31 October 2011

UGANDA : Relegation fight mirrors playoff push

T L C vs. Shooters 9:30am
Emperors vs. Air Force 11:30am
Vegetarian vs. Rez Life 11:30am
Diamonds vs. UCU JV 1:30pm
KCC vs. Gladiators 1:30pm
Ssaku vs. Jackets 3:30pm
Stormers vs. UCU 3:30pm
Heaters vs. Canons 5:30pm
Marines vs. Power 7:30pm

November 13, the final day of the MTN-Fuba League regular season, could provide an interesting toast preceding the playoffs. Barring a court injunction being engineered by the aggrieved 7UP Falcons, that evening is crucial at the other end of the table.

The top spot heading into the postseason will be decided between champions DMark Power and Kyambogo Warriors. If both giants keep winning, Power will need to avenge Warriors’ 93-80 first round victory to leapfrog the latter. To do so, the four-time league champions must win by more than their 13-point first round losing margin to record a better head-to-head against their arch rivals.
The script could also be dominated by the earlier clash between Ndejje University Angels and KIU Titans. This game could decide the fourth and final playoff spot to join Power, Warriors and Miracle Eagles. Charging Rhino (4-12) will also be looking to see which team follows them to Division Two after the rather short 18-game season. It should never have come to this.

Throughout the first round, former champions Rhino and Youth Heaters were every blind man’s bet for a quick return to the division they only left last season. Aware of the fight ahead after winning only one game – against KIU – in the first round, Heaters acquired guard Salim Ali and forward Michael Makiasi. That really changed the landscape.
Heaters (3-12) have since won two more as Ndejje and Nkumba Marines grew even more inconsistent to throw both the relegation and postseason races wide open. Though Heaters slipped to the bottom with 18 points, there is genuine hope of avoiding the drop. They are only three points behind fourth-placed Ndejje (6-9) in the 10-team log. Such is the generosity of basketball rules that the losing team gets one point whereas the winners take two. UCU Canons (6-9) and KIU Titans (6-9) follow Ndejje in that order. Falcons’ stats of 8-8 for 20 points put them just ahead of Nkumba (5-10) due to a superior head-to-head.

The former, also six-time champions, are here having lost four games by forfeiture for fielding Kenyan forward Philip Ameny before getting clearance. It’s too close to call for all six and each one of them finds no shame in discussing the postseason prospects. Sadly, no one other than Heaters chairman Denis Osikol genuinely thinks of relegation as a possibility.

The maximum number of points Heaters can gather if they win all their remaining games is 24 similar to what UCU can accumulate in losing their remaining contests of the season. On paper, UCU should make the play-offs as they seek to complete a double over Heaters today, face Rhino (November 4) and wrap up with Nkumba seven days later.
Even after losing to the streaking KIU, who have won four on the bounce, UCU should feel confident of making a third play-off appearance in five years. KIU can also make a late entry like they did two years ago if they rough up two of Warriors, Heaters and Ndejje and hope UCU lose the same number.
Ndejje are better served by concentrating on avoiding falling below Heaters as they have to play Miracle and Warriors in two of their remaining three games. Nkumba have spent the bigger part of the season in doldrums after Philip Wakimwero left them for a job in the Middle East and Ladislas Ikungura stopped playing regularly.
Games against Power, Falcons and UCU don’t exactly inspire big expectations for the postseason. If Heaters win their quota, Nkumba – double champions before – could be in a spot of bother. Three defeats here for Nkumba would leave them stuck on 23 points. Falcons cannot finish with more than 24 points which ensures that their slim postseason hopes lie in other peoples’’ hands, perhaps even off court but in court.
Tight calls will have to be made. Basketball fans were, meanwhile, frustrated on Friday evening after two scheduled games were called off due to a heavy downpour. Ndejje were meant to face Miracle Eagles and Makere Cubs had a date with KIU Rangers at the outdoor YMCA Wandegeya court.

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