The U16s have two games left to play this season and each will determine whether the team makes the playoffs. Tigers face playoff rivals Bristol Storm away this Sunday and Coventry Elite at home on Saturday March 24.
The Midlands South West conference title has already been wrapped up by the undefeated Arden Griffins and Stroud Sharks have locked up second and a place in post-season play. The final two playoff places will go to two of Taunton, Storm and Coventry, meaning based on the results of the next two games, Tigers could either finish as high as third in the conference or miss the playoffs completely.
Taunton currently sit in fourth place with a record of 14 wins and four losses and 46 points, one point behind Bristol (14 and 5) who have played one more game. Coventry is in fifth with 42 points from 12 wins and six defeats.
If the team wins its games, Tigers will finish third. Should Tigers win one and lose one, the team will go to the post-season with third and fourth spot based on the aggregate score between Storm and Taunton, or if that turns out to be a tie, the teams' final plus-minus score total over the season. If the U16s lose both games, then the same tie breakers come into play with Coventry, which could result in an end to Taunton's season.
Coach Mark Crncich says,
“Ideally we would like to avoid everyone reaching for their calculators to see which team is in or not and where the teams finish. We can do that by going out and taking care of business by winning both games. Each of the 19 young men who are on this squad this year and have played in games has helped to put us in this position. Whoever suits up and gets on the floor over the next two games will be playing for all of us and whether we make the playoffs or not will not just be because of those players, but because of the season-long effort by everyone.&rdqou;
After a successful two win and one loss record in January, the U16s were in a good position to challenge for the playoffs, but faced a crucial run of games in February. The team began on the road to the undefeated league leaders Arden Griffins and came away with its heaviest defeat of the season, 98 ndash; 47.
Following a re-arrangement versus Coventry at home, Tigers bounced back to win its next five games with victories over Coventry away (72 – 59), Sporting Club West Bromwich away (68 – 56), Bristol Flyers at home (53 – 42), Gloster Jets away(67 – 52) and Torbay Tigers last Saturday at home (57 – 42).
The team was convincing in its win versus playoff rivals Coventry, but then struggled slightly in each of its next four games. Coach Crncich said,
“Coventry was team that had some big results in the first half of the season but we handled their zone well and got a big win on the road. The next four teams we faced were all at or near the bottom, but we didn't really put any of them away in the manner we are capable of. We were getting the job done, rotating and getting playing time for everyone, but I wasn't very happy in the manner in which we were winning.”
Ben Hayes, who has been playing for the U18s team since moving up early in the season, will return to the U16s for the run-in to the playoffs. Noah Tomlin, who signed with Tigers after Christmas but only played his first game last Saturday after injuries, will also bolster the team. Captain and leading scorer Dom Hinchliffe has not played the last three games, but returns for the rest. Tigers will be without starting big-man Kai Little for the game against Storm, but he will be in the line-up versus Coventry. Barring injuries, the U16s will have every senior player available for the first time all season for the Coventry game. Coach Crncich said,
“The fact that we haven't had all of our seniors available once this season so far has not been a negative at all, far from it. As a result, our junior players have had to step up and do the job, which they have done tremendously. My hope, and expectation, is that based on that experience, the U16s will be positioned well to challenge again next season and they are prepared to help us in whatever circumstance to play a role over the next two games and, hopefully, the playoffs.”