Championship Preview: Riders at Sharks

The Riders will take the short journey up the M1 this Friday as they visit the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks for the first time since defeating them in the first round of playoffs last season.

Victory in this Round 10 matchup will see Rob Paternostro’s squad return to a record above .500 and leapfrog their opponents in the British Basketball League championship standings.

Fixture Information

Leicester Riders @ B. Braun Sheffield Sharks

Canon Medical Arena, Sheffield

Friday, November 17, 7:30pm

Returning to Winning Ways

The Riders will be hoping to get back in the winner’s column this Friday after a tough Round Nine of championship action brought with it two narrow defeats.

Losses to the London Lions and Cheshire Phoenix by near-identical margins (102-95 and 102-96) dropped Leicester to 6-6 and sixth spot in the table, but winning back-to-back games against two of the best offenses in the UK was always going to be a tall order.

The Riders played some of their best basketball this season in defeat, especially when in possession of the ball, so many positives can be taken from them.

Determined shooting guard Caleb Asberry shone in both games, dialling up 16 points and nine boards versus the Lions before hitting five shots from deep in a 23-point performance in Cheshire. 

The former Oklahoma State Cowboy also showed quick hands on defence, snatching five steals across the weekend and constantly affecting the play of the opponents’ big men.

Sheffield will present a different challenge for the Riders this week.

The Sharks are averaging 13 PPG less than Paternostro’s squad so far this season and, despite holding a better record than the Riders, have only scored more than 90 points on two occasions.

Leicester currently averages 91.5 PPG and appears to have the advantage when scoring the basketball.

However, the Sharks also play some of the best defensive basketball in the BBL, conceding the lowest number of points per game in the league at 74.4.

Look for Sheffield to try and frustrate the Riders through on-ball tenacity and the forcing of tough shots.

The Riders will need to call on all their offensive weapons to crack open Sheffield’s defence. Expect big games from starters Miryne Thomas, Jaren Holmes and Xavier Pinson.

Defence is the Key

Atiba Lyons’ Sheffield squad have started the season strongly, earning fifth place in the championship standings with a 7-6 record.

On the back of a stingy defence, the Sharks have claimed impressive wins over the Cheshire Phoenix, Caledonia Gladiators and Surrey Scorchers and have only lost once at home – to the league-leading London Lions.

Sheffield combines their excellent perimeter defence with good ball retention and efficient scoring from three-point range.

The Sharks take less deep shots than many teams in the British Basketball League, but hit at a 38.3% clip, third best in the league.

Contributing heavily to the high percentage shooting is wing player Jordan Ratinho and second-unit guard, RJ Eytle-Rock.

The sharpshooters may not be Sheffield’s most prolific scorers but look for them to capitalise on any space the Riders leave at the perimeter.

The Sharks’ most athletic weapon is undoubtedly high-flying guard, Jalon Pipkins.

The third-year professional has speed in the lane, hops near the rim and an ability to perform the spectacular. #5 has upped his offensive output this season, so expect plenty of highlight-reel plays on Friday night.

Key Matchup

Round 10’s key matchup will see youthful exuberance against solid experience as Xavier Pinson faces up to the test of Devearl Ramsey.

Ramsey, a 6’0” guard who spent a season playing NBA G-League ball with the Stockton Kings, is the floor general for the Sharks and their premier playmaker.

Dishing five assists per game, the 26-year-old is adept at finding the right shooter while also avoiding risk of turnovers.

Reliable, mistake-free basketball is Ramsey’s game, and with a points per game average of 11.5, he also contributes to the scoreboard. 

Aiming to best Ramsey will be Riders’ young point guard Pinson.

All season, fans have witnessed Pinson showcase his ball-handling skills and penchant for the flashy play.

A former University of Missouri and LSU player, Pinson has excellent basketball pedigree and his numbers back up his attacking flair. 

11.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and a three-point percentage of 45% display Pinson’s versatile game – all while sharing minutes with Riders’ captain, Kimbal Mackenzie.

The Chicagoan plays a riskier brand of basketball than his seasoned opponent, but the result is a stronger offensive profile.

This game is a tale of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object.

The battle between Pinson and Ramsey could well play out in the same way.

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