B.LEAGUE Quarterfinals Preview: Part 1

May 10, 2024

6 mins

B.LEAGUE Quarterfinals Preview: Part 1
B.LEAGUE Quarterfinals Preview: Part 1

Written by EASL

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It’s B.LEAGUE Championship time. Here is Part 1 of EASL’s preview of how the quarterfinals are shaping up in Japan, looking at the first two match-ups.

Utsunomiya Brex vs. Chiba Jets

This is a clash between two teams that EASL fans will be very familiar with: 2023-24 EASL champions the Chiba Jets, and 2023 EASL Champions Week hosts Utsunomiya Brex.

Utsunomiya have just completed their best season in franchise history, finishing with a league-best 51-9 record. They had a franchise-record 21 consecutive victories from January 21 to April 10 and have lost just three games since December 29.

The Jets were the 2023 B.LEAGUE regular season champions, with a historic 53-7 record.

The Brex swept the Jets 4-0 (and by 74 points) this season in the B.LEAGUE. However, Chiba beat Utsunomiya 78-72 on February 14 in the Japan Emperor’s Cup semifinals.

The Brex have the league’s best defense this season, conceding just 69.2 points per game. The team also capitalizes on opponents’ mistakes, ranking third in the league with 936 points off turnovers.

One big question for the Jets is how much energy they have left after a long season. The team has played the most games out of all the B.LEAGUE playoff teams. In addition to 60 B.LEAGUE games, the Jets played eight games in the EASL and two games in the Japan Emperor’s Cup, which they also won in March.

After lifting those back-to-back trophies in March, the Jets won just eight of their 18 remaining regular season games, squeaking into the playoffs on a wildcard. This preserved the team’s record of making the playoffs in all seven seasons since the inauguration of the B.LEAGUE in 2016.

Utsunomiya will have home-court advantage in the playoffs, by virtue of having the best regular season record.

Players to Watch

Utsunomiya Brex – #6 Makoto Hiejima – SG

Makoto Hiejima has been sensational manning Utsunomiya’s perimeter defense this season. He has accounted for 12 percent of the team’s steals and 7.7 percent of the team’s blocks.

On offense, the 2018 B.LEAGUE Most Valuable Player averaged 12.6 points and 3.6 assists in 58 games, shooting 43.8 percent from three, while making 50 percent of all his shots.

His defense will be tested against Chiba’s talisman captain Yuki Togashi, who is known for his big game presence…

Chiba Jets – #2 Yuki Togashi – PG

What a year it has been for the 5-foot-7 Yuki Togashi.

Last September, he captained the Japan National Team to a best ever finish in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

In March this year, he led the Jets to back-to-back trophies in the EASL and the Emperor’s Cup, also picking up the Most Valuable Player award in both competitions (the EASL award was Final Four MVP).

The inspirational captain has also led his team in the B.LEAGUE, scoring 18 points per game this season.

Togashi will look to carry his electrifying offense against the number one defense in the country.

One more stat you should know

It’s going to be a three-point shootout

The Utsunomiya Brex are the heaviest three-point shooting team in Japan, relying on the deep ball on a 43.3 percent clip. The team was third in the league in three-point percentage, making 36.6 percent of their league-high 1,931 attempts.

The Chiba Jets ranked second with 1,923 three-point attempts this season. However, they only made 31.9 percent of their threes, 4.7 percent lower than their quarterfinal opponents.

Game schedule

All times Japan Standard Time

Game 1: Utsunomiya Brex (Home) vs. Chiba Jets (Away), Friday, May 10, 19:25

Game 2: Utsunomiya Brex (Home) vs. Chiba Jets (Away), Saturday, May 11, 19:30

Game 3: Utsunomiya Brex (Home) vs. Chiba Jets (Away), Monday, May 13, 19:25*

* = if necessary

Alvark Tokyo vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings

Serious championship pedigree will be on display as two-time B.LEAGUE champions the Alvark Tokyo take on defending champions the Ryukyu Golden Kings.

The Alvark Tokyo completed their best regular season in franchise history this year.

They got off to a blistering start, winning 14 of their first 15 games. The team went on four different runs of five or more consecutive victories and ultimately lost just 12 of their 60 games.

However, the 48-12 record was not enough to take the East District title, as regular season champions the Utsunomiya Brex finished 51-9.

The Ryukyu Golden Kings relinquished the West District title for the first time in seven seasons, to the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.

The EASL 2023-24 participants are going to the playoffs having lost four of their last five games, including painful back-to-back losses to the Diamond Dolphins that allowed Nagoya to jump ahead in the standings.

However, the Golden Kings boast one of the league’s most potent offenses, ranking fourth in points scored at 82.6 points per game. They score from both inside and out, and can also crash the boards to grab the offensive rebound for second-chance points. Ryukyu ranked second with 13.8 offensive rebounds per game and scored a third-best 883 points off offensive boards this season.

The Alvark Tokyo sports the second-best defense in the country, conceding just 70 points per game this season. With big men Arturas Gudaitis and Sebastian Saiz manning the paint, the team averaged a second-best 3.3 blocks per game.

These two teams split their season series 1-1. The match-up is finely balanced.

Players to Watch

Alvark Tokyo – #3 Kai Toews – PG

The Alvark Tokyo rely on their big men for scoring, ranking second with 22.1 two-point field goals made per game. Kai Toews has been pulling the strings and setting up the plays all season long.

Toews played all 60 regular season games, averaging 10.7 points while dishing out 4.8 assists per game, good for seventh in the league.

Born in Kobe, Japan, the 6-foot-3 guard went to UNC Wilmington in the NCAA Division I. In his freshman year, Towes finished second in NCAA Division I with 7.7 assists per game, only behind future NBA All-Star Ja Morant.

After college, Toews came home to Japan to play professionally, playing for the Utsunomiya Brex and the Shiga Lakes before signing with the Alvark Tokyo in June 2023.

Ryukyu Golden Kings – #30 Keita Imamura – SG

Since their championship run last season, Keita Imamura has been one of the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ steadiest players.

After averaging 11.3 points last season, Imamura upped his game this season, averaging a career-high 13.4 points in 58 B.LEAGUE games.

Imamura also showed off his ability on the international stage, playing in all six of Ryukyu’s EASL Group Stage matches and averaging 15.7 points per game.

His form has dipped a bit lately, averaging just nine points in the final three regular season games. Imamura will have to regain his form to help the Golden Kings over their recent slump.

One more stat you should know

We are going to take things slow

These two quarterfinalists are two of the slowest-paced teams in the league.

The Ryukyu Golden Kings ranked third-last in points off fastbreaks, with 440 scored. The Alvark Tokyo were not far ahead, finishing fifth-last with 509 points off fastbreaks.

Tokyo also finished second-last in possessions, with just 69.7 per game, while Ryukyu ranked 18th in that category.

Game schedule

All times Japan Standard Time

Game 1: Alvark Tokyo (Home) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (Away), Friday, May 10, 19:05

Game 2: Alvark Tokyo (Home) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (Away), Saturday, May 11, 19:05

Game 3: Alvark Tokyo (Home) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (Away), Monday, May 13, 19:05*

* = if necessary

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