What to watch for in UBA Pro Basketball League Semifinals Series: Mumbai Challengers vs Punjab Steelers and Pune Peshwas vs Bengaluru Beast

By Siddarth Sharma, UBA Columnist

As the league stages indicated, we are in for a breathless ride in the semifinals and finals series of UBA Pro Basketball League Season 4. The UBA Season 4 Division Semifinals series will take place from 10th-12th March at the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium in Goa. The semifinals will see the Mumbai Challengers take on the Punjab Steelers in the North Division and the Pune Peshwas take on the Bengaluru Beast in the South Division in a best of 3 series.

Here's a look at all you need to know about what's in store in the Goa leg of UBA Season 4:

Team Previews;

North Division Preview:

Punjab Steelers

Punjab Steelers feature two UBA Season 4 All-stars but only one of them will be taking to the floor. UBA Season 4 International MVP Dermaine Crockrell led the league in scoring with 41.2 points per game and he will be leading Punjab’s charge. The other all-star, high-flying forward Garry Gill who gave us some of the most memorable dunks of the season will be out of action as he’s fallen under an illness. Besides the all-stars, they also have invaluable court presence in the shape of Indian team veterans Akilan Pari and Ravi Bhardwaj.

Punjab finished the league stages with a 2-4 record and made it to the semifinals by defeating the Delhi Capitals in the North Division play-in game.

Mumbai Challengers

Mumbai Challengers finished the league stages with a 5-1 record to lead both divisions. The pace of their offense would have made Mike D'Antoni proud, although they didn’t rely on the three ball as much. Featuring four UBA Season 4 All-stars in Alex Scales, Jagdeep Bains, Jimmy Scroggins and Inderbir Gill, Mumbai present a daunting challenge to any opponent on any night.

South Division Preview:

Bengaluru Beast

Bengaluru Beast's UBA Season 4 campaign seemed to be on course to end before it even began as they dropped their first three games, even though two of those losses were by six points combined. Living up to their name they proved that a beast is most dangerous when cornered as they won their next three league matches to finished with a 3-3 record in the league stages and won the subsequent play-in match against Hyderabad Sky. They feature three all-stars in Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Chris Solomon and Palpreet Brar.

Bengaluru also have some UBA veterans to reckon with in Kaif Zia and Visu Palani who has led the UBA in steals in Season 3 and shot a scorching 54% from three point range this season.

Pune Peshwas

One of the most well rounded teams in the league, Pune Peshwas are equally formidable on offense and defense, capable of running the score up in a hurry and putting the clamps down on the other end. They have four all-stars in Amritpal Singh, Narender Grewal, Siddhant Shinde and Pierre Newton. On the inside, Amritpal holds command on the paint on both ends. On the perimeter, speedy guards Siddhant Shinde and Ajinkya Mane have the foot speed to stick to their man and the skills to move the ball upcourt in a hurry. International player Pierre Newton brings a rock solid presence to count on with his all round play. And let's not forget the two-time UBA scoring Champion and Season 3 MVP Narender Grewal who has done an impeccable job of incorporating his new teammates while remaining a ruthlessly efficient scoring threat with a ravenous appetite for buckets.

North Division League Semifinals Series Preview

Punjab Steelers and Mumbai Challengers gave us one of the most galvanizing contests of the UBA Pro Basketball League Season 4 in their league matchup. When Mumbai took a 15 point lead early in that game, it seemed all but over for Punjab. But the ensuing events proved that no lead is safe in the UBA as Punjab mounted an inspiring comeback to win it 125-123 behind Dermaine Crockrell's 51 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. This was Mumbai Challengers' only loss of the season as they finished with a 5-1 record in the league stages en route to the semifinals. As fate would have it, they will face Punjab Steelers in the semifinals, who finished with a 2-4 record and earned a place in the semi-finals after defeating Delhi Capitals in the North Division play-in game.

Here's what to look for in this matchup-

Can David take down Goliath three times?

One of the reasons David was able to best Goliath was thanks to the element of surprise. You can bet that if they were engaged in a best of three matchup, Goliath would have been prepared for stones flying his way. While Dermaine Crockrell's heroics deservedly took center stage, one shouldn't forget that taking Mumbai out was a team effort. Five other players from Punjab finished in double figures as well. 51 points alone don't get you to 125 points. They played as a team and were able to claw back through clutch plays from the entire unit.

Staying out of foul trouble:

For Punjab's players, it will be imperative to stay out of foul trouble. When you are up against a team which attempted 46 free throws against you in the first contest, staying on the floor becomes all the more difficult. Garry Gill, Taj Sandhu, and Dermaine Crockrell finished with 4 fouls each and Akilan Pari fouled out of the contest. He also fouled out of three consecutive matches in the regular season and the play-in game. Punjab will need all hands on deck, especially with Garry out, they will need to stay out of foul trouble. Garry’s defensive presence will also be sorely missed and veteran player Kaushal will have to pick up the slack in his absence.

One worrisome stat for Punjab is that Jagdeep Bains took just two shots in their first contest and scored nine points by dint of getting to the line. He's capable of scoring in a variety of ways and is a constant threat one has to account for as he demonstrated by calmly spinning to the rim for the game-winning bucket against Haryana.

The three giveth and taketh away

While Crockrell was the engine

which powered their comeback, the other major reason they were able to claw back to a two-point win lies behind the arc. Punjab made 10 of 27 shots from downtown, as opposed to 3 of 15 for Mumbai in their first matchup. You just know that Alex Scales isn't going 1 of 7 from three point range again. For the season, Jagdeep Singh shot 6 of 11 from three point range. Dildar hit 3 three pointers as did Prudhvi Reddy. Inderbir was 1 for 8 from downtown though.

7 players from Punjab hit at least one three pointer, while Mumbai saw only Alex, Prasanna Venkatesh and Jimmy Scroggins making one shot a piece from downtown.

How will Punjab contain Mumbai's inside attack?

Mumbai shot 60 percent from inside the arc in their first meeting. Alex Scales and Jimmy Scroggins finished with 11 makes inside and Inderbir Gill converted on 10 of his 15 attempts. Punjab will need to find an answer to Mumbai's penetration and hope to put up more of a challenge when they do get to the rim.

Battle on the glass

It would have been a battle if it wasn't so lopsided. Punjab were outrebounded 46-27 on the glass. Besides Dermaine and Kaushal, the rest of the team just managed to grab 10 rebounds combined. In a game which went down to the wire where each possession mattered, Punjab gave up 15 offensive rebounds to Mumbai while grabbing 9 second chance opportunities on their own.

Dermaine Crockrell vs Alex Scales

Team matchups are highlighted with the stars for good reason, they are the ones who generally have the biggest hand in the outcome of the games. While Alex Scales and Dermaine Crockrell may play different positions, you can count on them going head to head on occasions.

Here's a look at their head to head stats from the league stages:

Alex Scales

40.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4 assists in 38.5 minutes per game while shooting 57% from the field and 81% from the line.

Dermaine Crockrell

41.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists in 39.2 minutes per game while shooting 52% from the field and 89% from the line.

South Division League Semifinals Series Preview

Pune Peshwas vs Bengaluru Beast

While the North Division League Semifinals Series matchup might seem to favor Mumbai Challengers on paper, the battle in the South Division between Pune Peshwas and Bengaluru Beast seems way too close to call either way.

The Big Men in the Middle

It will be a royal treat to see two of India's best big men duel each other on both ends of the floor. Both players are disciples of the late Dr. Sankaran Subramanian and products of the Ludhiana Basketball Academy in Punjab. That is the same coach and the same academy which gave us Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted in the NBA (52nd pick, Dallas Mavericks, 2015 NBA Draft). Palpreet flirted with a chance at the big league as well as he was the first Indian to be drafted by an NBA D-League team when he was picked by the Long Island Nets in 2016.

Amritpal gives a huge boost to his team on offense, as he's an incredibly versatile talent who can hurt you in multiple ways. He can knock down the three ball, put it on the floor and make his way inside, find teammates with the vision of a point guard, and finish up close with seemingly nonchalant ease. His impact on defense is equally deep as he excels at altering shots, the ones he can't get his hands on that is.

Bill Russell had said, "The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot." Amritpal lives by that axiom as he makes sure to influence any and every attempt close to the rim. Palpreet, on the other hand takes a more involved approach to interior defense. If an opponent ventures to launch it from up close, he considers it an affront on a personal level. His hunger and need to block shots is evident from the fact that he was second in the league in blocked shots, and the fact that he goaltended more than a couple of shots as well. When you have such a determined presence inside, who has shown that his mission is to get a hands on your attempt at the risk of goaltending, it plants the seeds of doubt in the mind of the offensive player.

Palpreet started off slow in Bengaluru Beast's initial games as he was limited by foul trouble. But he more than made up for it by displaying a mix of skill, athleticism and drive which gave their opponents fits. He unveiled a reliable turnaround fadeaway jumper, range from beyond the arc, and a series of hop steps and drives culminating in excellent looks up close.

Amritpal Singh of Pune Peshwas had one of the most impressive campaigns in UBA Season 4, almost averaging a triple double. While Palpreet's season averages are lesser than Amritpal's, blame that on the early games in which he got into early foul trouble. As his game picked up, the opponents seemed to deflate as he exercised absolute dominance on both ends. Teammate Vishsh Bhriguvanshi complimented Palpreet in a post-game interview, saying "When Palpreet is on the floor, it affects the opponents. They don't want to take the ball inside where his presence makes conversions difficult."

Palpreet and Vishesh connected on a number of alley-oops throughout the season, including a powerful 180 degree two-hander which seemed to count for a lot more than two points thanks to the momentum it infused into the team. Here’s a look at how the numbers of the big men stack up:

Amritpal averaged 27.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6 assists in 38.2 minutes per game while shooting 47 % from the field and 84 % from the line.

Palpreet averaged 19.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks (2nd) and 1.2 assists in 32.2 minutes per game while shooting 57% from the field and 67% from the line.

Something special this way comes

You cannot talk about Bengaluru without mentioning the man who powered them into the semifinals series. Vishesh put on a series of valiant performances by doing whatever was needed for his team to help carry them into the semifinals series. He had said, "When I'm on the floor, I don't think that I have to score a certain number of points. All I know is I'm going to do whatever the team needs for us to get a win."

There are few more futile endeavors in India than attempting to stop Vishesh from getting to the rim in the open court, or even in the half-court for that matter. The only way to restrict him from scoring is by throwing multiple bodies in his path, and by doing so you are playing right into his hands as he will find his teammates for good looks every time their man leaves them.

Having put up the first triple double in UBA history, he averaged 28.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 10 assists (2nd) in 36.87 minutes per game while shooting 61 % from the field and 68 % from the line.

What was most impressive about his play was his uncanny ability to make the right play for his team with remarkable consistency. He did it all, attacking the glass, pushing the ball up court, involving his teammates, and scoring at an implausibly high clip.

UBA Season 4 Goa Leg Schedule (Best of 3 semifinals series, Best of 3 finals series and North vs South all-star game)

10th March-

4:30 PM- Mumbai Challengers vs Punjab Steelers

7:00 PM- Pune Peshwas vs Bengaluru Beast

11th March-

4:30 PM- Mumbai Challengers vs Punjab Steelers

7:00 PM- Pune Peshwas vs Bengaluru Beast

12th March-

4:30 PM- Mumbai Challengers vs Punjab Steelers (if necessary)

7:00 PM- Pune Peshwas vs Bengaluru Beast (if necessary)

14th March-

7:00 PM- UBA Season 4 Finals Game 1

15th March-

7:00 PM- UBA Season 4 Finals Game 2

16th March-

4:30 PM- UBA All-Star Game (North vs South)

7:00 PM- UBA Season 4 Finals Game 3 (if necessary)
(if the finals series is wrapped up in two games, the All-Star game will be played at 7 PM)