BiE got a first look at the team everyone expects to win it all in Ireland on Sunday while the new kids on the block showed why time is something they badly need.
DCU Saints have dominated in games where they have been able to set the tone this season. Sunday was not one of those games. On Sunday, the Saints ran into the monster from Cork city known as UCC Demons. The Cork club won two of the three titles on offer last season but came up short in the race for the big one, the league title, despite going 16-2. The margin for error is tiny at the top and Demons have come out playing like a team determined to be perfect.
It’s the subtlety of the way they kill games that catches the casual viewer off guard. After some tit for tat opening exchanges, Saints looked to be enjoying some success on the offensive glass but the scoreboard told the real story. Demons were stuffing them and killing this game off alarmingly early. The offence is built around a pretty simple plan. Force the opposition to respect the inside threat of Lehmon Colbert, once they do start spinning to Colin O’Reilly on the outside. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are, granted, other facets to their game but to stuff Demons an opponent has to neutralise both threats simultaneously. Failure results in what happened to Saints, a big hole really early.
The defence however is where Demons truly break the will of their foes. Saints had plenty of gumption on offence but they couldn’t handle the man coverage from the Cork club. Fundamentally, you could show this game to anyone who hadn’t watched basketball before and they would have recognised that Demons were finding it far easier to create shots than the Dublin club. For all the other complexities and refinements, Demons bring a complete package to the table which is a tough challenge for any team in a league where the bulk of players are amateur. Colbert isn’t a true big but he’s big enough to be a difference inside in this league and comfortably handled Martin Provisors throughout. O’Reilly brings top drawer outside shooting and the remainder of the line-up has ample doses of creativity, experience, and speed to hurt anybody.
To beat Demons, you need to play a fast game on offence and have somebody who can contain Colbert on D. Saints simply didn’t have the tools to do that and fell 73-101. The second game of the day however presented a side that might do so, if it can catch fire in time.
Swords Thunder, playing in its first season in the Premier League, has already fallen by 15 points to the 5-0 Demons but this club possesses a mix of talent that could lead to silverware in its debut season. Turning a mix into a blend however is no easy task, as coach Dave Baker is learning. With three Americans on its roster but only one permitted on the floor at any one time, keeping a rhythm is challenging for the North Dublin club. Throughout the first half of the clash with Dublin Inter, Swords struggled to find a natural flow.
The best line-up, at least from the eye test, involves playing Isaac Westbrooks alongside import Marcus McDaniel in the back-court and unleashing legitimate big Conor Gallagher at the 5. Every league has its answer to Sofoklis Schorsantidis, the big who is going to have his way but only for so long. Gallagher, at 6’10” and packing a ton of meat, was a match-up nightmare for Inter. Aurimas Statkus was only giving up 2 inches to the Thunder big but Gallagher never skipped a lunch in his life and the slender framed Lithuanian struggled against him.
Despite decent conditioning, a player of Gallagher’s size can only last so long before needing a break. When he sat, McDaniel did as well and the change in rotation hurt Thunder. Defensively the Swords club repeatedly gave up an avenue at the top of the key and Inter, hardly known for its inside game, managed to make it work. Thunder finally blew the game open in the third, turning a 42-34 half-time lead into 67-42.
That 10 minute rush was enough to kill off Inter but it showed that time is what Swords need to be competitive. The league title chase is still somewhat in their hands but, in reality, Thunder’s goal will be the National Cup and the Champions Trophy. On their day, they can take anybody, but right now they are still finding what works.
For Demons it may still be early days but a perfect 18-0 regular season and a clean sweep of all titles is more than plausible. They roll on to UCD Marian where the Students will look to use speed to overcome the Demons D. For any team right now, the Cork city club is a nightmare match-up.