British Basketball League Championship action returns to the Morningside Arena this Friday as the Riders host the 4-18 Plymouth City Patriots.
The home side will certainly be favourites to take victory following impressive winter form, but coach Rob Paternostro will warn his team against complacency after Plymouth ran Leicester close at the start of the season.
Leicester Riders vs Plymouth City Patriots
Morningside Arena, Leicester
Friday, February 8, 7:30pm
Ready to Rise
After a turbulent first quarter of the season, which resulted in the Riders revamping the roster and sat on a record below .500, the recent upturn in form sees captain Kimbal Mackenzie and his team poised to take a leap into the upper echelons of the league.
After a promising League Trophy campaign and last week’s 20-point victory in Surrey, the Riders hold a record of 11-11, fifth in the League Championship and only three wins shy of the Caledonia Gladiators in second place.
Mackenzie himself has seen his form improve simultaneously with his squad, taking advantage of the defensive attention dedicated to Teddy Allen to drop double-digit points in five of his last six outings.
The do-it-all point guard has also seen his assist totals spike over the winter, proof that even with Allen and Duke Shelton being relatively new additions, the team is gelling more and more with each passing week.
Allen could certainly be considered the Riders’ catalyst – the league’s top scorer has failed to breach 20 points only twice as a Rider – but speaking to BBC Radio Leicester earlier this week, he stated that the team was prepared for success when he arrived.
“The team were on a skid when I got here, but we had to pieces to compete. There is a lot of talent in every position, all the way down the bench. I was able to inject some energy into the group, and after that, we rediscovered our form and everyone has been playing well.”
Expect the Riders to maintain that energy heading into tomorrow’s clash with Plymouth. The Patriots have the least potent offense in the league (averaging less than 80 points per game) and if Mackenzie and Allen continue on their current trajectory, 80 points could be surpassed before the start of the fourth.
New Year. New Start.
The end of 2023 was tough for the Patriots. Three losses on the bounce leading up to the break in League Championship play consigned Paul James’ men to bottom of the standings with a 3-17 record.
To compound things, top scorer Taylor Johnson had recently departed the club and it was tough to see who Plymouth could look to for an offensive spark.
However, much-improved performances in the League Trophy and the emergence of Jacob Wiley as a true scoring threat has given them cause to believe that a playoff berth is not out of reach.
The solid Trophy campaign carried forward into the Patriots’ return to the Championship as they travelled to Manchester and bested the Giants 93-79.
The trifecta of Wiley, Spencer Levi and Mason Faulkner overcame a superb 26-point showing from the Giants’ William Lee to take the win, Levi particularly impressing with a Miryne Thomas-esque 14-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Wiley once again displayed his offensive prowess with 20 points and Faulkner was instrumental, running the floor during his 26 minutes from the bench.
The Riders will provide a different challenge than the struggling Giants however, and Friday’s clash could prove how ready the Patriots are to make a run at the playoffs.
Friday’s game is a battle between two teams with in-form, free-scoring, 6’6” wing forwards: Teddy Allen and Jacob Wiley.
Wiley, a veteran who has married his play on the court with his name, has a career that spans at least four continents.
Following college, the 25-year-old suited up for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA before taking his skills to Europe, Australia and Japan.
His impact in the British Basketball League has been felt in the last couple of months after regular outings of 20 points or more.
Wiley isn’t a threat from beyond the arc, but his ability to use strength and finishing ability inside makes him a problem for defences, and combined with his tenacity on the boards, he will be a standout on the Morningside Arena court.
Allen will now be familiar to every Riders fan and many supporters across British Basketball.
The CEBL MVP has shown innate ability to score from anywhere, whether that’s slicing into the lane for a quick two or executing a nasty step back before splashing on a three-point dagger.
Possibly the least talked about facet of Allen’s game has been his defensive effort, rarely giving up on the cause and seldom getting beaten on the dribble.
Wiley and Allen are currently the primary outlets on offense for their teams, but both provide so much more around the court.
The winner of that battle could decide the winner of this game.