National League

Mar 22 2024

Preview: Super League Playoffs

The Super League Playoffs kick into gear this weekend with four razor thin calls at the quarter-final stage.

Defending champions Irish Guide Dogs Ballincollig @MTU have home advantage against Killester, as they continue their bid to become the first repeat champions since Blue Demons eight years ago. MTU Arena will hold no fear for the North Dublin outfit though, having already tasted a 79-72 success over Ciaran O’Sullivan’s side in their previous meeting at the venue back in October.

Keelan Cairns and Andre Nation were not on the court for Irish Guide Dogs Ballincollig @MTU on that occasion and as you would expect, both teams are a completely different proposition five months later, but you can bet that this game has been mentioned heavily in both camps in the build-up. This season marks a decade since Killester last took home the Super League title, taking out the current champions on their home floor would be a big statement of intent to start of the post-season.

Belfast Star and UCC Demons path to this stage couldn’t have been more different. Star cemented home advantage in the playoffs three weeks ago, while Demons had to win four of their last six to move from the relegation battle into fourth spot in the South Conference.

Interestingly these two sides met earlier this month, with DeOndre Jackson going off for a 45-point double-double in a 101-84 win for Belfast Star. Jackson has been immense for Adrian Fulton all season and should he arrive in a similar vein of form this Saturday, it’s hard to envisage the adjustments UCC Demons can make defensively to stifle him. James Beckom, Seventh Woods and David Lehane could all see time guarding him, if one of them can gain the upper hand and give Elijah Tillman a chance to make his presence felt inside, then we could be in for a very close tie down the stretch.

It's been far from a one man show for the team with the best regular season record in Irish basketball though, Tamyrik Fields, Max Richardson, Frenki Lilaj, along with Conor and Aidan Quinn have all taken turns to put in big performances during the campaign and that scoring depth is likely to prove crucial. It’s unlikely to be forgotten by the home crowd either, that it was UCC Demons who took out Belfast Star en-route to their Pat Duffy Cup success. Expect an extra hostile atmosphere for the visitors for this reason. 

On the other side of the draw, there is a repeat of last year’s quarter-final between EJ Sligo All-Stars and Maree BC. It was the Galway side who triumphed on that occasion, starting their journey to the final and they will go into this game as favourites to make the last four. 

The addition of Chrishon Briggs has been huge for Sligo. They finished the regular season with the second ranked offense (91.2ppg) and four wins in their last five. His link up with Christian Williams and Tom Child especially has been excellent to watch when all three are allowed to find their rhythm. Maree enter the game as the top ranked defense though and ultimately their bench depth could play a significant role in the outcome. They bounced back well against Killester last weekend, with five players hitting double digits in the box score. Terence Lewis II, Tahmir Gadsden, Kyle Carey and Tom Dumont have shared the load well all season and with Zvonomir Cutuk also available, head coach Charlie Crowley has multiple ways he can break down EJ Sligo All-Stars and march on to the semi-finals.

They’ll face either Griffith College Éanna or Garvey’s Tralee Warriors in the final four. There was 14 points between the teams as Griffith College Éanna won their only meeting this season in January, but expect a much tighter game this time around.

The Dubliners finished off the regular season with possible the quietest eight game winning streak in basketball, including wins over Belfast Star and Maree BC and should be high on confidence ahead of this weekend. On the other hand, Garvey’s Tralee Warriors could only manage one win in their closing five games. That came against relegated Maigh Cuilinn, so that form will have been a concern to head coach John Dowling.

Elijah Weaver has put up some big numbers since arriving in Tralee, but the consistency around him hasn’t been there thus far. There is no doubt that the talent on the roster is capable of a deep run in the playoffs and having been champions as recently as two years ago, there is also enough experience to know what happens in the regular season is largely gone out the window now. Expect them to up the level of physicality on the defensive end hugely for this contest. Can they get more from Daniel Jokubaitis? Will Rapolas Buivydas return to the form that earned him his Ireland call up? Plenty of questions to answer for the Kerry side.