Bendigo Braves (21-5) v Kilsyth Cobras (17-9), Bendigo Stadium, 7pm Saturday, September 3
Bendigo’s loss to Knox was only their second at home this season, so they still have every reason to be extremely confident. But over the last 8 games, Bendigo are 4-4, and all of the losses have come against other East conference finalists. The Braves must also know that this year will be seen as a failure if they fail to reach the East conference final given their dominance over the regular season.
Kilsyth could not be in better shape going into their toughest game of the season, riding a nine game winning streak. The Cobras should also hold no fear against the Braves, coming from four points down at three-quarter time to get up and win by 9 when they last met in round 16. Finally, the Cobras away record during the regular season is actually better than at home, going 9-4 away and 8-5 at home.
Ivan McFarlin is possibly the toughest player to stop in the competition. Against Knox, the power forward was again dominant with 15 points and 21 rebounds in the loss. But the Braves biggest problem is at the point. Either Kevin Probert must step up, or the coaching staff must be courageous and throw the team around. Perhaps Luke Meyer could go into the point, or perhaps they could start Warren Randall.
Matt O’Hea was instrumental in lifting Kilsyth to victory in their opening round playoff win over Dandenong. The guard had the answers every time the Rangers challenged in the second half, with some big three’s and clutch plays. Zach Malvik is the other key to the Cobras success. He has matured as a leader and acts as the Cobras architect on offence.
Chris Hogan has had a less than memorable year for the Braves. His numbers are down, and he hasn’t had anywhere near the same impact this season compared to previous years. But his recent form has shown some improvement. Over the opening 18 games of the season, Hogan didn’t reach double figure points once. But in the last nine games, he has hit double figures six times. Bendigo must get some production from their bench, and it has to start with Hogan.
Tariq Naqqash lacks no confidence when taking shots from beyond the arc, and can be a game saver or a coach killer. Last week he was the former, killing off Dandenong with 4-from-7 three’s. But he has also been the latter. Against Geelong in round 9, Naqqash went 1-of-9 from downtown. Given the Braves rebounding prowess and high field goal percentage, Naqqash must knock his opportunities down, otherwise Bendigo will capitalise.
Key Match ups
Sam Harris & Ivan McFarlin vs Tim Lang & Auryn MacMillan
This is a tantalising frontcourt battle, and the winner could be determined by whoever controls the paint. There was nothing between them when they last met, Lang and MacMillan outscoring their opponents, while Harris and McFalin held an edge in rebounding. Maybe they will cancel each other out, but should be great to watch nonetheless.
Luke Meyer vs Quincy Henderson
In the 2011 players survey, Quincy Henderson was voted the best defensive player by a streak. He must be a coach’s dream, given he always gets the toughest opponent and usually comes away a winner. Luke Meyer will need to use all his craftiness and agility to gain an advantage over the back-to-back defensive player of the year.
Previous Meetings This Year
Bendigo 74 def Kilsyth 71 @ Bendigo
Kilsyth 81 def Bendigo 72 @ Kilsyth
Bendigo risk having their outstanding season unravel before their very eyes, and must be motivated by the desire to avoid an embarrassing straight-sets exit from the finals. Kilsyth know that kind of pain too well, having been through that experience last year. The Cobras are also the best defensive team in the league and will push the Braves away from their comfort zone in every aspect. This may not be a spectacle for the fans, but should still be a nail-biting affair.
Prediction: Bendigo by 6.