The London Lions vs Newcastle Eagles: The Ultimate Playoff Preview
So here we are. After 36 regular season games, equalling to 1,440 total minutes of London Lions basketball, we have finally reached the business end of the season. The 2022-23 British Basketball League Playoffs!
Every professional league in basketball builds up to this part of the season, where weaknesses are exposed, and strengths are further displayed. That said, complacency in thinking regular season success automatically translates to post-season success could result in the downfall of any team. The Lions were once victims of this train of thought, losing to the eight-seeded Plymouth Raiders during the 2018-19 playoffs opening round.
“When you get to the playoffs, you throw everyone’s record out. Everyone[‘s record] is 0-0 this time of the year. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one-seed or the eight-seed, all of that is irrelevant.”
- Ryan Schmidt
The first round of the post-season will see the 2022-23 league champions take on the Newcastle Eagles. The North-East based outfit struggled to maintain consistency throughout the year and just scraped into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.
The Eagles return to the playoffs, with new head coach Marc Steutel, one year after failing to qualify for the 2021-22 playoffs for the first time in 21 years.
That said, the club, formally known as the Sunderland Saints, are no newbies to this part of the season, having previously picked up six championship final chips en route to becoming one of the league’s most successful franchises. Although on a historic run, the London Lions have yet to taste championship final gold, having gotten close last season but losing in the penultimate game.
The British Basketball League post-season employs an aggregate series format where the winning team is the one who scores the most points over two games. Unlike the in 7Days EuroCup, this format is used in the FIBA Europe Cup playoffs.
The London Lions dominated the Newcastle Eagles throughout the regular season, winning their respective series 4-0. The Lions scored an average of 90.5 points and conceded just 73.5 points en route to their lopsided series victory.
The series was highlighted by the Lions' 100-69 obliterating victory, where Mo Soluade, had a perfect night of shooting, knocking down all three of his 3-point shots en route to 13 points. The 2-way specialist also gave the Newcastle Eagles’ offence problems collecting a game-leading five steals, which he complimented with two assists.
The Lions, who opened the season 7-0-win streak, finished the regular season in the top four of every major statistical category:
- Points Per Game: 88.0 (3rd in the BBL)
- 3-Point Percentage: 36.3% (2nd)
- Field Goal Percentage: 47.9% (2nd)
- Free Throw Percentage: 73.8 (4th)
- Rebounds Per Game: 37.6 (1st)
- Assist Per Game: 21.9 (1st)
- Steals Per Game: 7.8 (3rd)
- Blocks Per Game: 4.5 (2nd)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.4 (Joint 5th w/ The Eagles)
Newcastle, on the other hand, struggled for large parts of the season and ended the season in the lower half of five of eight major statistic categories:
- Points Per Game: 80.0 (7th)
- 3-Point Percentage: 32.6% (7th)
- Field Goal Percentage: 43.7% (9th)
- Free Throw Percentage: 76.9 (2nd)
- Rebounds Per Game: 34.6 (7th)
- Assist Per Game: 20.3 (3rd)
- Steals Per Game: 7.1 (6th)
- Blocks Per Game: 2.6 (7th)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.4 (Joint 5th w/ The Lions)
Although they struggle to convert at a high clip from the field, the Eagles have the ability to punish the Lions from the charity stripe (76.9%) if London ends up in foul trouble in either game. This could cause issues for Head Coach Ryan Schmidt, who is still managing an injury-plagued squad.
Both teams move the ball well, with the Lions leading the league in assists per game and the Geordie’s not too far behind in third place. Even though the Lions are three places above the Eagles in the team steals category, both teams will look to apply pressure on their opponent's passing lines.
London’s defensive rebounding (28.2 – 2nd in the league) and rim protection could further expose Newcastle’s inability to convert in the paint or anywhere within the arc (48.7% - last in the league). This may force Marc Steutel’s side out to the 3-point line, where they have struggled all season long (32.6%).
The Lions, however, have been lighting up the British Basketball League skies connecting on 36.3% of the long-range attempts. Throughout their four-game regular season series, the Eagle has struggled to defend the perimeter against the Lions. Newcastle’s poor defensive rotations have allowed the Londoners to sink 37.6% of their shots from the 3-point line, 1.3% more than the Lions’ season average.
Sleeper Observation - The Lions Bench Mob!
The London Lions bench mob have caused Newcastle Eagle many issues this season.
London’s bench mob scored an average of 42.25 points over their four games compared to the Eagles’ 15.25 points. If the Lions end up in foul trouble or struggle from the field, they know they can lean on their bench.
Players to Watch: London Lions
Vojtech Hruban (Forward/Wing) – Key Stats
- 44.9% 3-Point Percentage
- 51.7% Field Goal Percentage
Jordan Taylor (Guard) – Key Stats
- 5.2 Assists Per Game
Josh Sharma (Center) – Key Stats
- 59.8% Field GoalPercentage
Players to Watch: Newcastle Eagles
Javion Hamlet (Guard) – Key Stats
- 20.1 Points Per Game
- 85% Free Throw Percentage
David Cohn (Guard) – Key Stats
- 6.4 Assists Per Game