is lighting up the scoring charts and highlight films with his boundless energy and effort and Jordan Spencer, local lad returning home for his first season as a pro offering plenty on both ends of the floor.
The Lions have been scoring freely and defended well at times while making the semi-finals of the cup for the second year running. They need Silverware for their season to be considered a success and victory in the Cup is not out of the question, with a two-legged semi-final to navigate against Newcastle and a final date with either Glasgow or Manchester the Lions must be the favourites for the cup.
The Bristol Flyers have got off to a flying start sitting second in the table with a 7-2 record losing only to the new boys London City Royals and title holders Leicester Riders. Without Cup commitments to worry about, although expect to see Bristol push hard in the Trophy, the Flyers are looking good for their highest ever finish in the BBL.
A very changed squad from last season captain Daniel Edozie has been massive on both ends of the floor with the exciting rookie Jalan McCloud impressing week in week out for the western club.
The Sheffield Sharks started the season with a wobble beginning the season 1-3 but have since rattled off 6 wins, admittedly against some of the weaker sides in the competition and the intriguing Plymouth Raiders. The Sharks have been led in scoring by Christopher Alexander, playing his second season in Sheffield. It is hard to see Sheffield being in the title picture when the season comes to the crunch as when they have played the better sides in the league (the Lions and Flyers) they have been soundly beaten.
However, Attiba Lyons is a strong coach and with several returning veterans from last season, it is conceivable to see them go deep in the playoffs, which they will surely make.
After a soaring 5-0 start which saw player-coach Fab Flournoy awarded the Kevin Cadle Coach of the Month award the Eagles have come down to earth with a thud as they have gone 2-4 in their last six games, including heavy losses to both London Clubs and title rivals Leicester and Flyers.
The Eagles are in the semifinals of the Cup, but following a tough end of season last year the northern club will be hoping for a reversal in fortune to their current league woes. With the return of former MVP, Rahmon Fletcher and signing of former Cheshire man Victor Moses hope remains high in Newcastle as the pair has shown off their offensive pedigree leading the side in scoring.
The reigning champions Leicester Riders find themselves lower in the table than they are used to but their league campaign didn’t start until late October thanks to European commitments. Once back in domestic competition it was business as usual for the Riders who are 5-1 having won a tight one on the road against the Lions on Sunday.
The Riders are still the same old ball club who will be feared by the entire league, especially having their skills sharpened taking on top European competition as well as playing in the BBL. An early Cup exit is not the end of the world, considering the additional games on the legs of Paternostro’s players.
The return of Connor Washington, one of the most explosive players in the league, should more than make up for the retirement of Tyler Bernardini and with J.R Holder going from strength to strength the Riders will once again be in the hunt come crunch time. Their one loss was at home to the Lions but they have since got that back, that beat the impressive Bristol Flyers and also had a statement win over the Eagles on the road.
The Riders should be very happy with how their domestic campaign has begun.
League (and sport) new boys London City Royals have looked to make a statement with their homegrown flavour and excellent 3-0 start to the season. Following an opening night victory on the road in Bristol off the back of a 40 minute, 28 points 12 rebound night from Matthew Bryan-Amaning the London club won their next two before a 3 game slump including a 50 point road loss to Newcastle.
The Royals have since bounced back with a home win of their own over Newcastle, the most impressive win in their young history, and will expect to be in the playoff picture come the end of the season. The Londoners have been unfortunate with injuries but have brought in a number of excellent homegrown players who have started to find their stride together. Their key date in the second Mikemester will be their first cross-town clash on the 14th December at the Lions and a run at the Trophy.
The 4-6 Cheshire Phoenix are the first club below .500 this season and are having a strange season. A mixed start has been followed up with a run of four losses ranging from an 18 point loss to the Sharks and a 2 point loss to the Eagles.
Cheshire brought in an almost entirely new look squad for 2018-19 acquiring one of the best shooters in the BBL, Momcilo Latinovic, formerly of the Lions, who is back in the league and healthy after his hip troubles last season. They are led in scoring by Dii’jon Allen-Jordan, returning after playing 19 championship games for the Nix last season.
The Nix are currently on course to achieve a feat they haven’t in recent years, making the playoffs which would be an excellent achievement for Ben Thomas’ club and despite an inconsistent start, they look the best of the rest to make the top 8 come seasons end.
The Plymouth Raiders are the second club at 4-6 under their new head coach Paul James. With wins over the London Lions, Glasgow Rocks and Manchester Giants the Raiders will be feeling confident about their chance of making the postseason having signed former Rider and Lions dominant big man Rashad Hassan who in four games is averaging over 20 points and 7 boards.
The Raiders have already made huge strides following a bitterly disappointing campaign in 17-18 and if they keep beating the teams around them and pick the occasional big scalp as they have already they should be a healthy place to make the postseason come crunch time.
The big story of the opening Mikemester is the Manchester Giants. Last year they were the whipping boys of the league, this year they are cup semi-finalists and hold a 3-4 (one win shy of matching their entire record of last season. Sorry, Giants fans) record with wins over the Sharks, Wolves and Scorchers.
Led by Willie Clayton and local legend Callum Jones, Coach Danny Byrne has a team that are winnable games away from a Cup final and an entertaining team who will be fighting hard to make the playoffs. Last season the Giants whilst being one of the most entertaining sides in the league were unable to finish off games and get the wins some of their play deserved, Byrne seems to have the players he wants and it shows in their performances and results.
The biggest shock so far to the season is that of another Cup semifinalist, the Glasgow Rocks who have struggled at the start of the season and despite some excellent veteran players look a certainty to miss the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
Glasgow is doing a good job sharing the points with six players averaging double figures but a lacking an elite scorer which every team needs to truly make the difference. Glasgow have taken wins off the sides they’re expected to beat and have been competitive at times against the top of the table sides.
The new look Rocks are led in scoring thus far by Bouna Ndiaye who is averaging 15.2 points per game. The Rocks have winnable games and some tough games which they will need to win in the middle Mikemester of the season if they hope to make the postseason.
The 2-8 Surrey Scorchers have certainly disappointed this season despite their victory at the early season All-Star Championship at the Copper Box, which fans and team members alike hoped would spark a resurgence in fortunes for the Guilford outfit.
Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case as Creon Raftopoulos’ men slumped to a 0-4 start before winning on the road in Manchester, their next win would be at home to fellow strugglers Worcester Wolves, they have lost to Manchester and Glasgow on the road and their next run of games don’t look much easier for a club who made the playoffs last season.
Losing experienced veteran Alex Owumi and MVP candidate Tony Hicks has been a bitter pill for the Scorchers to swallow but they still have Tayo Ogedengbe and the return of the explosive Quincy Taylor leading the way for the club.
The bottom spot in the table is held by the 1-10 Worcester Wolves who have had a tough start to the season under new coach Ty Shaw. Following an impressive home win over the Plymouth Raiders on Opening day the Wolves have lost 10-straight in the league and won one in the Cup, on the road over the London City Royals.
The Wolves have impressive individual players but have featured an incredible 15 players already this season losing two potentially big pieces in Dean Wanliss and Terrel Martin-Garcia and waiting for an age for the arrival of import DeShawn Freeman who has impressed in his few appearances for the club.
With a stronger roster and more time to implement Ty Shaw’s brand of basketball, the future is looking brighter for the Wolves as their recent performances have shown. The Wolves have a run of fixtures in the middle part of the season which are winnable, playing two sides who currently sit below .500 before hosting a Royals team who they have already beaten this season.
The Wolves are led in scoring by Darell Combs and Adam Thoseby and look to have found an elite scorer in Freeman, but he will need help on the glass especially since losing big man Martin-Garcia.
The Wolves are not a new Leeds Force, who famously picked up just one win all last season. Wolves fans should expect to see an upturn in their team’s fortunes and while a run at the playoffs looks unlikely in the extreme, in truth they are only three games behind the Plymouth Raiders but it would require a monumental team effort.
In review, the BBL Championship this season is looking wide open at the end of the first Mikemester. At the top we’re looking like having an exciting scrap for the title with the Lions and Riders going at it again with the surprise package from Bristol mixing it with the big boys.
At the bottom there will be some good basketball teams missing out on the playoffs when it is all said and done. Even bottom-placed Wolves could well be in the playoff picture if they can get their talented individuals to play as a team.
With one of Manchester or Glasgow making the Cup final we could see a sub .500 team winning the first silverware of the season and the second Mikemester will see the start of the BBL Trophy.
The BBL is a better quality league top to bottom than last season and will excite and intrigue us all right down to the o2 in May, of that we are certain.