A highly competitive opening four weeks has meant that this weekend’s busy schedule in the Men's Superleague could lead, should results go a certain way, to just one game separating five teams at the top of the table.
Currently perched above everyone is UCC Demons who maintained a perfect record last Saturday with a dramatic two-point victory over UL Eagles away from home.
They are not too far ahead of their competitors, and if should they lose and UCD Marian and Killester find wins, just one game would separate those three teams along with UL Eagles and DCU Saints atop the Nivea For Men’s Superleague.
Demons do not have any time to ponder league placing possibilities however as this weekend they face the challenge of DCU Saints, a defensive juggernaut who held a high scoring UCD Marian to just 17 second half points en route to their most recent victory.
“We have been playing excellent defence and that is what our team is about. We won’t change the way we try to play too much just because it is Demons,” said Saints coach Dave Donnelly.
“We have to take them into account, they are an excellent team but we will just try and put together a four-quarter performance, which we haven’t really done yet this season.”
Saints, with a record of three wins and one loss, are one of the teams close on the heels of Demons and would love nothing more than to drag the Cork side back into the pack.
“They are undefeated so it would be nice to get a win against them. It goes without saying but if they keep winning they could run away on the rest of us,” said Donnelly.
"It goes without saying but if they keep winning they could run away on the rest of us" - Saints coach Dave Donnelly
Defending cup and league champions UL Eagles know all about being the team to beat and despite losing last weekend are still one of the popular picks to win honours this season.
“We need to refocus and get back to winning ways,” remarked Eagles coach Mark Keenan, who described his opponent this weekend, UCD Marian, as a “very capable side”.
A more descriptive term for UCD Marian this year is probably inconsistent. After some hugely impressive wins, they were on track to beat perennial table toppers DCU Saints last week before collapsing in the fourth quarter, scoring just two points in the last five minutes of play and losing by nine.
UCD certainly have the talent to contend for the title this year and Punosevac commented this week that he is proud of them and their record so far (two wins, two losses) so must be happy with their progression to date.
This week’s game against Eagles could do a lot tell us all how seriously we should consider this bunch of players - many of whom are still very young compared with the likes of Eagles and Demons - as genuine contenders.
“The UL team has the same team and coach as last season when they won both the cup and league. I hope our supporters will come out and help us to win against the most experienced team in the league,” said Punosevac.
The only other game in this weekend’s Men’s Superleague is the meeting of two of the most successful clubs in Irish basketball history as Bord Gais Neptune travel to Dublin to play Killester.
“Neptune is a big game for us. We’re two and two and really want to be there with a winning record challenging the teams at the top,” said Killester coach Darren O’Neill.
O’Neill knows that Neptune will not be an easy foe however, particularly after they finally clinched their first win of the season last weekend in Galway against Moycullen.
“They always present a huge challenge and we’ll have to deal with their pressure defence, probably full-court. We played a lot better last week in the win against Dublin Inter than we had and we’ll need that type of performance again to get the better of Neptune.”
In the Nivea Women’s Superleague, DCU Mercy and Team Montenotte Hotel Cork meet in Glanmire. These two are the most likely challengers to the throne currently occupied by champions UL and should be a tightly fought contest.
Cork will probably enter the game as slight favourites due to the plethora of experienced players in their squad. Mercy on the other hand have introduced a number of new players already in this campaign and it remains to be seen how they will respond to the pressures of a big game like the one on Saturday night, away from home.
Mercy head coach Mark Ingle is in the happy position of finally being able to play his English player Megan Hoffman, who became eligible this week and is hoping that his side’s close encounter with Waterford Wildcats last week will stand to the team for the Cork game.
Ingle said: “The more close games you play the better for the team. The league is getting an awful lot tighter than it has been. Other clubs are bringing through really good young players and it is leading to better games.
“Saturday should be one of those close games, we always play them close, and it’s always exciting. The preseason game left only one point between us and it could be the same this weekend.”
Elsewhere in the league, Meteors of Dublin face a busy double weekend with a fixture against Ulster Rockets on Saturday quickly followed by one with Singleton SuperValu Brunell on the Sunday.
Meanwhile, UL Basketball Club look to continue their incredible unbeaten streak with a home tie against a battle tested a Waterford Wildcats side unlucky to lose to Mercy last weekend, while Killester host Singleton SuperValu Brunell on Saturday night in Clontarf’s IWA Centre.