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B.League Playoffs: 8 Teams Commence Hunt for the Title

The Utsunomiya Brex (51-9) had the best regular-season record in the B.League, and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins have the longest current winning streak.

The 2023-24 B.League season began with the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings beating the Saga Ballooners 80-63 at Saga Arena in the opening game on October 5, 2023.

For the B.League's 24 teams, who played 60 games apiece, the quest to make the playoffs was a success for eight teams. And the other 16 clubs now face an offseason of decisions, especially personnel choices for the 2024-25 campaign, most notably the makeup of their rosters and coaching staffs.

The first round (also referred to as the quarterfinals) of the B.League playoffs features a quartet of teams that have combined to win all of the championship titles since the league was established in 2016. Moreover, four playoff entrants are seeking to prove that their success in the regular season was no fluke.

Matchups for the best-of-three opening-round series are as follows: Utsunomiya Brex (51-9 record in the regular season) vs Chiba Jets (35-25), Alvark Tokyo (48-12) vs Ryukyu Golden Kings (41-19), Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (41-19) vs SeaHorses Mikawa (36-24) and San-en NeoPhoenix (46-14) vs Hiroshima Dragonflies (36-24).

Game dates: The Alvark and the Brex open their playoff campaigns on Friday, May 10 at Ariake Coliseum and Nikkan Tochigi Arena, respectively. In both series, games 2 and 3 are scheduled for Saturday, May 11, and, if necessary, Monday, May 13. 

Meanwhile, the NeoPhoenix are set to begin their postseason competition at home on Saturday at Toyohashi City General Gymnasium in Aichi Prefecture. Games 2 and 3 are penciled in for Sunday and Monday.

In Nagoya, the Diamond Dolphins will host Games 1, 2 and 3 (if needed to determine the series winner) on May 11-13 at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.

A Quick Look at the B.League Playoff Matchups

Brex vs Jets

Utsunomiya is on a roll entering the playoffs, riding a four-game winning streak.

In addition, coach Norio Sassa's team had a 26-4 regular-season record at home.

Chiba, which won its first B.League title in the 2020-21 season, was 17-13 in road games. Coach John Patrick's squad captured the East Asia Super League title and the All Japan Basketball Championship, aka the Emperor's Cup, crown this spring.

The Brex, winners of two B.League titles, went 4-0 against the Jets this season, including 82-55 and 85-74 wins on April 27 and 28 at Chiba Port Arena.

Chiba, coming off a championship runner-up season in 2022-23, averaged 84.2 points per game during the regular season. Utsunomiya put 81.6 ppg on the scoreboard.

Alvark Tokyo shooting guard Shuto Ando averaged 8.2 points per game this season. He had a season-best 23 points on March 27. (B.LEAGUE)

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Alvark vs Golden Kings

Tokyo and Ryukyu had a two-game clash on February 3 and 4 at Yoyogi National Stadium. Both teams collected a win. The two-time B.League champion Alvark won the opener 91-80, and the Golden Kings bounced back with a 76-74 triumph in the rematch.

Tokyo takes a three-game winning streak into the playoffs.

Ryukyu is 1-4 in its last five games.

The Alvark had a 21-9 home record this season, and the Golden Kings were 19-11 in away contests.

Spain national team center Sebastian Saiz is the Alvark's leading scorer (16.6 ppg). Jack Cooley is the Golden Kings' No 1 scorer (14.4) and Keita Imamura is second (13.4).

Nagoya Diamond Dolphins playmaker Takumi Saito averaged a team-high 6.2 assists this season. (B.LEAGUE)

Diamond Dolphins vs SeaHorses

Nagoya takes a league-best six-game winning streak into the playoffs. Moreover, coach Shawn Dennis' club won 23 of 30 home games in the 2023-24 season.

How did the Diamond Dolphins fare against the SeaHorses, led by first-year coach Ryan Richman in the regular season? The teams split the season series 1-1.

On January 20 and 21, they squared off in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture. Mikawa won the opener 91-85 and Nagoya responded with a 94-82 victory in the rematch.

Rebounding should be a key factor in this series, impacting a variety of other statistics. The Diamond Dolphins were the league's top rebounding team (42.1 per game) this season and the SeaHorses were 16th (37.0).

SeaHorses Mikawa coach Ryan Richman gestures from the sideline during his team's game against the San-en NeoPhoenix on May 5 in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture. (B.LEAGUE)

Under Richman, who previously worked as an assistant coach for the NBA's Washington Wizards, Mikawa had a nine-win improvement from the 2022-23 campaign, when it went 27-33 in Kimikazu Suzuki's final season in charge and missed the playoffs. This included winning four of its last five to close out the regular season capped by back-to-back victories over the visiting NeoPhoenix, 91-74 and 79-72 on May 4 and 5, to secure a playoff berth.

After the regular-season finale, Richman spoke about the team achieving its goal of advancing to the playoffs.

"We understood that we had to win both games this week," Richman told reporters. "It is not easy to win two games in a row against a great team like San-en, but we knew that we had to win both games. I am really proud of the players and staff who fought hard to the very end and did not run away from the game, even under difficult circumstances, including foul trouble."

San-en NeoPhoenix point guard Sota Oura had 20 points and 11 assists against the host Yokohama B-Corsairs on April 11. Oura joined the much-improved NeoPhoenix before the season after suiting up for the Akita Northern Happinets from 2019-23. (B.LEAGUE)

NeoPhoenix vs Dragonflies

San-en tied for the league's best record at home (26-4) during the regular season.

In his second season at the helm, NeoPhoenix bench boss Atsushi Ono has transformed the club into a championship contender. San-en went 23-37 in 2022-23.

Hiroshima had a solid 18-12 record in away games and coach Kyle Milling's club enters the playoffs with four wins in its last five games.

These teams have not competed against one another since December 9 and 10, 2023. The NeoPhoenix swept the series, winning 84-77 and 103-83 in Hiroshima.

What appears to be the obvious No 1 factor in this series will be the answer to this question: Can the Dragonflies slow down the NeoPhoenix's high-power offense?

San-en led the B.League in scoring with 89.5 ppg. Hiroshima had a 79.2 ppg average.

A Look Ahead to the B2 Semifinals

The B2, aka B.League second-division, playoff semifinal matchups are Altiri Chiba vs Koshigaya Alphas and Shiga Lakes vs Yamagata Wyverns.

Both best-of-three series begin on May 11, with games set for the next two days after that if necessary.

Chiba led B2 with a 56-4 record in the regular season.

Unbelievable Debut Season

In B3, the Fukui Blowinds completed their first season with a 46-4 record and then captured the championship title on May 5 with a 98-88 triumph over the Kagoshima Rebnise in Game 2 of the finals.

Blowinds coach Tsutomu Isa's team earned promotion to B2 for 2024-25.

By placing second in the finals, the Rebnise also secured promotion to B2, and they will return to the second flight for the first time in seven years.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.


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