The latest power rankings have just been released, and I think you'll all be astonished to find out that the #1 team is...
1) Layup Line Heroes
Coming off three straight wins, including two against playoff teams, the Heroes are riding high. Their fanbase has never been more confident, and autograph requests are pouring in by the thousands. Center and spiritual leader Keith Gormley is in a tight race for the scoring crown, and new addition Saulo Feliciano has charmed an entire nation while giving the team an extra punch from the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Double Steves, Krakauer and Reiter, continue to contribue solidly from the guard positions, and psychological warrior Colby Hall plays the Dennis Rodman role, getting in the heads of opposing stars. And let's not forget Dan Abrams, the tough-nosed guard who sacrificed parts of three different teeth in last week's overtime thriller against Team Fouls, or Amy Hauck, the gritty defender who takes pride in closing down the top of the zone.
But perhaps the most underrated story of the year for the Heroes is the emergence of Matt Brinkmann, whose point and rebound production have skyrocketed over the season's second half. His heroics and interior muscle have redefined the team dynamic, and will continue to propel the Heroes throughout the postseason. Yes, all is good in Layup Line Land. It seems like there's no way they can ever lose.
2) The Cray's Nest
You can't argue with winning. Try, and you'll just get frustrated. Seriously, form your best arguments, bring them to me, and I'll just find the nearest computer, load up this blog, and start chanting "Stannnnn-dings! Stannnn-dings!" while pointing at the screen. At 6-2, TCN are atop the GABL, though almost none of their wins have been pretty. In fact, their team slogan is "screw around for thirty-five, call timeout and come alive." This refers to the team's seeming ability to play raggedy games, find themselves facing a deficit, only to come back in the final minute and win in crunch time. Jordan Glickson has two game winning shots with under ten seconds remaining, Vance Tucker has one, and last week Tucker upped the dramatics a notch with the league's first buzzer beater against Dunk-a Schoen. Another early win against the Hospital Bombers was close throughout, and only one win, early against the Layup Line Heroes, wasn't a nailbiter.
Lars Rasmussen spearheads the Nesters attack, averaging 14.6 points per game, and he and Tucker have been largely responsible for the team's success. Jacob Craycroft adds a third powerful presence underneath, and most teams have been incapable of contending with this fierce trio. Gene Walsh has been a steady hand at point guard, and Glickson's last second theatrics are well known across the eastern seaboard. Jane Rizzo, who will miss her first game of the season tonight, has been a constant defensive nuisance to opponents, and won the Marchioness Award in Week 6. The success of The Cray's Nest may well depend on Shane Ryan, who has struggled in a season marred by injury. In 5 games, he's only managed to average 8.2 per game, and his three point shooting has been inconsistent. Team reports indicate that coaches and players are optimistic that his ankle has healed, and tonight will be a breakout game.
3) Beast of Burden
Semi-comfortably entrenched in the fourth and final playoff spot, Beast of Burden are a team on the rise. The mid-season doldrums appear to be over as Rafael Rodriguez and his brother Ismael are back to their old selves, scoring a blue streak and harassing opposing guards nonstop. Rafael is the league's leading scorer, averaging 16.0 per game, while Ismael averages 13.4. Both players have hit 12 3-pointers over the course of the season. The rest of the unit seems to be gelling both offensively and defensively. Kyle Pilkington and Pat Waldo do the heavy lifting down low, while Brian Love and Kieran Valla provide outside threats and smothering defense. Robin Luna, one of the league's most intense defenders, has been hell for opposing guards.
Beast of Burden is at its best when Ismael is hitting from long distance. His high arcing shot can be deadly, but at times this season it's had such an extreme trajectory that it hits the support beams above the basket. His success will determine whether BoB can find their way past the first round of the playoffs.
4) The Hospital Bombers
Ranked #1 in a previous power poll, the shine has come off the Bombers as the season wears on. In the past three weeks, they've lost to The Cray's Nest and Beast of Burden, and many think they were extremely lucky to beat Dunk-a Schoen. In last week's loss to BoB, it became abundantly clear how much they depended on Geoff Nelson's 7 threes in their win the first time those teams met. Despite strong performances from guards Steve Friedman and Kerry Brown, it has been difficult for them to generate consistent offense.
That offense hinges on the play of Bob Van Kolken, one of the league's top centers. Usually a reliable force underneath, Bob won Player of the Week Honors against Dunk-a Schoen. But he had a quieter performance in the loss to Beast of Burden, and it affected the larger team. Defensively, they allow only 40 points per game, aided in large part by the constant hustle of Jake Berkowitz and Nate Purinton, along with the resilient board presence of Jeremy Forsythe. The path ahead is unclear for the Bombers, who seem to need explosive offensive performances to win ballgames. The question of who will fill that role in the near future is an unsolved mystery.
5) Dunk-a Schoen
In many ways, Dunk-a Schoen are a mirror image of The Cray's Nest. They have plentiful tall bodies, are strong inside, have players who can drive and players who can shoot. But in other ways, they are completely opposite. Instead of 6-2, their record is 2-6. Instead of winning multiple close games, they have lost multiple close games. And instead of perching atop the standings, they dwell in the cellar.
The story of Dunk-a Schoen is a classic tragedy; a team full of potential, who even still inspire fear in the hearts of 'superior' teams, but who could never pull it together when it counted, and who succumbed to bad timing and bad luck. But the epic downfall was not for lack of talent. The roster is full of great athletes with more than enough basketball skill to succeed. Whitney Warren, Tom Fleischman, and Zach Heinzerling are intimidating presences down low, while Kevin Felder and Ben Weitmarschen can light up the scoreboard on a whim. Katie Stokien excels at inside defense, and Mark Lee functions as an extremely competent point guard and occasional three-point threat. But aside from an outstanding performance against Team Fouls in Week 6, the pieces haven't quite clicked. They have two weeks left to earn respect and an outside shot at the playoffs.
6) Team Fouls
It's been a rocky road for Team Fouls, who an enraged fanbase has dubbed "the little team that couldn't." At 2-6, they are tied for last place, but their point differential of -40 has effectively eliminated them from playoff contention. Like Dunk-a Schoen, though, some of those losses have come in heartbreaking fashion. Glickson's famous three pointer ruined them in Week 5, while last week's valiant effort against the Layup Line Heroes fell short in overtime.
Though they are perhaps the league's most entertaining team, playing a wide open style featuring the assassin-like shooting of Andrew Weiner (25 threes on the year, almost double any other player), it has not proved sustainable. They allow 44 points per game, worst in the league, and have only been to the free throw line 41 times, fewer than half the total of any other team. Chris Bonastia and Kyle Ervin play intense perimeter defense and are threats on the drive, Zach Smith can shoot the long ball and hold his own down low, Trista Sordillo is a sharpshooter from close range, and Dave Polen's jump shot has been pinpoint all season, but they lack a true post presence. This hurdle has been too much to overcome, especially in the nailbiters. They'll have to settle for a good finish in the 5th/6th place game, and hope 2011 brings happier conclusions.
Note: Power Rankings aside, the parity in the league has been pretty astonishing this year. No team is unbeatable, and no team is a walk-over. Close games have far outnumbered blowouts. Competition is king. Kudos to all.
Week 8 Previews
8:15: Beast of Burden vs. The Cray's Nest
Fighting for their playoff lives, Beast of Burden will need strong guard play to overcome the post advantage of Lars Rasmussen and Vance Tucker. TCN will be missing guards Jordan Glickson and Gene Walsh, so Shane Ryan's play will be critical.
Favorite: Beast of Burden (-4)
9:00: Layup Line Heroes vs. Dunk-a Schoen
Going into the game, Dunk-a Schoen will know whether they still have a shot at the fourth playoff spot, and this knowledge could influence their play. Regardless, they'll want to prove something to themselves and the league, and their size should limit Gormley's scoring production. The upset radar is on and blinking.
Favorite: Layup Line Heroes (-2)
9:45: Hospital Bombers vs. Team Fouls
A win here will ensure that the Bombers avoid seeing The Cray's Nest in round one. It's unclear how much Team Fouls will have left in the tank, and they will likely have trouble with Van Kolken, Forsythe, and Purinton underneath.
Favorite: Hospital Bombers (-7)