The WBBL and BBL Benecos Playoff Finals day is here and we’re going to run you through the matchups.
The Sevenoaks Suns have once again been far and away the best team in the WBBL losing just two games across all the competitions and going unbeaten in the league, winnning it with a prefect 22-0 record.
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Head Coach Len Busch will collect his third Ed Percival Molten WBBL Coach of the Year award before the game in his third visit to the o2 in a row with the Suns, winning on all three occasions.
The Suns were looking on for a domestic quadruple with 1.4 seconds left in the WBBL Cup Final when Helen Naylor ended their dreams with a late winner for the Sheffield Hatters. Their second shot at silverware, the WBBL Trophy, was snuffed out by the Leicester Riders who took the Suns to overtime to edge the win before taking the Trophy title in Glasgow.
In the league though, the Suns were unstoppable beating all in their path. They did this thanks in large part to the core of the side who have succeeded in each of the past three years, and in particular the WBBL Team of the Year Ta’Yani Clark and Cat Carr who have once again been an outstanding backcourt partnership who will strike fear into the hearts of Riders fans and players this afternoon.
All British Team of the Year starter Janice Monakana and bench player Jessica Good will be other key players to watch. Monakana is second in scoring averaging 11 points per game and Good is dominant on the boards grabbing 8.32 boards per game.
The Riders had a very impressive season. Victorious in the BBL Trophy with a win over Durham Palatinates having knocked out the Suns in the semi final, they are led by captain Mollie Campbell and Oregon Ducks bound two-time WBBL Young Player of the Year Holly Winterburn who plays her final domestic game in Britain for at least four years and will be keen to get the win.
Winterburn made the British Team of the Year as a starter and was on the bench for Team of the Year. Winterburn leads the team in scoring, averaging 15 points per game whilst grabbing 5 rebounds, 3.89 assists and 2.33 steals. Winterburn is a gifted and hardworking player who went off injured during the Trophy Final will be relied upon heavily in this game to get her side the victory.
The Suns will need to do something special to contain Kate Oliver and Brea Elmore, both players making the bench in the team of the year. Oliver adds height to the Riders which the Suns do not have, which will make things difficult for the Suns inside as she adds 12.65 points to her team leading 8.06 rebounds per game.
The Riders like to get out in transition to get their baskets whilst the Suns will look to play more half-court basketball and use the clock. The Suns are some of the best when playing late in the shot clock whilst the Riders are some of the worst on both sides of the ball with the clock ticks down.
The Favourites are the Sevenoaks Suns, but the Leicester Riders have improved against them every time they’ve played. However it goes, it will be a great encounter.
What an incredible season for the new boys to the league, the London City Royals. The Royals did not exist before this summer just gone, replacing the Leeds Force in the BBL the South London outfit have set out from day one to make a name for themselves and make an impact in the BBL. And they’ve achieved those goals, no matter how today goes for them.
The Royals have built a stacked roster, of largely local players with some help from imports. Built around globe-trotting big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning the Royals have a dominant big man who has won titles all over the world, and he displayed his worth with a dominant display in the overtime win in the Trophy Final against the League Champions London Lions. MBA is a big game performer who took over the game at the right moment with a calmness and maturity that will be crucial for his side today.
Ashley Hamilton who missed the first three months of the season thanks to a wrist injury has come back with a bang, establishing himself as one of the stars of the season, showcasing his talents at the biggest events of the year, an exceptional display in the Trophy Final victory over the London Lions. Hamilton will be a handful for whoever is tasked with guarding him, and if he and MBA perform to their potential the Riders will have a fight on their hands.
Another key man for the Royals will be Ed Lucas, who scored the three over Justin Robinson to send the Trophy final to overtime. Lucas has been a revelation to some BBL Fans this season, but to those who know him from his time in London and the National League growing up his excellent season comes as no shock. Lucas is deadly from three point range but can beat his man to get inside.
There are doubts over whether Wes Washpun will play. The Former G-Leaguer has crushed it in the BBL since he joined and if he does manage to play with be a big factor in this game.
The Leicester Riders appear to have struggled this year. This isn’t the case. They finished the league second, and went into the final weekend with a shot at the title, and represented the BBL in European Competition for the first time in years.
Rob Paternostro has once again built a fantastic roster capable of winning the BBL Playoff Final, having gone unbeaten throughout their playoff run, getting past the Cheshire Phoenix and the upstart Plymouth Raiders.
The Riders enter the contest with some members of the basketball public and media wondering whether this is the end of their run as the dominant force in the BBL. This is their first final of the season but their third straight appearance in the o2, going unbeaten in this run. This is a contest that could come down to the bench and the Riders, famously, have one of the deepest benches in the BBL (not that the Royals dont have a great bench) and the way Paternostro rotates and shares minutes means that his side never seem to tire and will look to dominate the second half.
Connor Washington returned home after a season in Europe and will be crucial in this contest with his ability to get past his man, score and assist. Washington leads his side in assists with 4.13 dimes per game whilst averaging 9.19 points per game.
Tim Williams is the points leader on the Riders, averaging 15 points per game and he went off in the playoff semi final second leg victory over Plymouth, but he will have a battle on his hands with Matthew Bryan-Amaning patrolling the paint.
Pierre Hampton and JR Holder will be key players once more for the Riders. Holder averages 14.7 points per game and Hampton adds another 10.53 and 5 boards. If the Riders want to win today, these two will need to succeed in their individual battles on the floor.
The difference maker for the Riders could be Josh Ward-Hibbert. Ward-Hibbert has played 23 league games this season, coming off the bench in each game but had Plymouth’s best player, the MVP candidate Dante Nicholas locked down in the semi final second leg and many will expect to see a repeat performance today with Ward-Hibbert seeing extended minutes to try and lock down Lucas or Dusha, possibly guarding Hamilton as well. Ward-Hibbert scores efficiently from the floor and could be one of the stars of the game.
This one is too close to call. The Royals have known each other a long time, have chemistry and size and have indivdual weapons that can damage the Riders.
The Riders have one of the best coaches to ever coach in the BBL as well as an excellent deep squad who have been here before.
Either way, we’re in for a classic!