Week 18 of the Dream League looked as if it was headed for a peak of utter indifference in the later stages of the regular season after the Polars got manhandled by the Knights in the first game of the night. That was supposed to be an exciting game given the close ones these teams have played earlier in the year. It quickly turned into an embarrassment for the Polars, but the week was saved by teams without playoff hopes coming out and playing with hard effort. Of course I will highlight each game individually, but first let me jump back into the downer of the night.
The Polars came into this game with a chance to clinch the 3 seed and avoid playing the Knights in the first round of the playoffs. They have had some success playing the Knights in the past, losing both games by four points or less, but that didn’t resonate to this matchup.
It is important to mention that Jonny Ball, the Polars’ all-around best player, was not playing in this game. Without him, they have no chance of beating the star-studded Knights, and it showed. The Polars didn’t score a point until the 12:22 mark of the first half, and the Knights ending up having a 30 point lead for a decent amount of the first half.
At halftime, the Knights led 45-19, and James Carr scored 11 of those 19 points. The Knights played phenomenal team defense which Reid Nelson described it simply as “a sight”. It was impressive to watch how well their entre unit was rotating and providing effective help defense.
The Knights’ defense was dominant, and they added efficiency on the offensive end to bury the Polars. If before this game I was told that Travis Johnson and Jake Gave would combine for 19 points, I would have confidently said that the Polars would win. Obviously that wasn’t the case, as the Knights had arguably their best offensive performance as a team. They shot 49 percent from the field with 17 team assists and only 6 turnovers.
Without Ball, the Polars’ offense cannot thrive. Bryan Munsell needs Ball as a distraction to open up more space on the floor to roam around in. If this ends up being the 1 against 4 seed matchup in the playoffs, it is hard to see the Polars getting past the Knights, even with the help of Ball.
Now on to a matchup between two non-playoff teams that ended up being a much better game than I anticipated. The last time the Generals played a team knocked out of the payoffs, it tuned into The Game Not to Be Spoken Of. I was expecting that once again, especially when the Generals started the game with only four players.
It turned into a much better game because both teams played scrappy basketball with continuous hustle and effort throughout the game. It was both of these teams’ last games, so that may have been an extra motivator for these squads.
This game got off to a dreadfully slow start for both teams, however. Four minutes into the game the Generals held a 4-3 lead. With just 6:19 remaining in the first half, the game was all square at 10. It was a horrific early offensive showing from both sides, but especially from the Yellow Jackets as they could not take advantage of the shorthanded Generals.
That 10-10 score line quickly changed to 13-13 after both teams hit threes, but then the Yellow Jackets went on a 12-0 run to make the score 25-13. Once that happened, it looked like it was all over for the Generals. That wasn’t the case as they cut the deficit down to nine by halftime. Mahlon Thomas had to leave at halftime, and even though he wasn’t having a stellar game, his absence clearly hurt the Yellow Jackets’ chance of winning.
The Generals outscored the Jackets by 15 in the second half and came away with the victory. They were severely helped by Cis Crabbe, who was surprisingly efficient. He scored 21 points on 8-12 shooting and he added 11 rebounds as well. He saved the best game of his season for last, and his 24.4 PPR showcases that.
The main reason the Generals won though was due to their large advantage in the turnover battle. They won that front with an advantage of 16-7, and their pressure defense has been the biggest reason they have gone on this slight late-season run.
Now that both of these teams have finished their seasons, it will be interesting to see what kind of moves both of these teams will make in the offseason. The Yellow Jackets have good top end talent, but they need to focus on adding depth. The Generals are loaded with exciting prospects who all have a chance to make positive impacts next season. Reid and I will discuss this on the Insider Podcast during the offseason with each team specifically.
To conclude the night, the Mustangs kept their hopes of the 3 seed alive with a win over the Griffins.
It was a bit of a throwback game for the Griffins as they kept the deficit manageable for the entire game, but failed to make any notable push toward victory at the end of the game.
The Mustangs are clearly the better team, but they didn’t have obvious matchup advantages in this game. Ross Winnekins may have had the biggest advantage as the Mustangs were playing without Glen Fair and Bronson Byrne. If either one of those players was there, it would have been a much more comfortable win for the Mustangs.
Even without any big men, Michael Franklin stepped up and stifled Winnekins down low with great low-post defense. Winnekins did get 13 points and 13 rebounds, but it came off of 13 shots, and given the size differential, he should have scored more points.
Franklin was everywhere on offense as well, as he and Juemond Davis put on a show. They combined for 49 points on 19-36 shooting. They both were lights out from deep as well, shooting a combined 9-20. Davis was a beneficiary of Franklin’s screens, as the Griffins attempted to go under his screens instead of fighting over them. Given the combination of range, size and athleticism between Franklin and Davis, it makes them the most dangerous pick and pop, or pick and roll, combo in the Dream League.
Both of these teams still have one final game left next week, and the Mutangs control their own destiny when it comes to clinching the 3 seed. All they have to do is beat the Pilots, which is something they have yet to do so far this season. I expect both the Mustangs and the Pilots to play hard in that game, as they are both playing to receive a more favorable first round matchup.
Things I Liked from Week 18
· Nice defensive awareness by Aaron Lukitsch to block James Carr from behind when Carr had an open lane to the basket.
· Travis Johnson spinning past two defenders in the paint to open up a chance for an easy layup.
· The awesome behind-the-back pass from Jake Gave to Dexter Watson who finished at the rim with a high-arching layup through contact.
· Bryan Munsell draining an open 16 footer to open up the half for the Polars. What I liked about it was that at least three off and on-ball screens were set to open up the shot.
· Antione Lynch showing off his speed by going coast-to-coast and finishing with a layup after he got a steal.
· Curtis Hughes barreling through two defenders in the lane and getting a layup. It was a great example of Hughes using his large frame to his advantage.
· LaVonte Mccullough with two crazy athletic layups. They were both reverse layups where he flew underneath the basket, under or around a much larger defender. On the second one, he was fouled hard and was still able to finish.
· Great composure by Keith Durham to handle a bulleted pass in the lane, dribble it to gain control and finish with his left hand.
· A little bit later, Durham finished at the rim with a reverse slam after he had a fast break off of a steal.
· Good defense late in the game by Randell Padua to force Mccullough to dribble off his own foot and regain possession. Padua did a great job of using the sideline as an extra defender to get the ball back.
· Perfect outlet pass from Michael Franklin to Juemond Davis. It covered the entire court and never hit the floor as Davis finished in-stride.
· Great team play by the Mustangs when Franklin passed to Davis, who was flashing down the lane. Davis then quickly got the ball out to Casey Ehrenberg for an open corner three.
· Good example of a great play but a terrible decision: James Mobley was open for three but waited a second and then stepped back to take a deeper shot, and of course he banked it in.
· Mobley made a much more sensible play when he rifled a bounce pass across the floor to Kevin Story for an open layup.
· Franklin dribbling around for 15 seconds late in the game to kill time, drawing in two defenders, then throwing the ball across the court to Ehrenberg for an open three.
Things I Did Not Like from Week 18
· Lukitsch throwing a lead pass 10 feet in front of Lynch.
· Michael Thomas having no touch on any of his shots. He ended up shooting 2-14.
· Trey Woodhouse lazily inbounding the ball when Tony DeBoer was lurking. DeBoer got the steal and got an easy two points out of the ordeal.
· James Pinkett missing a wide open layup after Michael Groves threw him a perfect pass through traffic.
· Mahlon Thomas getting blocked by the underside of the backboard after Durham threw him a great pass in transition.
· Durham attempting a soft drop off bounce pass to Thomas, which ended up being way closer to Crabbe than Thomas.
· I swear, this is the last one involving Thomas and Durham. Thomas was bringing the ball up in transition when Durham put his hand up signaling he wanted an oop pass. Thomas missed it and then tried to bounce pass it to Durham instead. It hit a Generals’ defender and then ricocheted off of Durham to go out of bounds.
· Mccullough taking 30 shots. I have come to expect this, but I still don’t like it.
· Ehrenberg showing great hustle to steal the ball from Mobley coming from behind. That I liked. But he then lost control of possession and the ball slowly rolled out of bounds; that I did not like.
· While Winnekins was standing in the post, he missed an open DeAndre Agee cutting to the basket down the middle of the lane. Winnekins passed it right to Christian Brunt, who is not his teammate, at the top of the key instead.
· Kevin Story attempting a long outlet pass right off of a rebound when Davis was right in front of him. Davis blocked the pass attempt and it turned into a Franklin three.
· Mobley getting free in transition late in the game and then missing a dunk. I love the dunk as much as anybody, but you can’t waste easy points from trying to be flashy.
Offensive Player of the Week
Antione Lynch, Knights: Lynch had been on the exempt list the past few weeks, but there didn’t seem to be any rust for him to shake off in this game. He was back to bullying defenders in the paint while grabbing 4 offensive rebounds, but it was his outside shooting that stole the show. The Polars were content with leaving him open and taking their chances. He made them pay by draining 5-7 from deep. He scored over half of his 24 points from behind the arc.
Defensive Player of the Week
Michael Franklin, Mustangs: The man can do it all, and he proved it to us once again with a dominant performance on both ends of the floor. In this game, he once again showed off his defensive range, guarding Winnekins in the post and occasionally floating around the perimeter denying space for the ball-handler. He ended up with 4 blocks and 2 steals, but the most important stat to me was his 17 defensive rebounds. That’s 17 ended defensive possessions, which is a huge part of playing good defense.
Role Player of the Week
Jack Ruhland, Yellow Jackets: In his first game with his new team, Ruhland played well and outshined his brother, Jake. He had an efficient game that resulted in a PPR of 12.8. He was able to reach that mark by scoring 7 points on 6 shot attempts, while adding 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
1. Travis Johnson, Knights (1): In the fight between Gave and Johnson for MVP, Gave won this week’s battle as he had a better game than Johnson. I still have Johnson ahead in the war because of his entire season of impressiveness.
2. Jake Gave, Knights (2): He had a 17.4 PPR on only 3 shot attempts, that’s insane. He made those 3 shots and added 7 assists, 5 steals and only 1 turnover. He was also 5-5 from the free-throw line, which I love to see.
3. Seth Jonker, Pilots (3): He stays right where he was last week given the Pilots were on a bye week.
4. Michael Franklin, Mustangs (5): Some movement at the bottom of the list as Franklin had a stellar game this week. I contemplated putting him ahead of Jonker, but I didn’t want to punish someone for having a bye week. Next week’s clash between these two may have a big impact on this race.
5. Bryan Munsell, Polars (NR): Offensively speaking, he had a pretty good game this week scoring 15 points on 5-8 shooting. The problem with this game was he scored most of those points when the game was already out of reach.
Once again, this week’s Game Notebook is finished. I’ll be calling into the Insider Podcast this week as I am in Chicago currently. Still make sure to give it a listen as the quality of my opinions will not be affected by the sound quality of my voice.