The good folks at Circa Sports have weighed in on Tuesday’s quarterfinals matchups, making the Slashers and Lava the favorites to win tonight and join the Mob and Buzzsaw in Thursday’s semifinals. The Slashers are laying 5.5 points in the opening game against the Gryphons, while the surging Lava are 3.5-point favorites over slumping Wrath. Following those two games, fans at Cox Pavilion and those watching on ESPN2 will be treated to a slam dunk contest that promises an abundance of aerial artistry and a few surprises. The Festivities thrown down at 8:00 p.m. PT/11:00 p.m. ET.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
MOB TAKEDOWN?: The biggest question entering the playoffs: Can anybody beat the Mob? So far, outside of a half or two, nobody has put up much of a fight. As the season rolled on, the Mob got stronger, winning their final 10 games by an average of 31 points. All but one of those 10 was decided by fewer than 20 points. The winner of today’s Lava-Wrath game will play the Mob in the semifinals on Thursday. The Mob defeated each team once. The Mob’s 15-point win over the Lava on August 10 was the closest of their last 10 games. The Mob throttled the Wrath by 41 points on July 30, which was the biggest margin of victory by any team this season. The Mob are actually going for a three-peat, claiming championships in 2012 and 2016.
SLAMBALL CHAMPIONS, All-Time
2002 – Series 1 – Rumble
2003 – Series 2 – Riders
2008 – Series 3 – Slashers
2012 – Series 4 – Mob
2016 – Series 5 – Mob
BUZZ WORD: The Buzzsaw await the winner of tonight’s Gryphons-Slashers clash. The Buzzsaw’s only encounter with the Gryphons was on July 23, a 46-30 victory. The Buzzsaw and Slashers are well acquainted with each other, meeting four times, with each side winning twice.
JAM SESSION: There were exactly 1,200 dunks during SlamBall’s regular season. For tonight’s Slam & Jam Dunk Contest, the league’s highest fliers and most creative dunkers will compete to see who is SlamBall’s supreme slammer. The eight contestants are the Ozone’s Bryan Bell-Anderson and Keith McGee, Gryphons’ KyShawn Jones and Jace Bass, Slashers’ Tony Crosby II, Buzzsaw’s Jamaal Barnes Jr., Mob’s Darius Clark and Wrath’s Greg Helt. The winner must navigate a single-elimination, tournament-style format. Each entrant will get three attempts to execute one dunk per round. The audience will determine who moves forward in each matchup. Clark led the league with 77 dunks while Crosby finished third with 67, but don’t dismiss dark horses Helt and Bass, who were not credited with a dunk during the season.
DUNKS IN REGULAR SEASON, Slam Dunk Contest Participants
Darius Clark, Mob – 77 (led SlamBall)
Tony Crosby II, Slashers – 67
KyShawn Jones, Gryphons – 58
Jamaal Barnes Jr., Buzzsaw – 49
Keith McGee, Ozone – 45
Bryan Bell-Anderson, Ozone – 33
Jace Bass, Gryphons – 0
Greg Helt, Wrath – 0
BY THE BOOK: It’s been a dog’s world in SlamBall lately. In the last 10 games that Circa Sports posted odds, underdogs are 5-5 straight up and 7-3 against the spread. In the 16 total games that Circa has made lines, dogs are 5-11 SU and 8-8 ATS. For tonight’s quarterfinal matchups, the Slashers are giving 5.5 points to the Gryphons, and the red-hot Lava are 3.5-point favorites over the Wrath. In the only regular season meeting, the Slashers downed the Gryphons, 67-50, on July 29. The Gryphons defeated the Lava, 66-61, on August 4, the only previous matchup between the squads.
GETTING TO THE POINT: Games during the regular season averaged 99.6 combined points. Of the 48 games played, 23 had 100 or more total points scored. Hopefully, the playoffs will deliver more close games than the regular season, when the average margin of victory was 17.7 points. Just 12 of the 48 games (25.0%) were decided by single digits. There was one overtime game, a 60-57 win by the Gryphons over the Rumble on Aug. 4.
NOT SO FANTASTIC FOUR: During the regular season, the four-point line mystified most teams. Leaguewide, teams made just 13.5 percent of their shots from beyond the arc (41-of-303). It probably is no coincidence that the team that fired up the most four-pointers did not make the playoffs. The 1-8 Rumble attempted the most (93) and made the most (13). The Buzzsaw chucked 44 bombs, the second-most in the league, making just two. Two! The undefeated Mob shot a league-low 15 4s, making one. The Rumble’s Richard Washington led all players with five made four-pointers.
QUARTEFINAL 1: No. 6 GRYPHONS vs No. 3 SLASHERS
A CUT ABOVE: In the only previous meeting between the teams on July 29, the Slashers rebounded from a sluggish start to put away the Gryphons, 67-50. The Gryphons jumped out to an early 12-0 lead but the Slashers answered with 16 straight points of their own. Propelled by another gravity-defying dunkfest by Tony Crosby II, the Slashers outscored the Gryphons 39-18 in the second half. Crosby was too much for the Gryphs, notching season highs with 30 points and nine dunks. The Slashers’ Amir Smith was all over the court, chipping in nine points, eight stops and nine LBRs. Justin Holmes had a team-most 16 points for the Gryphs.
HONOR ROLL: This matchup features a trio of All-SlamBall performers. The Slashers’ Tony Crosby II was a first team selection at handler, while the two gunners on the second team were KyShawn Jones and Justin Holmes of the Gryphons.
Crosby ranked in the Top 5 in points per game (17.7, fifth), total dunks (67, third) and assists (2.9, fourth). And, despite being 5-6, 175 pounds, Crosby made twice as many hits (48) as any other player in the league.
Jones caught fire late in the season, scoring 29 or more points in four of his last seven games. His three outings during the season with 30 or more points were second only to Ty McGee’s five. Jones’ scoring output of 19.7 points per game ranked third in the league.
Holmes’ average of 12.3 points per game ranked second on his squad and 10th in the league. He also tied for second in the league with 3.0 assists per game and was sixth in field goal percentage (61.1).
HAPPY FACE: Both teams excelled on offensive Face Offs this season. The Gryphons converted 73.7% (28-38) of theirs while the Slashers made good on 69.2% (27-39). Only the Mob (81.8%) had a higher percentage. Each team has a Face Off specialist. Justin Holmes of the Gryphons made his first 14 offensive Face-Off tries and finished 15-of-16. The Slashers’ Tony Crosby II attempted more Face Offs on offense (18) than any player in the league, cashing in 14 times, the second-most behind Holmes. Crosby could see plenty of Face Off time tonight. The Gryphons led the league with 6.8 violations per game, while the Slashers ranked last with 3.0.
SLASH AND DASH: The Slashers possess one of SlamBall’s most productive offenses, ranking second in the league in PPG (52.2) and field goal percentage (54.6). The Gryphons, on the other hand, ranked sixth in scoring (47.6 PPG) and fifth in FG% (49.1). Both teams had issues with ball security during the regular season. The Gryphons averaged 15.0 turnovers per game and the Slashers coughed up the ball 14.2 times per contest, the second- and third-highest rates in the league, respectively; the Buzzsaw committed a league-most 15.7 turnovers per game.
QUARTERFINAL 2: No. 5 LAVA vs. No. 4 WRATH
TY BREAKER: The Wrath narrowly escaped with a 66-61 victory in the only previous meeting between these two squads on August 4. A healthy Ty McGee made all the difference in the world for the injury-riddled Wrath. In his return from concussion protocol, McGee posted a game-high 34 points and dished out four assists. The Lava were missing star gunner Bryce Moragne (ankle) but made things interesting at the end when a Paxton Henry dunk cut the Wrath’s advatnage to three points (60-57) with 15 seconds left. But a pair of successful offensive Face Offs in the closing seconds by the Wrath put the game on ice. The Lava were led by Josh Shannon who had a team-high 19 points, and Faysal Shafaat, who was credited with 11 rejections.
COMBAT ZONE: The scoring-zone battle between the Wrath’s Ty McGee, who was named Offensive Player of the Year today, and the Lava’s Faysal “Fessy” Shafaat, who was selected as Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, could decide the game.
McGee was by far the most productive offensive player in SlamBall this season. He ran away with the league’s scoring title, generating 26.9 points per game, 7.1 more than the next closest player (Mob’s Darius Clark, 19.8). He posted a league-most five games with 30 or more points, including a 43-point outburst against the Rumble on July 22 that briefly gave him SlamBall’s single-game scoring record. McGee’s record was eclipsed by Clark during the final weekend of the regular season. McGee also led the league with 7.6 dunks per contest and was second with 68 total slams.
Shafaat was a late arrival to training camp and was not drafted, but that did not stop him from making a huge impact during the Lava’s second-half surge. In three games last week, Shafaat amassed 27 stops and 17 loose ball recoveries. He had 11- and 10-stop games during last week, helping him finish as the league leader in stops per game (9.4).
HOT STUFF: After starting 0-5 with all five losses coming by five or fewer points, it was only a matter of time until the Lava put it all together. They certainly did over the second half of the regular season, winning four of their last five outings. In their final five games, Lava scored just 0.6 more points per game than they did in the first five but allowed 16.4 fewer points per game. They also committed 3.2 fewer turnovers per game in the second half of the season.
BASKET CASE: The Wrath have lost three straight games and five of their last seven. Contributing to their woes is a revolving door underneath the opposition’s hoop. The Wrath are down to third-string stopper Trey Landers with Christian Gray (knee) and Shawn Stith (ankle) suffering season-ending injuries. Handler Darion Slade, who leads the Wrath with 22 hits, is battling a shin injury and might not be available tonight. The Wrath ranked last in the league with 6.5 stops per game. That could be a problem against the Lava, who led SlamBall with a 63.8 rim-attack percentage. The Lava boast three players in the Top 10 in rim-attack efficiency, including Jihad Shockley, who led the league with a 69.5%. He was joined in the Top 10 by Bryce Moragne (65.0%, sixth) and Josh Shannon (64.6%, ninth).