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Analysis » How The Flyers Turned Their Season Around contributor Luke Bennett gives us his review of the regular season, as the team prepare for the BBL Play-Offs.

Entering the WISE Arena, the Bristol Flyers' home court, on game night there is a real sense of anticipation. Groups of friends walking through the turnstiles, young couples buying refreshments and large families looking to take their seats, fill the lobby of the arena.

The sight of another sell out game for the Bristol Flyers sees fans hoping to grab a spare ticket being turned away at the entrance. The in-court lighting fades out, which cues the music and spotlight to turn on, the crowd erupts as the PA announcer introduces the Bristol Flyers players. This can only mean one thing; it's game time. 

For a team that's only in its third season in the British Basketball League, the Bristol Flyers have a fantastic game day production but it would be nothing without their loyal fan base. However, the Flyers' faithful have been through what can only be described as a roller-coaster of a season. 

Flyers came into the 2016/17 season with a number of new signings, boasting a glut of scoring options at the offensive end. Former Bristol Flyer, Tom Hutchinson, proclaimed that Flyers had made a statement of intent with their off-season recruitment.

Hutchinson even went so far as to state that the "new look Flyers ... embark on their third and surely most successful BBL season yet". Confidence in the Bristol Flyers' organisation was at an all time high.

Surrounded by all the pre-season hype the Flyers got off to the best start imaginable, beating their South-West rivals, Plymouth Raiders 85-80 in front of their home crowd. The positive start was too good to be true, as the Flyers suffered a sustained slump in the infancy of their season. 

Whether it was the abundance of new players or the pressure of expectation, Flyers struggled in the opening three months of the season.

Bristol Flyers lost 11 consecutive games after their opening night victory against Plymouth Raiders.

Despite being led by their point guard Hameed Ali, the Flyers failed to win in eleven straight league games. Though through it all the Bristol home games continued to sell out. The support of the fans never wavered. 

In early December, Flyers played the Worcester Wolves on national television as a part the 2016/17 BBL season coverage deal with the BBC. Unfortunately this widely publicised game came at the worst time for Bristol as they were in the midst of their mid-season troubles. Wolves embarrassed Flyers, defeating them 88-53. 

Following the devastating loss the Bristol Flyers' Coach Andreas Kapoulas took full responsibility for the defeat and said "we were not ready to defend as a team ... we did not play with the pride that Flyers basketball should have". After struggling through the first two months of the season, the Bristol Flyers had a record of 1-11 and were dead last in the BBL. 

Bristol Flyers v Worcester Wolves was the first of 32 BBL & WBBL games this season to be shown live on BBC Sport.

For the home crowd it was baffling, Flyers had plenty of talent and on paper the team should have been fairing better in the early goings of the season. One could point to the season schedule as a reason for Bristol's slow start as they faced the majority of the top teams in the league in the first three months.

In reality the problem lay within, Bristol had some great offensive weapons but they could not quite put it together on the court. In the first half of the season there was a lot of isolation basketball and the offense seemed stagnent which suggested some chemistry issues within the team. This stifled their attack and inhibited their ability to score, which resulted in low scoring games and losses.

Other coaches may have panicked, another coach might have blamed the players to protect their reputation. The Bristol Flyers' coach Kapoulas did nothing of the sort. Coach K trusted his team and saw that they were doing the right things on the court. In a post-game interview, the Bristol coach warned the rest of the league, "The one thing I have to say is do not write us off... this is not over, this is just starting, we mean business". 

The Turning Point?

Coach Kapoulas' words were not empty, he boldly rejigged his roster by letting go one of their new signings, Lovell Cook. This was a shrewd move by Flyers' head coach, as Cook had been underperforming throughout the 2016/17 season.

Compared to his season-long spell at London Lions in 2014/15, Cook's scoring dropped from 16.3 points per game on 43% shooting, to 9.8 points per game shooting a meagre 30% from the field. It is safe to say he wasn't living up to expectations.

Coach Kapoulas injected some attacking prowess into the starting line-up by adding Aaron Cosby to Bristol's roster. Instantly galvanising Flyers' offence, Cosby has averaged 17.8 points per game and is in the top ten in scoring in the BBL. Coach K's signing added some much needing scoring to the team and has provided Flyers with one of the most explosive backcourts in the league.

Head to head: Cook v Cosby

Lovell Cook

Games played: 9
Points per game: 9.89
Field goals: 38.16%
3pts: 13.89%
Free throws: 80%

Aaron Cosby

Games played: 21
Points per game: 17.86
Field goals: 38.95%
3pts: 34.48%
Free throws: 82.80%

On the heels of Coach K's inspiring statement, Flyers went on a six game win streak in all competitions, with blowout wins against Manchester Giants and Leeds Force, a hard fought victory against Cheshire Phoenix and handling business away to Worcester Wolves.

With Coach K deservedly winning Coach of the Month honours in December of 2016 and the Bristol Flyers turning the WISE Arena into a highlight factory, Flyers' win streak breathed new life into their BBL season. 

Flyers basketball has always been built on commitment, defence and teamwork. But the theme of Bristol's season turnaround was their newly invigorated offence. As opposed to the first half of the season, Flyers started to distrube the ball more and share the offensive opportunities. The ball movement made their offence less predictable and more potent.

Instead of a couple of players carrying the load offensively, Flyers finished games with more players scoring in double figures than before. Instead of low scoring grind-out performances, Flyers were competing in high scoring contests that were going down to the wire. 

Coach Kapoulas has been with Bristol Flyers for 12 seasons.

"Good things happen when we play our game."

Coach Kapoulas

The winning streak ends

Winning streaks have to end at some point and the Bristol Flyers' win streak did, when they lost to the Plymouth Raiders, though this did not derail Bristol's momentum.

Their next game was on national television against the highly seeded London Lions. Flyers' went into the Copperbox and secured a blowout victory against the Lions in front of the BBC Sport cameras, showing the rest of the league that Bristol do mean business. 

After suffering two defeats in quick succession to Glasgow Rocks and Newcastle Eagles, the Flyers bounced back at home to beat London Lions at the buzzer. Though dropping back-to-back games against Plymouth and Surrey saw Bristol cool off. 

Flyers' phenomenal season turnaround put them in ninth place in the BBL table at the end of March - well within striking distance to steal the eighth and final play-off spot. Following the home loss to Surrey, Hameed Ali commented on Flyers’ position and stated that making the play-offs was a realistic option: "We can win out the rest of the schedule, Sheffield included."

"Nothing is over until it's over"

Coach Kapoulas

Flyers Make The Play-Offs In Dramatic Fashion

In dramatic fashion the Play-Off race boiled down to the final day of the season. With two games remaining, Flyers had to win back-to-back games to clinch a place in the post season. Bristol hosted Manchester at the SGS WISE arena but required overtime to put the visitors away. Throughout the contest, Flyers were buoyed by a dominant performance from Leslee Smith and an extremely loud home crowd.

Less than 24 hours later, the team travelled to Surrey to take on the seventh seeded Scorchers. In a tightly contested game that went right down to the wire, Flyers pulled away to enter the Play-Offs on their own terms.

Bristol rounded off a remarkable season turnaround by finishing the season 15-6 which gave them an impressive 16-17 record for the 2016/17 season. Flyers' final win of the season clinched the seventh seed in the Play-Offs, the highest in their BBL history.

Waiting in the wings of the Play-Offs are Newcastle Eagles, the most decorated club in BBL history. Though Flyers lost all of their meetings with Eagles this season it's safe to say that they are a different team to the one that met Newcastle in November of last year. In their last meeting, Bristol played the league runners up well and came close to beating them.

For Flyers to be successful in this first round Play-Off tie they will have to bring their fiercest defence to keep the Eagles' score down and to create fast break opportunities. In the half-court game Flyers will need to allow their offence to flow with plenty of ball movement to find the open man.

With the first round match-up just a few days away, there's no shying away from the fact that Newcastle Eagles as a first round opponent is a tough draw. However, if Flyers are able to cause the upset and score more than Eagles over the two legs, there is nothing to say that Flyers can't make a deep Play-Off run.

Tickets for Bristol Flyers' Play-Off clash with Newcastle Eagles this Friday at WISE are now on sale.

About the contributor

Written by Luke Bennett. Luke is an avid basketball fan who, for the past two years, has been volunteering with Bristol Flyers writing game reports for the website and gameday programmes.

What do you think of Flyers' season so far? Leave a comment below.