Former Hawk Gary Ervin will debut for the Crocs on Sunday. Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au/Daniel Wilkins
Townsville lost all four games to Perth last season by an average of 24 points. The Wildcats thumped reigning champions the New Zealand Breakers in their season opener by 21 points. Townsville struggled to find the basket in the second and third quarters as they went down to arch rivals Cairns by 12 points in round 1. Every statistic points Perth’s way in this one, but there are two big unknowns in this game; Gary Ervin and Larry Abney. The Crocs’ two imports arrived in Townsville on Sunday, and will suit up at the Swamp on Sunday afternoon for the clash between two of last season’s finalists.
Ervin was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in his previous sojourn to Australia after averaging 20 points and 4.5 assists per game with the Wollongong Hawks. If he brings similar numbers to north Queensland, the Crocs are more than capable of beating any team in the NBL, especially on their home court where they were 11-3 last season. Coincidentally, two of those three defeats came at the hands of Perth.
Abney spent two seasons in Townsville and one in Cairns where he was a double-double machine, consistently averaging around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He has produced similar numbers recently in the New Zealand NBL with Southland, but at age 35 it remains to be seen whether his game, which is built on athleticism, remains effective in a better standard league. If young centre Ben Allan continues his rapid improvement, the Crocs may not need Abney to plug up the middle for as many minutes as they may be anticipating.
While there are plenty of unanswered questions about the Crocs, Perth coach Rob Beveridge has managed to keep together a roster which went within a smidge of winning last year’s grand final series. The ‘Cats had six players in double figures last weekend, and they scored 25 points off turnovers against the Breakers. Townsville’s veteran point guard last season, Eddie Gill, turned the ball over at an alarming rate against Perth’s suffocating defence, so the Crocs will be relying on Ervin to not give away possession cheaply. Perth averaged 94.5 points per game against Townsville in 2011-12, compared to a rate of 85 per outing across the season, and if Townsville’s outside shooters also get going, there could be plenty of points scored throughout the afternoon .
The Wildcats are the NBL’s road warriors, despite the distance they travel from Perth for every away match. They were 9-5 last season away from Challenge Stadium, and the round 1 win against the Breakers in New Zealand shows that nothing has changed. There were only two rounds last season where Perth was on the road in back-to-back weeks. The first time they lost to Melbourne before beating Wollongong, and on the second occasion they went down to the Taipans in Cairns.
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