The German U19 League NBBL playoffs will start this weekend and decide which 4 teams will qualify for the Top4 Tournament that will be played the 15th and 16th May in Bamberg. We take today a quick look at the different 1/8 final series and use this article to talk about the best players of the regular season.
ALBA Berlin – LTi 46ers Juniors
The 2008/09 champion ALBA Berlin comes of a perfect season as the team of coach Henrik Rödl finished the first phase unbeaten. Everything else than two wins in the Best of 3 series against the LTi Giessen 46ers would be a surprise. Even without Niels Giffey who missed the beginning of the season because of his mononucleosis, ALBA managed to win easily most of their games. The core of the championship team from last season is still there and the arrival of the shooter Malte Ziegenhagen as well as the emergence of Erik Müller compensated the age category losses of Steven Monse and Nico Adamczak. The roster of the team from the capital is particularly deep and ALBA looks like the main favorite for the championship again. The season for Giessen was marked by major ups and downs but finally a spot in the playoffs was the result despite a last game day loss against Hagen. The team is driven by U18 National team PG Falko Theilig and PF Robin Christen who both were supposed to play major minutes with the senior reserve team in Lich in the third German League. However, only Christen managed to earn regular minutes on that level after a hesitating start into the season. The surprise of the team is on the other hand Oliver Nützel who improved nicely over the season and is the second best scorer and rebounder of the team.
Bayer Leverkusen – Junior Phantoms Braunschweig
The series between Bayer Leverkusen and the Junior Phantoms from Braunschweig may be one of the most interesting ones as both teams played a rather successful regular season. Leverkusen is driven by their excellent duo of SF Martin Breunig and Mathis Mönninghoff who both will play the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in April. They get the support of U17 National Team Center Tim Unterluggauer who is putting up interesting numbers as a 1993 born player in a U19 league. The team may however suffer from its relatively short bench in the intensive games of the playoffs especially as they face a highly athletic Braunschweig team around U18 National Team center and shot blocker Daniel Theis. The long PF/C from the Phantoms plays an excellent season where he puts up amazing numbers as he scores 80.6% of his Field Goal attempts in the 2pt area. Together with 10.0rpg and 2.5bpg, he is by far the most effective player of his team. So the question remains if he can dominate Leverkusen nearly alone which is questionable if you know the talent level of the Starting Five from the Rhine city. This speaks in favor of the Bayer Leverkusen squad and they should normally advance to face ALBA in the quarter-finals.
Eisbären Bremerhaven – Phoenix Hagen Juniors
Bremerhaven is another team loaded with talent as they feature a large number of current and former U18 National team players. Next to the scoring guard Anthony Canty, you can find the NBBL All-Star Sadam Eco and the newly selected U18 NT player Bill Borekambi who had one of the most impressive statistical performances of the season with a 45 efficiency rating game. Together with the talented by still raw Maurice Pluskota, the team from the North Sea coast should dominate Phoenix Hagen and advance to the next round as the assembled talent seems too big for not winning this series. The former Top 4 team of Phoenix Hagen (in the opening season 2006/07) reached the playoffs as third placed team in the North-West division and it will probably be hard to advance to the next round. The team seems pretty balanced as 6 players scored more than 6.0 points per game but the outstanding talent may be missing and U17 NT player Fabian Bleck may need another year to blossom at this level.
Paderborn Baskets – Central Hoops
The finalists from last season were once again highly dominating their division as they lost only one game. Even the departure of the athletic SF Robert Hülsewede who finally gets his minutes on the Bundesliga level did not stop this a bit unorthodox team to become once again one of the favorites for the title. Behind the amazing back-court scoring talent of Lars Wendt and Ole Wendt, the organizer Dominik Malinowski came back from a slight injury and stabilizes the team with his versatility. The lack of any true inside offensive force did not hinder them last season to advance to the Top4 so anything than a domination against Central Hoops would be a major surprise. A Central Hoops team that lives and dies with the scoring of its PG Martin Bogdanov who comes out of a terrible shooting season where he connected only 16% (12/75) of his three point shots. The talent level of the rest of the team seems to be too limited to put Paderborn in any danger but you never know what can happen in a Play-off series.
Team ALBA Urspring – Funkwerk Junior Baskets Jena
The team from the double NBBL champion Urspring nearly had a perfect regular season as they only suffered one defeat during the 14 games. And this was a close one (loss by one point against BBA Ludwigsburg) as the team missed several key players that day. The team of coach Felix Czerny is highly balanced this season and features several very interesting players. Justin Raffington, the future USF player, leads the team in scoring but probably the player to follow in these Play-offs is Julius Wolf as the 1993 born forward played a great NIJT with ALBA in L’Hospitalet and seems to be most versatile guy in the athletic team. Kevin Bright had a season marked by lots of ups and downs and his injury-proneness did not help him over the year. Jena comes with a highly talented but very young team that features the core of the German U17 National team and will probably be one of the teams to follow in the next two seasons. It is hardly imaginable that they can already advance further this year but players like NBBL All-Star Jakob Krumbeck, Paul Albrecht or Anselm Hartmann will gain some experience and they may create a surprise here by stealing at least one game of the series.
ASC Mainz – BBA Ludwigsburg
The series between ASC Mainz and BBA Ludwigsburg looked to be one of the most promising ones but the injury of Patrick Heckmann may hinder him from participating to all of the games of this duel. The NBBL All-Star exploded this season and led his team to an amazing 12-2 record as a newcomer in the league and he got the massive support of the athletic shooter Kevin Luyeye-Kuelusukina. Together with the other key players of the team that are all born in 1991, this year can be the right one for advancing to the Top4 but the potential absence of Heckmann may stop the big run the team had during the regular season where they came out of the pre-season qualification round. The team of BBA Ludwigsburg may be the strongest third-placed team of the Play-offs as they come from the very competitive South Division and were the only ones to have beaten Urspring this season. The team is led by the U17 NT member and NBBL All-Star Besnik Bekteshi who can win games all by himself. Together with his two years older brother and the valuable work of the roles players, Ludwigsburg may create the surprise here and advance to the next round. They showed that they are capable of winning big games already this season but they can also lose against weaker teams. This series is probably going over the full distance.
Basket-College Rhein-Neckar – Franken Hexer
The Basket-College Rhein-Neckar is featuring a highly interesting trio of players with the SG/SF Alexander Kuhn who leads the team in scoring, the massive center Max Bohrmann (2m08 – 120kg) who showed some good progress this season and the former U18 National Team player Danilo Barthel who is however currently injured. On the other side, you have a Franken Hexer team that lives a lot from their inside players Daniel Stawowski and NBBL All-Star Dennis Ogbe. Together with the 1993 born Johannes Richter, who plays an excellent season as third inside option, the team from Nürnberg has enough versatility to stop the Mannheim based Basket-College. The fact that the Top4 will be played in Bamberg may give the Hexer an additional motivation and help them to qualify for the next round.
TSV Breitengüssbach – Team Kurpfalz
Finally, we have a series that should be no problem for Breitengüssbach as the farm team of Brose Baskets is simply too loaded with talent. They feature one of the most dominant 1992 born players in Europe in Philipp Neumann and the Top4 should be the minimum for this team. Daniel Leither will certainly also play a more important role during the Play-offs as he did during the regular season where the 1991 born forward was mainly used in the ProB team. The team Kurpfalz lives a lot from the individual talent of Moritz Nägele but the 1m74 short guard will probably have trouble to shine against against the Bavarian giants. Anything than two crushing wins would be a major surprise in my eyes.
The rest of the teams will fight in a Play-off like schedule to stay in the League. Among the players from those teams, it may be worth to mention the season of Michael Wenzl who finished the regular season with the 4th best efficiency ranking (1st Philipp Neumann, 2nd Daniel Theis, 3rd Bill Borekambi). The massive center from Ulm averaged 19.8ppg and 9.6rpg at an 65.8% shooting. Another honorable mention may be given to the NBBL All-Star Nico Barth from Langen who finished the season as third best scorer (1st Anthony Canty, 2nd Patrick Heckmann) with 22.0ppg.
The official trophies will be distributed during the Top4 event in Bamberg but here are my favorites for the vote.
MVP: Philipp Neumann (TSV Breitengüssbach)
Defensive Player of the year: Daniel Theis (Junior Phantoms Braunschweig)