BBL Championship Preview: Riders at Patriots

The Riders begin the final month of the regular season with a long trip south-west to play the Plymouth City Patriots.

Confidence should be high throughout the squad that they can conquer the quick turnaround between games and build off a superb performance against Bristol as well as Tuesday’s win over the Patriots.

Riders’ Season So Far

Following last night’s statement win over the Bristol Flyers, Leicester have closed the gap on second place, sitting just two points behind Friday’s opponents with a 20-9 record.

The 106-89 scoreline does nothing to flatter the Riders’ players, who played with a focus and desire that saw them put on arguably their best game of the season.

Most of the pre-game talk concerned the battle on the boards, with Bristol coming into the game as the best offensive rebounding team in the BBL.

The Riders met the challenge head on, outrebounding the visitors 35-34, allowing maximum opportunity for the shooters to do what they do best.

And they did.

Four Riders dropped 16 points or more with most of the offensive firepower coming at the hand of wing, Zach Jackson.

The third-year Rider scored a season-high 28 points in a powerful display in which he hit 75% of his field goals. Something about the Flyers must light a fire inside Jackson, who tallied the same number of points in a season’s best performance against Bristol last season.

Kimbal Mackenzie, Marc Loving and Patrick Whelan also had their eye in, but accurate shooters are nothing if the ball doesn’t find them.

Enter Carrington Love, who racked up 10 assists and was only one point short of a double-double.

Love’s court awareness and ability to find the right pass may be crucial tomorrow afternoon in a game that will surely be a test of the Riders’ ability to think clearly when stamina is low.

Patriots’ Season So Far

Plymouth are too having to navigate a three-game week, losing to the Manchester Giants 109-69 on Friday after Tuesday’s narrow defeat by the Riders.

The Patriots’ poor run of form has continued since their recent visit to Leicester, but confidence should be buoyed by the chance to play at home where they recorded their last win on February 19.

The 40-point defeat to Manchester was a game that escaped Plymouth’s clutches after the first quarter, so revisiting their narrow 92-89 loss to the Riders is a better game to judge the test that they will present Leicester tomorrow.

With better accuracy from the free throw line, it was a game that the Patriots could have won after attacking Leicester on the inside.

Plymouth took nearly double the number of 2-point shots as the Riders, hitting 47.14% of them which resulted in 48 points in the paint.

The front court duo of Rashad Hassan and Otas Iyekekpolor had good success, knocking down 35 points between them.

This strategy to utilise the big men inside the paint nearly worked for Plymouth last time.

Leicester need to be ready for more of the same.

Key Players

When previewing Tuesday’s game vs Plymouth, the focus was on the well-documented talents of center, Rashad Hassan.

The former Rider lived up to his reputation, dropping 21 points in a dominant display on the inside.

Today, a man still getting used to the BBL is under the microscope: Otas Iyekekpolor.

The 6’8” Canadian has only played five games in the UK’s premier basketball competition but has already shown flashes as an effective rebounder and deadly three-point shooter.

Plymouth typically like to hit shots in the paint, but Iyekekpolor helps them spread the floor as an outside threat, currently hitting 55.56% of his shots from beyond the arc.

He isn’t the primary scoring outlet yet, but don’t be surprised to see him pull up from deep at least four or five times.

Rather than fighting fire with fire against the Patriots’ big men, the Riders could well want to use their guards.

A player like Patrick Whelan could easily have a big game against a Plymouth squad that gives up the most three-pointers of any team in the championship.

Whelan, who is currently in the BBL’s top five for three-point shooting percentage with 44.37%, should relish the opportunity to launch from deep as he may be given more space than usual.

The Patriots are also giving opposing teams a lot of chances at the free throw line, so expect Whelan and the all-action Kimbal Mackenzie to drive to the basket when given half a lane.

Both players are swishing over 85% of their free throws.

A higher FT% proved crucial the last time these teams met. It could be a deciding factor yet again.

Where to watch

The game will be streamed live on the BBL Official youtube, starting at 2:45 pm.