Whoa baby, the playoffs are here! The whole season has come down to this, and one mistake could cost EVERYTHING! Let's get right to it!
5th and 6th Place Classification Game: Team Fouls (2-8) vs. Dunk-a Schoen (2-8)
When the early game ends, one of these teams will have earned their third win of the season. On paper, Dunk-a Schoen is the clear favorite. The last time these teams met, in Week 6, the Schoeners asserted their will in a 59-32 victory. With newcomer Kevin Felder leading the way, the team seemed poised to turn their season around from a rough 1-4 beginning. Four weeks later, things have not worked out in their favor. Dunk-a Schoen has dropped 4 straight, missing the playoffs and disappointing one of the GABL's most rabid fanbases.
While Dunk-a Schoen earned both of their victories against Thursday's opponent, Team Fouls can actually boast wins over playoff teams. In week 3, they beat the Layup Line Heroes, and followed that up with a week 7 win against Beast of Burden. Week 5 saw them lose a close call to league champions The Cray's Nest, after Jordan Glickson hit a game-winning three pointer. Andrew Weiner led the league in three-point shooting with 31 on the year, and backcourt mate Zach Smith hit 13 of his own. Chris Bonastia and Kyle Ervin play a similar style of game, with hard-nosed defense and the ability to penetrate against any defender, while Trista Sordillo and Dave Polen are slasher types who can hit the open jumper with consistency. Unfortunately, former members David Saie and Allison Cline seem to have jumped ship, and are not expected to play on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Team Fouls, their style of play matches up poorly with Dunk-a Schoen. The biggest team in the league by far, six players on DS's entire roster are taller than any Team Foul player except Zach Smith. Kevin Felder, Whitney Warren, Ben Weitmarschen, Tom Fleischman, Katie Stokien, and Zach Heinzerling are the sextet in question, and they play very similar games. Warren and Weitmarschen tend to drive the most, Heinzerling and Felder have strong outside shots, and Fleischman and Stokien crash the boards. Mark Lee, their point guard, is also accurate from three, and plays pesky defense. The main weakness of Dunk-a Schoen is that despite their size, they seem content to stay out of the paint and concede the rebounding edge to their opponent. Against Team Fouls, though, this shouldn't be a problem, a fact which explains their two victories to date.
Favorite: Dunk-a Schoen (-9)
Semi-Final #1: The Cray's Nest (8-2) vs. Beast of Burden
The most interesting stat in this clash of the GABL's two top scoring offenses is point differential. After every game was tallied, they finished with the exact same regular season mark: +31. So why were The Cray's Nest 8-2 while Beast of Burden had to win their final game just to reach .500? The answer is obvious, and telling: The Cray's Nest won close games, while Beast of Burden typically did not. TCN's regular season championship run included final second wins against Team Fouls, Dunk-a Schoen (twice), and The Hospital Bombers, and Beast of Burden themselves. That amounts over half of their regular season wins. On the flip side of the coin, 4 of Beast of Burden's 5 wins came by margins of 7 or higher, while their loss margins were as follows: 1, 1, 5, 9, 4.
The teams are 1-1 on the year, and the last time they met, in week 9, The Cray's Nest held on for a tight victory after controlling most of the game. TCN relies on the post play of Lars Rasmussen and Vance Tucker, who will have a distinct edge on Thursday. Rasmussen's 13.4 ppg were good for 4th in the league, while Tucker finished just under double digits at 9.8. After an ankle injury sidelined guard Shane Ryan during the season's middle stretch, he came back to score in the 20s twice, and should factor into the offensive attack. Guards Jordan Glickson and Gene Walsh combined to contribute over 10 per game, while Jacob Craycroft adds a third head to the post attack, and Jane Rizzo functions well in their 3-2 zone.
For Beast of Burden, MVP candidate Rafael Rodriguez led all GABL scorers with 16.9 per game. His brother, Ismael, was third with 14.1, making them the most prolific tandem in the league. The offense centers around the brothers, but guards Brian Love and Kieran Valla are capable of hitting from three, and the Pat Waldo/Kyle Pilkington interior combination has been a key factor in the team's victories. On defense, guard Robin Luna is more than willing to mix it up, and his tenacious style has given opposing guards headaches all year. They will need to be particularly strong on the defensive end in order to contain the league's best scoring offense. TCN averaged 44 points per game, while Beast of Burden allowed only 38. On Thursday, something's got to give.
Favorite: The Cray's Nest (-2)
Semi-Final #2: Layup Line Heroes (7-3) vs. The Hospital Bombers (6-4)
These teams met last week in what figured to be a preview of the second and most anticipated semi-final. But in a stunning display of gamesmanship, captain Jake Berkowitz rested three of his top players- Bob Van Kolken, Steve Friedman, and Kerry Brown- in order to disguise his playoff strategy. Instead, they ran a wheel offense that often resulted in a three pointer by sharpshooters Geoff Nelson or Nate Purinton, and the Heroes ran away with a 14-point win. The move was not appreciated by the Heroes, but Berkowitz was unapologetic. "We care about playoff wins. The regular season can kiss my a**."
The first time these teams met, in Week 5, the Bombers won by 13. But two regular season blowouts don't figure to predict the third meeting; all indications point to a close game. Since adding point guard Saulo Feliciano, the Heroes have rattled off a 5-0 second half run, a stretch which included an 11-point win against The Cray's Nest. Feliciano averages 13.2 points per game, and brings a level of stability to an offense that features MVP candidate Keith Gormley (14.9 ppg) and league bad boy Colby Hall (8.9 ppg). The Heroes' unsung hero has been Matt Brinkmann, whose strong inside defense has helped the team become the GABL's best defensive unit, allowing only 37 points per outing. Captain Greg Wyrick rounds out the trio of excellent big men, who ensure that any points in the paint are duly earned. The guard play of Steve Krakauer, Amy Hauck, andSteve Reiter has improved all season, and Reiter's passing theatrics are a favorite with the 'heroines,' the team's all-female cheering section. Their frontcourt is now among the strongest in the league, and this, combined with their superior inside play, makes them a tough opponent.
Whereas consistency has been the Heroes' trademark of late, the Bombers can only be called mercurial. They've won close games, they've lost close games, they've looked unbeatable, they've looked horrid. It's a season of ups and downs for Berkowitz's squad. Geoff Nelson is the team's leading scorer, with 10.9 per game, but this average seems to be a combination of 20-point games and total shutouts. Van Kolken is next with 10.7, and his year-long battle on the inside has been something to behold. He'll have to bring his best against the Heroes, but if he does, it could be the toughest challenge they've faced. Nate Purinton will be out on Thursday, but the Bombers regain Steve Friedman and Kerry Brown, both of whom average 9 points per game. Berkowitz is a slasher who averages 4 points and crashed the boards consistently, while big man Jeremy Forsythe is a pounding presence inside who will need to assert himself early to ensure that his team isn't cowed by Brinkmann and Gormley.
This game shapes up as one of the year's best, and how it plays out is anyone's guess. If Feliciano can be contained by the Bomber guards, the Heroes may have a tough time scoring. At the same time, the Heroes' could easily control the paint and make life hell for the Bomber motion offense. It should be a doozy.
Favorite: Layup Line Heroes (-1)