The 2023 CEBL Playoffs will open the same way the 2022 Playoffs ended: with a meeting between the Scarborough Shooting Stars and Brampton Honey Badgers.
The Honey Badgers broke the hearts of the Shooting Stars last summer in a thrilling season finale. However, Scarborough enters the Eastern Conference Play-In on Friday with home-court advantage at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at 7 p.m.
The game will be live on TSN and available for streaming on TSN+, CEBL+ powered by BetVictor and on the CEBL Mobile app available on iOS and Android devices.
Brampton and Scarborough have grown familiar with each other as the 2023 season progressed – the Shooting Stars hold a 3-1 advantage in four games this summer. Both teams played two of their final three games of the regular season against each other, including the regular season finale on Monday (July 31).
The Shooting Stars closed out the season with a 97-90 win over the Honey Badgers at home, snapping a two-game losing streak. Entering the game, the play-in matchup between the two teams was a known quantity with both playoff spots and seeding clinched.
Zeke Moore, Kyree Walker and Elijah Lufile powered the Shooting Stars to victory in the contest while Zane Waterman led the Honey Badgers with 20 points and 11 rebounds in defeat.
Brampton picked up their lone win over Scarborough last Wednesday (July 26) — a result that also secured a playoff berth. Shamiel Stevenson had a monster outing for the Honey Badgers in a 103-86 rout of the rival Shooting Stars. A late acquisition this season, Stevenson tallied 28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in the team’s most important game of the season to that point.
Following the win, Brampton was locked in as the four seed. The Honey Badgers featured the supporting cast more in the final two games of the season, losing to the first-place Niagara River Lions before falling to the Shooting Stars and finishing at 8-12.
However, the defending champions will head into the postseason shorthanded. Brampton’s big three of Christian Vital, Koby McEwen and Jeremiah Tilmon Jr. will all miss the play-in against 11-9 Scarborough. Vital is off to join his other team in Poland, McEwen is unavailable and Tilmon will miss another game with a lower body injury.
The trio leaves a large void to fill on both ends of the court. Vital finished fifth in the CEBL in points per game with 19.7 while averaging 5.3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.4 steals. McEwen led the league in total assists while producing 13.7 points per game, while Tilmon emerged as an elite rim protector and offensive force. The big man averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 61 per cent shooting from the field.
The supporting cast for the Honey Badgers will have to become leads to repeat as champions. The aforementioned Stevenson and Waterman are candidates to step up. Both gave Scarborough problems in previous matchups and Waterman has been a consistent scorer and rebounder throughout the summer. The stretch forward averages 12.8 points on 44 per cent shooting from the field and 38 per cent from three while ranking 10th in the CEBL in rebounds per game at 7.2.
Meanwhile, Prince Oduro serves as a worthy replacement for Tilmon in the paint. He serves as an elite rim-protector in his own right, ranking fifth in the league in blocks per game while averaging 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds on 52 per cent shooting.
Brampton also signed MJ Walker for the final stretch. The former Vancouver Bandit suited up for the Honey Badgers for the first time this season on Monday, dropping 18 points on Scarborough. He averaged double-digits in eight games with the Bandits this summer. Additionally, Cody John and Tyrell Green are capable options off the bench for Brampton.
Overall, the Honey Badgers were middle-of-the-pack in most statistical categories in 2023. Brampton shot 43.7 per cent from the field (fourth), 32.4 per cent from three (sixth) and 72 per cent from the line (sixth) on their way to 84.9 points per game (seventh). They were top-three in the league in blocks per game — thanks to the duo of Oduro and Tilmon — along with free throw attempts.
However, the Honey Badgers could have trouble getting to the charity stripe against a disciplined Scarborough defence that fouled at the second-lowest rate this summer. On offence, the Shooting Stars struggled to stay efficient overall this season, shooting 43.9 per cent from the floor (sixth), 30.9 per cent from three (ninth) and 65.1 per cent from the line (10th).
But the squad made up for it in different areas. Scarborough finished fifth in points per game and led the league in field goal attempts and makes. They feasted inside the arc, finishing more two-pointers than any other team. They gained extra possessions through elite offensive rebounding and forcing steals.
Big man Kalif Young finished second in the CEBL in offensive rebounds and gave the Honey Badgers problems throughout the first three games of the season. He wrapped up the 2023 campaign in the league’s top 10 in field goal percentage, rebounds per game and blocks per game.
Despite Young’s paint presence, the focus of Brampton head coach Antoine Broxsie’s game plan will likely be MVP candidate Cat Barber. The Scarborough guard was fourth in the league in points per game with 20 while also ranking top-10 in steals and assists. Barber reached a massive milestone last Sunday by becoming the second player in CEBL history to reach 1,000 points – the same weekend former teammate Ahmed Hill became the first. Hill and Barber are now tied as the league’s all-time leading scorers with 1,022 points.
The Shooting Stars possess other areas of attack as well. In six games with the squad this season, Isiaha Mike is averaging 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds. Walker, Moore and Kassius Robertson all average double-figures for the squad and are threats to go off offensively. While Robertson is still on the roster, he’s also participating in the Canadian national team camp.
In their second home playoff game in franchise history, the Shooting Stars will look to avenge last year’s championship loss to the Honey Badgers. The winner books a trip to Ottawa on Sunday for the Eastern Conference semi-final at 7 p.m. ET at TD Place.