It’s about this time every year that I roll out one of my favourite stats, and it’s clearly one that pleases some teams, motivates others, and just plain demoralises a few more.
That stat of course is the fact that based on the ladder positions across all divisions after the opening four rounds of a season, just over 75 per cent of those currently sitting in a finals position will stay there. This is based on the ladder as it has looked after four rounds over the past six seasons now, so it is what you could call a reliable one.
The good news is that a number of teams are already safe. The opportunistic news is that a group will be fighting for a finals berth for some time yet. The harsh news (reality) is that others are already well and truly out of the race. Of course this means different things to different people, but essentially across the Big V is it takes four rounds to sort out the contenders from the pretenders.
For the coaches, the opening four weeks quite often has a huge impact on how they go about working through attitudes, motivation and focus - good or bad. For the clubs, early-season results do impact on how they go about promotion, media engagement and gathering support from their fan base as they move forward.
A few other interesting trends always emerge from the opening month each season and there’s a few we can talk about based on what we’ve seen thus far.
Though I haven't scoured every play in every game on LiveStats, I do look over enough of them each week to determine what’s been happening across the league. Couple that with getting out to three or four games each week, taking calls or getting notes from players and coaches, it’s safe to assume most of you will have been seeing or hearing the same things so far in season 2016.
1) Offensive fouls are on the rise, in particular moving screens. The refs are red-hot on this at the moment and it’s taking a while for the players to adapt.
2) Free-throw shooting percentages are on the decline. It just seems to be a part of the game that players either don’t work hard enough or there is a growing breakdown in skill, mindset and focus. Tough one to fully gauge, but the stats back it up.
3) More teams are playing with less players - the days of every team suiting up 12 players are long gone. We are seeing more and more teams happy to suit up 8 or 9 players. Is it the new formula for success, team balance or team harmony, or is it a lack of depth available to teams given the size of each club’s program (running senior and youth teams) or the overall size of the league (more teams and less players at the required level to fill them)?
4) The influence that imports are having in games is growing, across all senior divisions - State Championship, D1 and D2 - and in both the men’s and women’s competitions. More teams have imports and see them as a required ingredient for success on the court, and the overall recruiting of imports being good enough to make a significant impact in the league is getting better.
5) Appearances count for everything. The bar is certainly being raised with regards to how players and coaching staff present themselves and represent their club on match-day. Black slacks, shirts tucked in, strong branding and representation for sponsors is on the up. We are seeing a real rise in this important area by many clubs. Impressive, presentation is key.
6) And last but not least, my pet hate nearly every season - the 3-seconds in the key rule is a thing of the past, almost like the kicking in danger rule in football. Very rare! However, what I would say, is that the communication by the refs in telling players to keep moving or to get out of the key has lifted considerably, which is a great sign. Well done.
Another thing of great interest right now is the number of teams likely to have players missing at the back end of the season due to college scholarships in the USA. Is it just me or are we seeing more and more Aussies being recruited to college, and importantly for our league, more young Big V players?
I guess the focus on this is greater these days due to the overwhelming success of the VYC and Youth divisions, all up we have six now and the depth of talent is growing rapidly. The majority of these players (despite it being a 23 and under competition) are aged in that 17-19 bracket, especially in the women’s divisions, so they fit the scholarship bracket perfectly.
It would be an interesting exercise to put together a squad, one for the women and one for the men, of players across the league who are headed to college this year. They sure would be two talented teams.
Good luck to all teams in round 5, hard to believe we will soon be talking about the mid-season.
The Final Whistle has blown!
*All views in this article are expressed by Justin Nelson and may not be the views of the Big V*