2021-’22 TDM1 Playoffs Preview
The stage is set in TDM1 where the regular season has concluded and we’re now gearing up for the Playoffs.
Here’s a review of what happened during the Regular Season and a preview of what we can expect in the Playoffs, starting Friday May 13th when the Quarter-Finals best of three series will tip off.
- Limburg United (#1) vs. Guco Lier (#8):
The Limburg United project first saw the light of day back in 2014 with the goal to bring the Limburg province back on the Belgian basketball-map. Now in their 8th season of existence it certainly looks like they’re starting to hit their stride: the A-team has picked up their first ever trophy by winning the Belgian Cup and with a 20-6 record and the number 1 spot in the standings in the regular season the B-team has clearly established themselves as the front-runner for the title in TDM1. So yes, I think we can say that Limburg Basketball is very much alive and kicking. Even more so when we consider the fact that Limburg achieved their first spot in the standings with the second youngest line-up of the league with an average age of only 21.2.
Leading the way for them are 4 youngsters who’ve also received several ‘call-ups’ to the A-Team this season, spearheaded by shooting guard Jarne Lesuisse. Lesuisse has had an excellent season, leading the team with his 13.5 ppg and also adding 5.4 rpg (while averaging 6.9 ppg & 3.4 rpg in the BNXT league). Wout Leemans has been working his way into the rotation since 2018 and is enjoying his break-out season this year, recording 12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg (1st on the team), 2.1 apg & 2.3 spg (2nd on the team). Yannick Dammen continues his progression and has established himself in the rotation in both TDM1 and the BNXT-League, getting the most call-ups of all the youngsters (19 appearances). In TDM1 he averaged 12.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg & 2.4 spg (1st on the team, 3rd in the league). And finally we have small forward Ferre Vanderhoydonck who recorded 9.6 ppg & 4.4 rpg, while also getting 9 call-ups to the BNXT-League. Further good news for Limburg United is that all 4 of these talented youngsters have prolonged their contracts for 2 more seasons. But of course we can’t forget about the other players like Matthias Bovy (9.2 ppg), Frits Hermans (6.6 ppg), Cédric Blanchart (9.6 ppg) & Joris Fauconnier (8.9 ppg) who’ve all had a significant impact on the excellent performances of the team so far this season. Now, the question remains: will they manage to go all the way this season?
First up on their path will be 8th seeded BC Guco Lier who will get their first appearance in the TDM1 playoffs since joining the league in 2019 (obviously, since there simply haven’t been any playoffs in their first 2 seasons due to the corona pandemic). In their first full season in the league Guco Lier has in extremis qualified for the playoffs with a 12-14 regular season record, thanks to a loss by Melsele-Beveren against Limburg United on the final day. Much like Limburg United, Guco Lier is a team that relies heavily on their youngsters, even though they do have some older, more experienced players (average age of the team is 23.9) helping them out. Still, the undisputed leaders of this team are the dynamic duo of youngsters Jo Van Buggenhout and Joppe Mennes who are both also competing in the BNXT-league with Kangoeroes Mechelen.
In his first full season in TDM1 the 18 year old Point Guard Jo Van Buggenhout has been a very reliable and spectacular floor-leader, averaging 15.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.1 apg (2nd in the league) and 1.8 spg. With his excellent skillset, his offensive prowess and his tenacity on the defensive end I have no doubt that this young man has a very bright future ahead of him. Pretty much the same thing can be said about that other 18 year old talent, Swingman Joppe Mennes. Throughout the season Mennes has shown his potential on a consistent basis and despite only being 1m94 tall, managed to record 7 Double-Doubles (Pts+Rebs) thanks to his athleticism. All in all Mennes averaged 12.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.3 apg & 1.1 spg in TDM1 and also saw his minutes in the BNXT-League increase significantly with the unfortunate illness of Belgian Player of the Year Wen Mukubu. And although those are some very big shoes to fill, Mennes is doing a pretty good job at it. But those two aren’t the only promising youngsters on the squad. Matthijs Van Den Eynde for example has also made some serious strides and really hit his groove in mid-February, finishing in double figures scoring in 9 out of 11 games in that stretch to end up with averages of 9.3 ppg & 3.2 rpg over the course of the regular season. Another pleasant surprise has been the addition of 17 year old Maxime Bilolo Katuala who got the call up from their U18 team in February to finish out the season in TDM1 with solid stats of 7.5 ppg & 3.5 rpg in 11 games. Other than these talented youngsters, Guco can also count on their more experienced players like Vincent Benoy (6.8 ppg), Sam Dewit (8.3 ppg), the Van Den Bogaert brothers (Mathias & Simon) and the Van Oosterwyck brothers (Vic & Cas). Goes to show that Guco Lier truly is a ‘family’ club. Can Guco come up with an upset and defeat Limburg United? Personally I doubt it, but I do know they won’t make it easy for them and are not going to go out without a fight.
Limburg United won both previous match-ups in the regular season with a combined score of 162-131.
- Kortrijk Spurs (#2) vs. SKT Ieper (#7):
The Kortrijk Spurs is another club that is definitely on the rise and one who has the ambition of joining the BNXT-League in the near future. An ambition we at TIB can only applaud. They have a nice infrastructure, a large and solid youth academy and seem to be financially sound as well. Besides these off-the-court requirements they are also proving worthy of their ambitions on the court as in only their first real TDM1 season (they joined in 2020 but that season was halted after only 2 games) they immediately nestled themselves at the top of the standings with a 20-6 record (tied with 1st placed Limburg United) and have profiled themselves as one of the main title-contenders this year. With an average age of 27.3 they are also one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the league which could prove beneficial for them in the high-intensity and high-pressure competition that is the playoffs. Add to that the fact that their first-round matchup with Ieper is a West-Flemish derby and you know things will get heated, both on- and off- the court, so… experience really could be the key in this one.
Despite being an older team their main protagonist this season has been 21 year old youngster Mathieu Coucke who was second on the team in scoring (13.6 ppg), second in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and first in passing (3.2 apg), while playing 27.1 mpg (2nd highest on the team). He has received plenty of help from a pair of import players in Alex Laurent (Luxembourg) and Sade Aded Hussein (France). At 28 years old the athletic Forward Laurent adds plenty of experience to the team, having already won 2 titles and a Cup in Luxembourg, while also competing for their National Team ever since the EuroBasket 2014 Qualifiers. At Kortrijk he finished the regular season as their main-scorer with his 15.3 ppg, while he also added 5.6 rpg, 1.7 apg & 1.1 spg, playing the most minutes of any player on the roster (30 mpg). Aded Hussein for his part is another experienced player who has mostly paid his dues in the strong and physical French 2nd Division before joining Kortrijk this off-season. He finished the regular season for them with averages of 12.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg & 1.0 bpg. Add to that the experience and inside presence of a Sander Van Caeneghem (11.9 ppg & 7.2 rpg), the sharpshooting Guard Brecht Guillemyn (8.4 ppg & 3.3 rpg, shooting a stellar 51% from behind-the-arc), the solid play-maker Donovan Walasiak (8.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.8 apg & 1.4 spg) and some solid players coming off the bench with Jérome Vandenberghe (another sharpshooter) and the Naudts brothers (Robbe & Stan) and you know it’ll be a tough ask for any team to be able to slip passed them in a playoff series.
The first team who will get the chance to try to slip by Kortrijk will be SKT Ieper. Ieper’s season has gone through quite a bit of ups-and-downs and at one point they went on a 5 game losing streak, before recovering and eventually making it to the playoffs with their 7th spot in the standings and a 13-13 record. As the only team in the league Ieper has been particularly focused on getting outside reinforcements on their roster (with mixed results) and have employed a total of 6 import players throughout the season, of which 3 are currently still on the roster. All-in-all, I think it is fair to say that their regular season has been somewhat underwhelming and that they had expected/hoped for a better result than that 7th place and the likely first round knock-out. But of course, they still have at least 2 more games to prove us wrong and to turn this season around.
The team is led by Thomas Mertens who finished as their main-scorer with 16.3 ppg and also added 5.0 rpg, despite mostly coming off the bench for them. Floor-leader Lars De Lepeleire continues to bring his usual panache and recorded 8.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg (1st in the league) and 2.5 spg (tied for first in the league) throughout the regular season. At 34 years old Swingman Robin Mestdagh has been around the league for ages it seems and can always be counted on to produce whatever the team needs, rounding up his regular season with averages of 10.7 ppg & 5.2 rpg. The same can be said of Kjell Devacht who has been with the team since 2011 (!) and seems to age like fine wine, this time averaging 9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg & 2.8 apg. As for their 3 import players: big man Malick El Hadji Fall produced his best numbers since coming to Ieper in 2019 (10.0 ppg & 6.7 rpg), while the late arrivals Andre Toure (7.3 ppg & 3.5 rpg) and Eric Fongué (10.4 ppg & 5.2 rpg) did what they could to quickly find their spot on the team and help them to reach the playoffs.
Both teams split their regular season match-ups but with both scores combined it’s Kortrijk who got the slight advantage: 154-152.
- Oxaco Boechout (#3) vs. LDP Donza (#6):
Oxaco is back where they belong: at the top of the TDM1 standings. After a lackluster 2019-’20 season (with a 9-12 record before the competition was halted) and the aborted 2020-’21 season, Oxaco has found their groove again and have put together an 18-8 record during the regular season, edging out Lommel for the 3rd spot in the standings. They’ve done it with a roster that hasn’t seen all that many changes over the past couple of years. Other than a couple of reinforcements coming over from Gembo this past off-season the team has been together for at least 4 seasons which clearly pays dividends and is one of the reasons why they haven’t fallen off when their 3×3 players Nick Celis (18.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.9 apg & 1.7 spg) and Bryan De Valck (7.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg & 1.9 spg) were unavailable (which they will be throughout the entire playoffs). Somewhat surprisingly Oxaco has actually put down a 5 game winning streak without them, so if LDP thought that they could take advantage of their absence… they could be sorely mistaken.
With or without their 3×3 players, Oxaco can always count on Sam Van Hoey to light up the scoring-board as he finished the season with an average of 16.6 ppg on very solid shooting percentages. Carrying the team along with Van Hoey is Bert Van De Broek who continues to be a menace in the paint, grabbing a team-high 8.1 rpg and adding 13.3 ppg, while also being quite proficient on his outside shooting with 33.8% from behind the arc. Add to that Vince Van Cleemput (6.2 ppg & 6.2 rpg), Jens Hendrickx (7.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg & 3.2 apg), Joppe Bouckaert (8.1 ppg) and Laurens Van Den Hemel (9.6 ppg & 2.3 rpg) and you have a strong unit (albeit a little short on rotations) that will be very tough to overcome for any team. And if worse comes to worst, they always have the team’s elder Mark De Meyer who in his 12th season with Oxaco is still going strong.
They’ll have to face off with LDP Donza in their Quarter-Finals match-up, another one of those teams who have a nice mix of older, more experienced players along with some up- and coming youngsters that helped them reach the TDM1 playoffs for the first time since their inception in 2019 by fusing the clubs BBC Latem-De Pinte with BBC Deinze-Nazareth. The strength of LDP Donza lies in the fact that on any given night, pretty much anyone on the roster can be their offensive sparkplug, making them a difficult team to prepare for. Combine this with their solid team-defense and you know they’ll be a tough nut to crack in what promises to be a hard-fought series.
Despite being a solid team all-around, there is no denying that their main guy is Landon Unruh who finished 2nd in the league in scoring with his 21.2 ppg, while he also added 5.3 rpg, 2.1 apg & 2.5 spg (tied for 1st in the league). Unfortunately Unruh has been out of action since early February and only returned to the line-up in the final game of the regular season, so it still remains to be seen whether he will be able to bring his usual game to this Quarter-Finals series. They’ve certainly managed well without him in the line-up though, partly thanks to the very solid play of big man Rik Van Den Berghe who finished the regular season with impressive averages of 16.5 ppg & 9.4 rpg (3rd in the league), his best performances in TDM1 since coming into the league in 2015. They can also always count on the experienced Simon Gesquière (11.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg & 2.2 apg), Joao-Pedro De Decker (10.4 ppg & 4.1 rpg), Kristof Ongenaet (5.7 ppg & 6.0 rpg) and Niels Lataire (4.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg & 2.8 apg), while youngsters Nessim Gasana (5.1 ppg & 4.9 rpg) and Thomas Van Hille (7.6 ppg) also showcased their continued progression.
Both teams split their regular season match-ups but it’s Oxaco who got the slight edge with the 134-129 combined score.
- Croonen Lommel (#4) vs. ION Waregem (#5):
Lommel is the second team from the Limburg province that has surfaced at the top of the TDM1 standings for the first time since they promoted to the league in 2018. They’ll certainly have their work cut-out for them as they get ready to face off with Waregem in a match-up that truly could go either way. Both teams very much balance each other out with a good mix of strong inside players and outside players who can take advantage of the space they’ve been given. A balance that was already shown during the regular season when both games between the two teams came down to the final possession, with each time the home-team eventually coming out on top. Building on that logic, Lommel does have a slight edge as they managed to gain the home-court advantage by ending 4th in the standings with their 18-8 record. But really, it’s pretty much the form of the day that will be the deciding factor in this series.
Without any question Lommel’s leader on the floor this season has been big man Toon Ceyssens who ended up with 23.4 ppg (1st in the league), 9.5 rpg (2nd in the league) & 1.7 apg, shooting 57.6% on his two’s and 40% on his three’s. He already saw his excellent season rewarded with a 2-year contract at Limburg United in the BNXT-League but I’m certain he wouldn’t mind a TDM1 Championship title added to his repertoire before making the step up. Needless to say, Ceyssens is also our front-runner for the TDM1 Player of the Year award this season. He’s aided by the strong forward Matts De Keuster who added 13.4 ppg of his own and a league leading 9.6 rpg (as well as 2.3 apg & 1.4 spg). If these two guys are struggling to put up points (something which has actually rarely happened so far this season) they can always count on guard Bram Schelkens to help out in that regard as he recorded 15.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.5 apg & 2.0 spg. And if the paint is closed up, well then they can simply pass the ball out to shooters like Enrico Montanari (5.0 ppg on 44% on his three’s), Bart Maesen (6.2 ppg and 40.5% from behind-the-arc), Wietse Jacobs (8.4 ppg) and Chiel Koonings (5.6 ppg).
As for Waregem, their roster has a pretty similar make-up with strong big men, surrounded by very solid outside shooters, making them the second best 3-point shooting team in the league as they connected on 36.1% of their shots from behind the arc. Their main protagonist in that regard and undisputed go-to-guy in general is American Forward J’Nathan Bullock who recorded 19.7 ppg & 9.1 rpg on the season, while shooting the most three’s on the team at an impressive 45.8%. Playing closer to the paint are big men Aaron Van Vooren (14.0 ppg & 6.4 rpg) and Lucien Sissoko (9.9 ppg & 5.7 rpg), while their guards Arne Steinbach (10.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg & 2.8 apg) and Robin Spaens (10.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg & 2.1 apg) will punish any sagging defense with their shooting. And of course we can’t forget about Maxime Verspeeten (7.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg & 2.3 apg), or the newcomers Rens Van Ravensteijn (7.1 ppg & 2.6 rpg) and Noah Gebbert (6.8 ppg & 2.5 rpg) who all make Waregem an all-rounded team that will be very tough to contend with.
Both teams split the regular season match-ups but it is Lommel who had the slightest advantage with the combined score of 141-140.
Which one of these 8 teams will manage to go all the way and will earn the right to call themselves the 2021-’22 TDM1 Champions? I honestly have no idea, but I do know that it will be a very exciting road to follow!
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