Friday, 25 September 2009

Bar raised as new campaign tips off

So after four months of eager anticipation (OK, perhaps mild longing), the new BBL season starts tonight with defending champions Newcastle getting us all under way against Cheshire at the Metro Arena.

Is anyone ready to break the Eagles' monopoly at the top of the tree? Talking to a lot of coaches and players this week, the answer - candidly - is no. However, looking at the rosters, and some pre-season insights, the message heading into this campaign is that there are more teams out there who could - in theory - beat anyone on any given night.

Discounting the ever-shambolic London Capital, and youthful newcomers Essex Pirates, and the 11 other teams appear to have come a little closer together than before.

Newcastle, despite the advantage they possess in continuity, are one down from last term. Everton have been forced into a late rush, and will field an almost wholly new line-up. Guildford and Plymouth are similarly less deep with Heat player-coach Chad McKnight having to learn his new trade on the job. And while the Glasgow Rocks (if they acquire a centre) and the Sheffield Sharks look improved, are either really good enough to challenge for the title?

That leaves Leicester, last season's upstarts, with the potential for leaping into the mix again despite the huge loss of Phil Missere. An unknown quantity again.

Worcester and Worthing, according to at least two rival coaches, will improve sheerly because of the change on the bench. Both should, our informal and unscientific survey says, challenge for a play-off spot.

Which leaves Milton Keynes and Cheshire. Both have opted largely for continuity with 1-2 new faces. At some point though, regeneration is required. I'm not sure either have done enough to mould themselves into a top-eight squad even if Lions coach Vince Macaulay has been talking up their chances.

So that takes us back to Newcastle. It's an easy choice after all. Proven quality, track record, off-court savvy. They may lose 10 games this year but there are multiple reasons why the Eagles remain our favourites. And that's why my money goes on them.

PREDICTED TABLE (check back in April to see how wrong it was)

1. Newcastle
2. Everton
3. Glasgow
4. Leicester
5. Sheffield
6. Plymouth
7. Worcester
8. Milton Keynes
9. Guildford
10. Worthing
11. Cheshire
12. London
13. Essex

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