What a week it's been for the Crocs.
In the past seven days they've lost big man Brian Conklin to injury, witnessed this symbolic story of a snake eating a crocodile in their own backyard and then had to jump on a plane to make their longest possible road trip to take on the league-leading Wildcats.
Oh and then they get to take on the 36ers, the league's second best team, the next night.
It's been a long season for the Crocs and this, to state the bleeding obvious, will be a very testing trip. There'd be few NBL followers though who'd tip against them pulling off at least one upset on the weekend.
Having seen very little of them in the pre-season, I predicted the Crocs would finish 7th this year. The combination of some unproven young guys, two new "budget" imports and a few veterans in the twilight of their career didn't have me holding much hope they'd pull off a fairytale season. It has been a hard year for Townsville but the Crocs haven't been your typical "bottom" team. They've pulled off a stack of upsets, in the process registering a win against every team in the league. They rarely get blown out due to their mix of effort, talent and great coaching.
Winning any game on a road trip such as this will be tough but be cautious Adelaide fans. We've seen several instances this season where teams have pulled off a win on the tail end of double-header road trips. I asked Rod Anderson, Network Coach for the Crocs, if he thought it was possible.
"It really is amazing that we have now won 3 games on the road and they’ve all been on the 2nd game of a double! We, as a franchise, have never been great on the road so it really highlights what a great effort it is. But, we’re under no illusion that this will be easy; Perth & Adelaide are the 2 top teams in the league and the Doomsday Double is tough, especially doing it the old fashioned way on back to back nights… and that’s not even factoring in Brian Conklin not travelling and Mitch Norton is hampered with a soleus strain and will be limited this weekend.
Having said that, who would have thought we would beat Melbourne last weekend, without Norton, Conklin and Pace? Which other team in the league would still win that game with 3 of their main pieces out? So, why not beat Adelaide?"
The Crocs have beaten Adelaide once at Swamp this year but lost the other two games. Adelaide won comfortably in the home clash, despite a total of six points coming from G-Money and J-Frye. Creek and Gibbo stepped up big in that win, both having perhaps their best games of the season. Adelaide dominated in the paint and that was with Conklin playing, so that will be a big worry for Townsville tomorrow, as Rod points out
"The last time we played in Adelaide, the 36ers ran us off the floor; we didn’t match their energy and intensity and the spark plug for that was Mitch Creek’s 15pts in 18mins! So even though we are a team that likes running, playing up-tempo and a little bit loosey goosey, if we don’t match it, game over. We gave up 72pts in the paint that game (forget about what you see on the box score, I do it properly including counting FTs when you get fouled in the paint) and 0 from the 3pt line – amazing in this era a team can score 92pts and go 0/13 from 3! So we need to hit our O boards hard, stop the running game and protect the paint and make them beat us from outside.
On our side of the ball, Josh Pace will probably play PF for us in stretches to cover for Conklin. He has an outstanding post game and accumulates rebounds better than anyone in the league. He’s such an unassuming guy that you look up at the scoreboard and he has 15pts 6rebs and 5assts and you don’t even realise it. He will need to come up big for us and I’m sure he wants to make up for missing the last 3 games. Look for Markovic and Blanchfield to be aggressive too, they’ve been superstars in the last month for us.
We also have to take care of the boards, Perth and Adelaide are the 2 best Offensive rebounding teams in the league and Adelaide the best rebounding team overall. This is something all 5 guys have to contribute to if we are going to be undersized; we rebound as a pack. In the last 5 games Blanchfield has averaged 7 boards a game, including two 10 rebound games out of our last 3."
The Crocs will also be confident Steve Markovic will put in a much better performance than he did here last time. Markovic has been brilliant of late, carrying his team in several games. Rod is, shall we say, a big fan.
"Steve is just a pro! He’s smart, he’s crafty, he’s a leader and he’s really figured out when is the right time to attack to be a scorer and then be the facilitator. Most people don’t know at the start of the season he was really struggling post ankle surgery on both ankles so it was like he was riding a bike with 2 flat tyres! He uses the pick & roll so well, he uses his wombat body well to bump off defenders and he is almost at a 50/40/90 level season with 45%FG 40%3FG and 89%FTs. To me, he’s the best Aussie PG in the league – Gibson & Martin’s defense keep them right in the conversation though! And don’t be fooled by his skin coloured hair, he’s only 28, turning 29 later this month.
With Conklin out, I'm predicting the Crocs will play a lot of small ball. They'll likely try to bombard the Sixers with outside shooting on offense and hope they can contain DJ with Hinder,Blanchfield and Holmes. The Crocs will be hoping the Sixers don't counter by going very big...which they probably will. Rod agrees that small ball is probably their best hope.
"Yeah as I said before, we’ll have to go small with Pace at the 4 and even Blanchfield at the 4 at times. He has played that in my QBL team a fair bit, so it isn’t foreign to him. Vanderjagt has been back on the training court all week too, as well as his unexpected cameo against Melbourne, so he can give us some good mins against Schenshy. Rusty has been savouring every game since announcing his retirement and leaves it all on the floor. He’s been on fire from 3 in the past month too, so hopefully he can chip in to help make up for the 17pts Conklin averages against the 6ers this season. Hinder is the only Croc who has a positive +/- points total for the season… The Crocs are 36pts better than their opponent when he is on the floor!
We know it’s going to be tough; we know we are going to be tired, we know we are undersized and undermanned, but the spirit and determination of this team is pretty amazing! The players never give up on a game. There are games where we could have gotten blown out but haven’t. We could have given up when we lost 8 in a row, but we went 5-2 since then and a lot of that credit has to go to Shawn Dennis & Mike Kelly! They just kept working hard and believing in their system."
Rod has almost convinced me the Crocs are primed to return to FNQ 2-0. Almost.
If the Sixers can outsize the Crocs by getting some good minutes from Schensch and another dominant performance from DJ without getting it's perimeter defense exposed they should win well. I'm most concerned about Adelaide simply matching Townsville's three guard lineups. Since Rhys Carter has joined the team, we've seen lots of small ball lineups with Creek getting a chunk of his minutes at the 4. While we can put out some nice defensive units with Gibbo and Carter, I'm concerned that Townsville can just do too much damage from the perimeter.
This is one of those true danger games for Adelaide and I'm expecting it to be a dog fight. With Conklin out, the travel factor and my expectation Adelaide will get some big games from Ervin and DJ, I just can't tip the upset this time though. Sorry Rod.
My Tip: Adelaide by 5