This is it, this Sunday – the second major final of the season is HERE, as we head up to Glasgow for the British Basketball Trophy Finals! The Cheshire Phoenix defend their BBL Trophy title against the Caledonia Gladiators and we’ve teamed up with BBL Maths to take a deep-dive into the analytics behind both finalists! Read on for some incredible insights from BBL Maths’ Ali Gilfillan.
The final is set to be a close encounter, with both teams posting similar defensive ratings (points conceded per 100 possessions), although Gladiators take a slight edge offensively into the game.
The team styles are very different, however, as detailed in the four factors of success. Cheshire lead the league in forcing turnovers, whereas Caledonia’s strength lies in their rebounding. Expect fast breaks from the lighting guard combo of Marcus Evans and Larry Austin Jr. for the Phoenix, but the bigs of Patrick Tape and Fahro Alihozdic should secure the paint for the Gladiators, generating extra shot opportunities for their team.
Gladiators have converted more free-throws per shot attempt, but also give up a lot the other end. They’ll need to avoid fouling and giving away cheap points in a finely balanced affair, but should take confidence from Cheshire’s league-bottom free throw rate.
The Gladiators clearly have the deeper squad and with British big Mike Ochereobia departing for Cheshire for the Basketball Africa League earlier this month, the Nix are short in the front court. In contrast, Gladiators bolstered their ranks in that regard in recent weeks by adding former BBL-Trophy-winning centre Fahro Alihozdic to take some pressure off the returning Ali Fraser. Cheshire will need David Ulph to recapture his form from years gone by to give productive minutes and allow Tahjai Teague and Will Neighbour some rest.
The best player on the court, per Box Plus Minus, will be reigning Trophy Finals MVP Larry Austin Jr., whose dynamic driving game and ferocious defence will be needed for the Nix to defend their title. Coming up against him on Sunday, though, is David Sloan, who took the league by storm in the early part of the season and will revel in the opportunity to show his worth in such a big game. With his lightning-quick speed, I’m looking forward to some great back-and-forth battles between these two combo guards.
Battle of the wing stoppers
Box score stats (which underpin Box Plus Minus) are great at measuring offensive contributions but are flawed defensive measures. Looking at on/off ratings (points scored/conceded per 100 possessions when a player is on the court vs off the court) gives us another useful tool to assess player performance.
In Sunday’s Final it is clear to see that we have two of the league’s best defensive wings facing off against each other. Jamell Anderson, three-time BBL Defensive Team of the Year member, is well known for his versatility. For the Gladiators, their best defender per on/off ratings is Princeton Onwas. Coach Murray brought in the experienced American, whose elite defensive pedigree was shown when he was named to the All-Defensive Team during his title-winning stint in the Brama Liga Pro B.
Don’t expect either wing to spend much time guarding each other, but it will be an interesting tactical battle between Coach Murray and Coach Thomas, as each looks to deploy their defensive monsters in the most effective way.
Stretching the floor vs bully ball
There will be a contrasting style from the bigs. Cheshire like to stretch the floor with Neighbour taking more three-pointers than two-pointers this season, and Teague taking about a third of his shots from deep. Contrast that to Caledonia, whose primary big rotation of Alihozdic, Ali Fraser and Patrick Tape all take over 90% of their shots from two-point range.
One question that will be answered is which strategy will prove dominant? Will the Nix be forced to bench Neighbour in favour of the more physical Ulph to control the inside threat? Or will the Gladiators be forced to play small ball to be able to guard up to five players on the perimeter?
Looking into more advanced stats for Tape and Neighbour, we see Neighbour is asked to create for teammates less often than Tape, but looks more efficient when he does, with a higher passing and security rating, with his effective three-point shooting driving a higher spacing rating as well.
All told, the second silverware of the season will be hotly contested with many key match ups to look out for. The stage is set for another exciting showpiece event. This one could go down to the wire. Bring on Sunday!