2017 Men's SBL season preview

IT is hard to find a team that doesn’t look to have improved coming into the 2017 Men's SBL season ahead of Friday night's tip-off.

Ahead of the season getting underway this Friday night, we are providing a full rundown on all 14 Men's SBL clubs with expert comments and predictions from East Perth championship-winning coach and current Perth Wildcats assistant Adam Forde, Rockingham Flames legend Mark Utley and perhaps the SBL's biggest ambassador Matt Cecins.

Click here for all the men's SBL news throughout the season 

COCKBURN COUGARS
Coach: Adam Nener
Last year: 22-4 (champions)
In: Jalen Billups (restricted) Lochlan Cummings, Seva Chan, Logan Franic
Out: Marcus Goode, Najee Lane, Julian Pesava, Travis Hayto, Luke Wilson

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Jalen Billups will have to play a huge part in keeping the defending champs in finals contention with some key outs to their line-up. New head coach Adam Nener has loads of experience in the SBL and should have no trouble rallying his troops to play at the same intensity he once did. Cockburn will be one (of many teams) to benefit from the reduced minutes due to the lack of depth on their bench. Look for Gav, Rhett and DT to carry much of the workload for 2017.

MARK UTLEY
I expect the Cougars to drop down the ladder after an outstanding performance last year. I see them finishing 7th to 9th. Experience will make them tough but depth especially in their bigs will challenge them. Their import looks impressive but they will miss the all round game that Lane brought each night.

MATT CECINS
A huge task is in front of the Cougars not only to go back-to-back, but just to make it back to the post season. Najee Lane was one of the best all round players in the league last year and departs with the reigning head coach of the year. Billups will have to shoulder much of the scoring load and he is surrounded by some of the savviest veterans in the league including Thomas, Della and Field.

EAST PERTH EAGLES
Coach: Joe-Alan Tupaea
Last year: 10-16 (9th)
In: Kevin Anthony (restricted), Kevin Davis (restricted), Mason Bragg, Corey Easley, Ngor Manyang, Sebit Reath, Dennis Tawhiti
Out: Amen Osayande, Rhys Vague, Thomas Korf, Tom Jervis

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Joe-Alan returns will a new look line-up that has a good balance of youth and experience. Mason Bragg running the point will speed up the tempo at Morley, and alongside Kevin Davis, they’ll make a tough 1-2 punch combination in the pick and roll. The only glaring factor I see if their lack of perimeter shooters, this will heavily fall on Drew Williamson and Corey Easley if teams look to zone up and clog up the key.

MARK UTLEY
The hardest team to pick. After a disappointing season last year, they have recruited some solid Australians but their fortunes will rest on their decisions on restricted players. An aging list need some youth to help out if they want to finish higher than 8th.

MATT CECINS
The Eagles have the potential to be big improvers from last season. Mason Bragg is exciting to watch and Kevin Davis is a phenomenal athlete around the bucket. Dennis Tawhiti can be a high impact player when he is fully fit. Drew Williamson will need to have an accurate year from the three-point arc if the Eagles are to contend with the top four teams.

GERALDTON BUCCANEERS
Success within reach of Buccs as Evans returns to coach 
Coach: Ray Evans
Last year: 18-8 (lost semi finals)
In: Dwayne Benjamin (restricted), Matthew Hancock
Out: Carter Cook, Matthew Adekponya, Luke Wrensted

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Another side that will benefit from the reduced game with most of their starters likely to play 30-35 plus minutes. Jackson Hussey looks like he’ll be paired up well alongside Dwayne Benjamin who isn’t afraid to shoot the three and seems to be a good replacement for Adekponya. Should they all stay healthy they’ll be tough.

MARK UTLEY
Always around the mark with home court advantage and resources. I think still one player short to make a serious title run, they still will be somewhere from 5th to 8th. Interior defence and consistent shooting are issues they need to fix to jump into the top 4. Hussey staying is a huge advantage and they may surprise with a late signing.

MATT CECINS
Ray Evans returns to the coaching fold and has talented Dwayne Benjamin at his disposal. I like the game of Maurice Barrow and he will again be a star in the mid-west. Returning veterans such as Wundenberg and Ralph will need to have on going consistency. Jackson Hussey is one of the most dynamic guards in the league who can win games off his own back. The Buccs will be a tough team to beat on their home floor, however it is essential that they win more games on the road to make an impact in 2017.

GOLDFIELDS GIANTS
Young players won't be forgotten as Giants look to rebound 
Coach: Lou Causer
Last year: 7-19 (12th)
In: JB Pillard (restricted) Jerrell Sanders (injury replacement), Atem Atem, Brandon Holloway, Luke Pike, David Humphries
Out: Kenny Manigault

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
A team that has unfortunately been hit hard with injuries already, may find it tough to establish their rhythm early. However, a possible replacement signing in the coming weeks could not only help get their season off to a good start, but also shock a few in the process.

MARK UTLEY
Some good signings but Holmes out early will test them. They are building in the right direction and hopefully their fans are patient but I still think they will miss the playoffs finishing 8th to 12th on the table. Even the loss of Zunic and Hurst will hurt their front court depth and Causer is set for a massive learning curve.

MATT CECINS
The long commute to Kalgoorlie was once the most intimidating and toughest to play in the league, and if the Giants are to make any sort of run at the postseason they will need to protect their home floor better this season. Jacob Holmen is a superstar and one of the most consistent players in the league, and the Giants hopes this season will rest on his shoulders. JB Pillard will offer the team a huge upside as will Atem Atem.

JOONDALUP WOLVES
Little reason for change at Wolfpack ahead of another run 
Coach: Ben Ettridge
Last year: 21-5 (runner-up)
In: Richard Ross (restricted), Wade Guerin (restricted), Joel Offereins, Jamie Hepburn
Out: Kevin Davis, Greg Hire, Joel Questel

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Ever consistent, the Wolves have retained much of their core group. Adding additional athleticism, the Wolves will continue their brand of basketball, which has given them great success. Look for the Wolves to get off to a great start especially while other teams are still waiting for key players to arrive.

MARK UTLEY
Will finish in the top 4 still with seasoned veterans and well coached they will be hard to beat. Iliadis and Salinas may be slowing but two imports for the first time in a while will only make them deeper.

MATT CECINS
The Wolves have been the models of consistency in recent years and Ben Ettridge will once again have a team laden with talent. I am looking forward to seeing Ben Ironmonger back on the basketball court and will be interested to see how the new Wolfpack imports fill the void left by Kevin Davis. Wade Guerin is an explosive athlete that will thrill fans this season.

KALAMUNDA EASTERN SUNS
Clarke to keep backing his way with young Suns 
Coach: Michael Clarke
Last year: 6-20 (13th)
In: Rob Brandenberg (restricted), Theron Pinker, Brighton Pass, Jamieson Lewis
Out: Travis McIlroy, Jarrad Prior, Brandon McGill, Geordie Murray

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Rob Brandenburg could be an early MVP candidate just based purely on his resume in college and most recently in Spain. While he is likely to suit the full court defensive pressure the Suns like to implement, it’s a case of whether his teammates can rise to his standard of play. Will they continue to rotate the bench as they did at the start of last season, or stick with the key contributors as they did near the tail end of the year which got them better results.

MARK UTLEY
They surprised teams last year with their style and it will be interesting how it goes this year with quality players from the start. Still getting smashed on the glass will be a challenge. A slight improvement but still don't see them playoff bound.

MATT CECINS
The change to 10-minute quarters could be a blessing in disguise for the Suns as teams that can put up points quickly will be harder to chase down in a shortened game. The big tests for the Suns will be whether they can consistently manage two and three straight stops on the defensive end of the floor consistently. Belger is potentially a late arrival, and will form a formidable pairing with new recruit Rob Brandenberg. A big question mark will be placed on the other role players at the club to consistently perform at a higher level.

LAKESIDE LIGHTNING
Youthful Lightning look to surge up SBL ladder 
Coach: Sam Oatman
Last year: 7-19 (11th)
In: Devon Atkinson (restricted), James Padgett (restricted), Andrew Ferguson, Darrell Morgan
Out: Daniel Alexander, TJ Hallice, Seva Chan

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
They fixed their lack of point guard problems with Atkinson joining the line-up. Padgett brings the inside presence, but I also look forward in seeing the development of big man Andrew Ferguson who could have a bright future if he sticks to working hard. Darrell ‘Dumbbells’ Morgan is back, and should help add much needed help to their perimeter game.

MARK UTLEY
A team I don't see making the playoffs. Improved throughout last year and I really like how Grida plays. Big guy depth will hurt them as this was a weakness last year even with two high statistic imports.

MATT CECINS
Devon Atkinson will be a breath of fresh air at the point guard position for the Lightning, and there are so many top players across the league in that position. Lakeside has a talented crop of youngsters with Ferguson, Grida and Shervill, but the performances of Hayden Bell and Matt Vinci will need to be far more consistent than last year. The Lightning has the potential to be a threat to other teams inside and around the top eight.

MANDURAH MAGIC
Trahair returns tasked with lifting Magic back up 
Coach: Aaron Trahair
Last year: 5-21 (wooden spoon)
In: Ricky Kreklow (restricted), Chad Simpson, Andrew Bowman, Fletcher Klasztorny
Out: James Paringatai, Trevor Setty, Ben Smith, Aron Lopez

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
While the new stadium in Mandurah should add some joy to the Magic, I think it’ll be short lived once their season starts.

MARK UTLEY
Will struggle this year but will improve their team chemistry and style of play under Trahair. Their second import choice of a perimeter player will make big guy depth an issue. Some talented juniors need to step up in intensity and maintain it throughout the year for them to challenge for the finals. Probably finish in the bottom three.

MATT CECINS
Another year of rebuilding seems to be on the cards this season for the Magic. Aaron Trahair had success up in the basketball hotbed of Geraldton, and he will need to call upon all of his experience and knowledge to further improve his new club. Taylor Mullenax has been a stalwart and warrior for the Magic and he will need to be again. Mandurah have brought in Rick Kreklow to be an instant contributor and he will need greater assistance from the returning veterans and youngsters if the Magic is to avoid the wooden spoon.

PERRY LAKES HAWKS
Adekponya, Waters add bite as Parsons looks to lead Hawks back to top 
Coach: Matt Parsons
Last year: 11-15 (lost quarter finals)
In: Robert Waters (restricted), Matthew Adekponya, Luke Wilson, Travis Hayto
Out: Bryton Hobbs, Josh Garlepp, Ben Dixon

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Perry Lakes shook things up this off-season in the hopes to finally make a legitimate push for top spot. Parsons takes the reigns and brings in a new backcourt with Waters and Adekponya. On face value the move should look to pay off.

MARK UTLEY
Will be in the top 5 and have the potential to challenge for the title. Their only Achilles heel is a lack of consistent outside shooters. They won't be beaten regularly on the glass and that generally means a correlation to game won in the SBL. Interesting to see how Parsons Ra Ra style goes in the hollow confines that is a Hawks game at Bendat.

MATT CECINS
The league's best coach inherits a talented team that has one of the most exciting combinations in the backcourt. Adekponya and Waters will be one of the toughest matchups in the league. Purser consistently puts up numbers, and the Hawks have talented role players such as Smith and O’Sullivan that can light teams up from the perimeter. Brian Carlwell will play a major part in the Hawks pushing for a top four finish.

PERTH REDBACKS
Loughton joins Redhage as Redbacks open season with a bang 
Lackovic excited about Redbacks' youth and leadership 
Coach: Nik Lackovic
Last year: 15-11 (lost quarter finals)
In: Alex Loughton (restricted, short-term), Lee Roberts (restricted), Shawn Redhage, Geordie Murray
Out: Jourdan DeMuynck, Jamieson Lewis, Lewis Thomas, Reed McConnell

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
While I was all-for moving the game to a 40-minute format, it would have been interesting to see how many 50 point games Shawn Redhage would have got this season if he had 48 minutes to do so. How many games is Shawn available for would be my only question, but with the shape he is in, Shawn would be my pick for MVP this year – even if Perth don’t make the 8.

MARK UTLEY
If they can get their squad together they will finish in the top 4. Redhage will tear up SBL and his experienced game could see him go close to MVP. When Vigor, Roberts return will determine where they finish. Talented junior group will demand playing time as the season goes on.

MATT CECINS
There wouldn’t be too many players that have come into the league throughout it’s history that have had more decorated careers than Shawn Redhage. His game style and strengths will complement the talents of returning veterans like Joel Wagner, Ben Smith and Michael Vigor. Lee Roberts is the ultimate team player and can play a variety of positions. NBL star Alex Loughton will provide immediate cover until Vigor returns from the BBL. There is a range of up and coming younger players such as Kyle Bowen, Zac Gattorna and Riley Chappell that will make the Redbacks legitimate title contenders this season.

ROCKINGHAM FLAMES
Samuelson backing in young Flames for the long haul 
Coach: Brad Samuelson
Last year: 17-9 (5th)
In: Vinnie Zollo (restricted), Donovan Jack (restricted)
Out: Cooper Land, Taylor Land, Chudier Pal, Andrew Bowman

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
In this Rockingham line-up, Donovan Jack could get bulk points and see him as one of top 5 scorers in the league. While the jury is still out of Vinnie Zollo, Rockingham still has room for one more key addition if they find the right fit. Godfrey will benefit with the departure of Land.

MARK UTLEY
The Flames have the potential to be in the top 5 but question marks on their two big imports has them slipping down the ladder. It is time for young talent such as Beard, Roberts and Honey to step up.

MATT CECINS
The departure of the Land brothers is immeasurable. New import Donovan Jack will take on big minutes and have to score heavily this year. Ryan Godfrey is a fantastic player and will have the reigns to the team in 2016. I have big doubts over the Flames being able to rebound the ball as well as they have over the past few seasons. I will be interested to see how Brad Samuelson copes in the hot seat as the new head coach, and if the hard-nosed game style and team culture continues after the departure of Mark Utley.

SOUTH WEST SLAMMERS
Nix shoots to bring success back to hometown Slammers 
Coach: Charles Nix
Last year: 8-18 (10th)
In: Brian Voelkel (restricted), Michael Lay
Out: Royal Crouch, Trent Worthington, Corey Easley, Wade Hitchcock

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
Voelkel back in the line-up will give much needed help to a team that still has yet to recover from the departure of Ty Harrelson. Nixy has done good by also bringing in Michael Lay to back up Nichols, but like East Perth, do they have the perimeter shooters to stop teams clogging up the key and preventing the drive.

MARK UTLEY
Michael Lay is a huge pick up and a quality player. His teaming with Nichols in the backcourt will make the playoffs. Voelkel is a match up problem but in a way a fit Weeden is more important. I predict they will finish 7th to 9th.

MATT CECINS
Charles Nix gets a fresh start at a new club with arguably the best point guard in the league. Brian Voelkel returns after a one-year absence and he can consistently stuff the stat sheet. If Michael Lay can produce the form of yester year he could potentially be the signing of the season. A chance at making the playoffs for the Slammers hinge on them winning more games on the road and having the services of a fully fit Clive Weeden.

STIRLING SENATORS
Senators look to make noise despite tough preparation 
Coach: Mike Ellis
Last year: 17-9 (lost quarter finals)
In: Rhys Vague
Out: Kyle Lindbergh, AJ Majstrovich

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
A talented line-up last year that has gotten better with the addition of Rhys Vague. Not short of perimeter players, do they have the speed too much some of the faster teams in the league. Post presence is also in question though not a major concern with nearly all the teams playing a smaller line-up.

MARK UTLEY
I feel if they have all players from the start of the season they will finish 2nd to 6th. Ellis and Vague in the front court will stretch people and a solid roster build will have them improved in the post season. Ash Litterick is still super valuable to their style.

MATT CECINS
The Senators will play a lot of ‘small ball’ in 2017 and Rhys Vague will be a valuable addition to the squad. Jayden Coburn and Cody Ellis were standout performers last year and if Corban Wroe can put up better numbers than he did last year the Senators will be right in the mix to make an appearance in the playoffs.

WILLETTON TIGERS
Depth, team work the key to Tigers despite star power 
Coach: Steve Black
Last year: 18-8 (lost semi finals)
In: Ray Turner (restricted), Hayden Noordhoek
Out: Josh Johnson, Charles Funches

EXPERT COMMENTS
ADAM FORDE
On paper they are the team to beat this year. Loaded in talent and balanced in the line-up. What more can you say about this Tigers team.

MARK UTLEY
The SBL's own 'Shooter Magavin' has done a good job of creating a roster that is favourite going into the season and will be hard to beat. Quality imports like Bowie and Turner will be causing numerous Stephen Black fist pumps this year. They will finish in the top 3 but are also capable of being bundled out of the finals. Front court depth is their only issue going into the season.

MATT CECINS
If basketball was played on paper, the Tigers are favourites. Steve Black has the task of trying to blend a highly talented roster this season. Ray Turner is one of the most dominant players we have seen in the SBL in recent years. Kyle Armour consistently performs at a high level, and Jay Bowie had an unbelievable 2016. Damien Scott is another threat that will keep opposing coaches awake at night.

HOW THE EXPERTS SEE IT
ADAM FORDE
Willetton Tigers
Geraldton Buccaneers
East Perth Eagles
Joondalup Wolves
Stirling Senators
Rockingham Flames
Perry Lakes Hawks
Lakeside Lightning

Perth Redbacks
South West Slammers
Cockburn Cougars
Goldfields Giants
Kalamunda Eastern Suns
Mandurah Magic

Champions: Willetton
Wooden spoon: Mandurah
MVP: Shawn Redhage
Most Improved: Chad Simpson
What to watch for: Goldfields ‘possible’ replacement player vs his ‘possible’ former team

MARK UTLEY
Willetton Tigers
Perry Lakes Hawks
Joondalup Wolves
Perth Redbacks
Stirling Senators
Geraldton Buccaneers
South West Slammers
Rockingham Flames
Cockburn Cougars
Goldfields Giants
Kalamunda Eastern Suns
East Perth Eagles
Lakeside Lightning
Mandurah Magic

MATT CECINS
Willetton Tigers
Joondalup Wolves
Perth Redbacks
Perry Lakes Hawks
East Perth Eagles
Geraldton Buccaneers
Stirling Senators
South West Slammers
Lakeside Lightning
Cockburn Cougars
Rockingham Flames
Goldfields Giants
Kalamunda Eastern Suns
Mandurah Magic

Champions: A team south of the Swan River…
Wooden spoon: Mandurah Magic
MVP: Shawn Redhage and Tre Nichols to share the award!
Most Improved: Zac Gattorna
What to watch for: Much tighter score lines across the league as teams will not be able to switch off on D. Scoring runs of 6-10 points during games could be decisive in teams winning and losing ball games. Look for a noticeable increase in games going to overtime or get decided by three points or less.




Comments

Comment Guidelines: The SportsTG Network is made up of players, families and passionate sports followers like you who have a strong opinion about sport. That's great - we want you to have your say and share your thoughts with the world. However, we have a few rules that you must follow to keep it fun for all. Please don't be rude, abusive, swear or vilify others. Apart from some pretty serious sport sanctions, we also can ban you and report you if things get out of hand. So play fair and have fun, and thanks for your contribution.