Sheffield Sharks v Leicester Riders: Yuri Matsichen confident Sharks can upset BBL play-off odds

Yuri Matsichen has hailed the competitiveness of the BBL as his seventh-seed Sheffield Sharks look to cause a shock in the first round of the play-offs this weekend.

Sharks host last year’s league and play-off winners Leicester Riders on Friday night with the second leg in the second seeds’ building on Sunday.

Six places between the two teams in the standings gives Leicester an obvious edge but Sharks only won eight fewer games from the 36-game regular season, and enjoyed victories over Leicester on home court and on the road through the course of the various competitions this season.

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The financially-backed London Lions were seven games better off than Leicester in winning the Championship title, but the fact Sheffield beat London home and away, points to a play-off quarter-final line-up in which anyone can beat anyone.

BACK IN THE GAME: Sheffield Sharks' Sa’eed Nelson Picture courtesy of Adam BatesBACK IN THE GAME: Sheffield Sharks' Sa’eed Nelson Picture courtesy of Adam Bates
BACK IN THE GAME: Sheffield Sharks' Sa’eed Nelson Picture courtesy of Adam Bates

“I would argue with us having beaten London twice, we have beaten Leicester in the league and the trophy, we’ve beaten Bristol in Bristol,” observed Matischen, “that everyone is capable of beating each other so it’s a hugely competitive league, even though London are without doubt the strongest team.

“I feel the league has been really competitive this season, with some good players throughout.”

In a season of winning and losing streaks, Sheffield stormed into the play-offs on a run of nine wins in 10, but their momentum was checked by the manner in which they closed the regular season, losing in Leicester and then at home to Bristol Flyers.

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“This past weekend we perhaps weren’t playing as well as we had,” admitted Matsichen. “But it was reintroducing Sa’eed Nelson back after he’d had an injury, and we hadn’t had a good week of training because he was in and out and Devearl Ramsey twisted his ankle and didn’t train regularly.

“So we looked a bit under-cooked. Bristol were all fired up, they hadn’t had a double-header weekend like we had, while we’d had a tough game against Leicester.

“Defensively we were strong, offensively we lacked clinical execution.

“We just didn’t shoot well and didn’t look in rhythm in the same way we had. This week it’s been full focus on Leicester and I think it’ll be a really close match-up.”