By Mike Begley
And then there were eight as we spiral down this playoff rollercoaster. The Hell Cats gave the Counts hell but could not derail the relentless Bugeja train. The Giants were a free throw away from stealing home court, but Napoleon could not regain his shooting stroke after 50 minutes in that epic African battle. Paris managed to scratch the 100-point mark only once against the Outlaw phalanx as the ever-steady Timmons doubled in turnovers in front of steam cooker pressure. And the Disco seem to stand defenseless against Bohm’s incredible shooting display.
Meanwhile, on another continent the Gamblers did the unthinkable and beat the Rage as refs had the guts to foul out Bailey and Miles. Colorado showed the world why they traded for Darond Lyons in a convincing sweep of the Massacre. They now pack their bags for Brooklyn with no fear in their eyes. Likewise, the Fighting Cocks swept the Dragons in striking blowout fashion, making the Dragons regret they made the playoffs at all, while revealing a new wrinkle predicated on sharing the ball as only Watt averaged over 20 points a game. The Wild are capitalizing on the under-manned Liberty as Jackson and Sims reunite on a mission to show what could have been while Kelley Brandon showed progress yet indications that at 20 years of age he is still some ways away from leading a WBA franchise through the playoffs.
Ladies and gentlemen get your seat belts buckled for round two! Like any good game you don’t really know what’s going to happen but it’s fun to think about.
Barcelona Counts vs Cape Town Zulus
Former #1 pick Berkley Tech grad, Ira Redwine, has made his playoff debut in blazing fashion. Though he struggled to find his shooting stroke early in his career he is now averaging over 50% from downtown in the first round. Similarly, former #23 selection, and international heist, the “Bugeja Train” also made his debut in remarkable fashion, shooting over 50 percent from the field and downtown. The Counts showed no signs of slowing down in the playoffs, scoring over 100 points in each of their games against the defensive oriented Hell Cats. Not even Ryan Rogers the WBA’s rebounds and blocks leader could impede their path.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Counts has been the playoff emergence of former Milwaukee Tech grad, Errol Bierman, scoring 30 points in his playoff debut matched up against none other than Rogers. As the Counts roll on all cylinders, apparently nothing would seem to slow them down, certainly not in the second round against a number four seed.
However, this is not a typical number four seed. For approximately half the season, the Zulus were without their franchise player, Abdiel Gordon as he nursed a serious case of plantar fasciitis. At this point in the season, the Zulus appear to be rolling on at least as many cylinders as the Counts, with Gordon on a mission, leading all playoff scorers with 35 a game. Of course, one player does not a team make. Throughout the season the Zulus showed admirable resilience with Gordon out. And now that he is back this is perhaps the most talented Zulu cast assembled.
If anyone can keep up with the Counts pace it may be the Zulus with Gordon flanked by future hall of famer Ahmed Dougherty and emerging two-way guard Casey Pointer. If anyone can withstand the Counts offensive barrage it’s also the Zulus. In fact, Cape Town won the season series 2-1 without Gordon in the lineup.
All signs point to a clash for the ages. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Both teams are rolling and while they may not quite be on the uppermost echelon they are both certainly capable of reaching those peaks on any given night.
I don’t see either team dominating the series. In fact, it may come down to one possession. And since the Zulus are the more veteran squad I expect them to pull out the upset.
Prediction: Zulus in 7
Series MVP: Abdiel Gordon
Milan Mayhem* vs Cancun Outlaws
If you thought the last series was going to be close wait until the Mayhem head to Cancun as these two juggernauts may indeed be the top two teams in the world conference. Milan is predicated on balance, with an equally impressive inside and outside attack, possessing one of the best front courts in the league in Gormon and Eufrazio to couple with the best pure shooter in the game, Damien Bohm.
The Outlaws perennially sport a top defense though this year’s squad may be one of the best to ever play the game. Back is fan favorite Scott Lio who knows his role, and whose passes and rebounding may prove the perfect complement to Trentesols inside. While Hill and Rogers are two of the best individual defenders in the league themselves. Just to show what they can do they caused a robot Jervan Timmons to average over 4 turnovers a game! Led by the pride of Paris, Clement Trentesols, perhaps the most well-rounded defender in the league on par with Jarius Miles. Trentesols, however, does not have a ball hog on the team and assumes the primary scoring duties as his quickness creates blurred vision for opposing stiff footed centers.
Now, the Mayhem’s former all-defensive second team center, Sheldon Gorman is no stiff, and a far cry from the Predators’ Clyde Summers who lay helpless against Clement in the post. With Eufrazio acting as a help defender currently averaging a playoff best 3.8 blocks per game it will be a difficult matchup for Clement, though as a true superstar he will wreak havoc regardless of who is guarding him.
Does the ageless Parker Mason have another great series left in him? He may just be the key in both with his shooting touch and defensively on slowing down Bohm or at least preventing him from getting to the line. Though Milan is usually hard pressed to make a lineup change, Cancun is never hesitant to experiment to find the proper defensive scheme to slow down an opponent.
The series presents great matchups between playing styles, for one the Mayhem’s size and Cancun’s speed, the Mayhem’s balance and Cancun’s concentrated attack. With Cancun having home court advantage it may be too much pressure in Cancun for the Mayhem to handle. Where is Hank Pynn when you need him?
Prediction: Outlaws in 7
Series MVP: Clement Trentesols
*In case Mayhem do not advance disregard and give much credit to the London Disco.
Brooklyn Rage vs Colorado Pioneers
No one is handing Brooklyn the championship. Certainly not Marc Hameleers! Can you imagine if the Pioneers pulled the upset? All WBA owners would unite in Hieperdepiep hoera! At least one GM would name their son Darond Lyons. If anyone can do it it’s a player who already has. The Midwest state alum is now playing closer to home and Colorado is that much closer to achieving the impossible.
The trick to beating the Rage may lie in the strategy the Liberty used when they apparently blitzed the Rage into submission. Lyons received as many possessions as virtually possible. No one can stay in front of him. Not even Mario Bailey. And the more he shoots the more chances Bailey and Miles have of fouling him. As the Gamblers have proven, without either one of these two beings the Rage become a regular elite team. As Bollinger notes, that’s how you beat the Rage. That, and don’t give them your first-round pick, ever again.
The Pioneers currently ride a ten-game winning streak into Brooklyn. Lyons, Devine, and Kamara are playing some of the best basketball of their careers. Now is the time to strike at Brooklyn. The only question is whether Colorado has the depth to withstand the sheer magnitude of Brooklyn or is it time for Lyons and Co to play the entire 48 minutes? Those will be questions faced by the coach but it’s times like these to go all out.
Yet these are the Rage were talking about. The best team of all time. No one can beat them. They can only beat themselves.
Prediction: Rage in 6
Series MVP: Jarius Miles
Fighting Cocks v Omaha Wild*
Cockfighting is considered Malicious Mischief under California law and that is just what the Cocks are doing to opponents. The Fighting Cocks have emerged as a perfectly well-oiled machine bent on destruction. They obliterated the Dragons out of the water. The closest game in the series was a 19-point blowout. They hosted the first game by graciously outscoring Seoul by 56-points. For comparison, no one on the Dragons averaged more than 15 points a game, not even Ajan Estay whose scoring dropped from 23 in the regular season to 14 against the Cocks. While the Cocks had four players averaging over 15 points a game.
With so many weapons the most dominant one may be the defense spearheaded by the emergence of Wally Birkhead who is as hungry as a pack of sharks feeding on a dragon averaging 2 steals and 3 blocks a game in less than 27 minutes.
The Wild, assuming they advance past the Liberty which is no sure bet are nonetheless in for a rude awakening. Though Jeremy Sims is playing the best basketball of his career making one wonder what the trio of Sims, Jackson, and Timmons would be doing these days had they remained together, the Wild simply don’t have the defensive tenacity to slow down a team like the Cocks. Simply put they are missing a Jervan Timmons.
I expect the California dominance to step down a notch and perhaps come back to earth in Omaha for a game or two, but I don’t expect this series to be close. Too much of a good thing in Cali.
Prediction: Fighting Cocks in 5
Series MVP: Hassan Watt
*In case Wild do not advance disregard and give much credit to the New York Liberty.