As the season hits its festive break, the countdown to the BBL Cup Final begins. The date is set with the Newcastle Eagles taking on the UCP Marjon Plymouth Raiders at the NIA Arena in Birmingham on Sunday 15th January 2012.
The BBL Cup Final is arguably the biggest event on the British Basketball calendar and the 2012 edition will not disappoint in front of the cameras, live on SKY Sports.
Newcastle will go into the contest as favourites, having suffered just one defeat in 15 games whilst topping the league table with a perfect eight from eight. The pressure has been on Fab Flournoy’s men to perform this season having failed to win a trophy last season for the first time since the 2003-04 season, a time when the Plymouth Raiders were not even in the BBL which shows the contrasting history of the two clubs in this league. The Eagles have only won the BBL Cup once before in the 2005-06 season where they captured all four trophies, so they will hope victory in Birmingham will inspire another ‘clean sweep’.
Plymouth have a relatively short history in the BBL compared to some of their rivals but will be competing in their third final with mixed feelings towards the previous two. Current coach, Gavin Love will have fond memories of Plymouth’s only title success in the BBL having played a part in the side that stunned Newcastle in the 2007 BBL Trophy Final. However, the Plymouth faithful will not want to revisit the 2009 BBL Cup Final. The Raiders were on the wrong end of a 103-49 demolition as the Everton Tigers claimed their first piece of silverware.
Flournoy has retained the dangerous Joe Chapman and Charles Smith as well as the likes of Darius Defoe and Andrew Bridge which has given Newcastle a slight advantage in the early stages of the season as they have not had to integrate as many new players into the club’s system. With the signings that were made, Paul Gause is already recognised as one of the quickest players in the league and Andrew Thomson arrived from Mersey as one of the key members of their treble winning season last year. It’s not surprising to see Chapman as one of the leading scorers in the league having notched up 162 points so far at an average of 20.3 points per game. Smith is equally capable of a big game performance while Defoe (10rpg) and Thomson (7.9rpg) have produced several double-double performances as reflected in their rebound per game averages.
Plymouth are still alive in both knockout competitions as they take on the MK Lions in the semi-final stage of the BBL Trophy with another final showdown with the Eagles a possibility. The Raiders have taken time to settle in this season with new signings such as the returning Anthony Martin, big men- Paul Williams and Tomas Janusauskas from Sheffield and Guildford respectively and Michael Ojo and Ben Smith as the other Americans. Smith’s stint in Plymouth didn’t last long and Love swooped for last season’s MVP, Jeremy Bell who joined Great Britain’s James Jones as a late arrival. Lehmon Colbert was one of the first players signed up this season which emphasized the impact he made in the league last season while captain Anthony Rowe returned for a third season. Plymouth will be buoyed on by a convincing semi-final victory over the Worcester Wolves where Bell found his A-game with 33 points in a pivotal first leg. The Raiders are averaging less than 80 points per game in the league and this may need to improve in the final to combat the attacking Eagles.
Newcastle eased to a 90-67 home victory over Plymouth in the Championship in November on a night when Bell failed to produce his best, shooting just 23%. If the American is at his best then Plymouth will have a chance to repeat their shock victory over Newcastle in 2007 and add a second BBL title to their cabinet. As intriguing as the battle between Chapman and Bell might be, watch out for the front-court battle between the duo of Thomson and Defoe and Rowe and Williams. Newcastle have made a strong start to the season and will start as favourites but Plymouth are building momentum and people should write them off at their peril.