Big Four Make Inaugral Semifinals 

And then there were four. Pretty much the four everyone expected.

The semifinals of the B.League tip off Friday with the three conference champions and the second-place team with the best record vying to take home the inaugural crown.

The Kawasaki Brave Thunders, the last champion of the NBL before its merger with the bj.League to form the B.League, will face the Alvark Tokyo on Friday and Saturday on their homecourt of Todoroki Arena. In the other semifinal, Tochigi Brex will host the SeaHorses Mikawa on Saturday and Sunday at Brex Arena Utsunomiya.

As with the quarterfinals, the semifinals consist of a two-game series. If the games are split, then a mini-game of two five-minute periods will be played to determine the winner.

None of the quarterfinals went to a "shootout," as Kawasaki, Tokyo, Tochigi and Mikawa all swept their series. That left no teams with bj.League roots in the competition, a sign of the disparity remaining after the merger.

 


Journey To 1st B.League Championship Starts Today

 

First the historic merger. Then a grueling but exciting 60-game season. Now it's time to crown the first champion of the B.League.

The B.League playoffs tip off today with the eight remaining teams vying to advance to the finals, where the winner will walk away with a Tiffany-designed trophy and a cool 5o million yen.

The Kawasaki Brave Thunders, the final champion of the National Basketball League before its merger with the bj.League, will be the prohibitive favorite. Led by scoring champion Nick Fazekas, the Brave Thunders stormed to a league-best 49-11 record.


Natsu Basho 2017: A New Dawn? 

Crowds wrap around the Kokugikan all the way o the Edo Tokyo Museum for the sokken open practice- John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 3, 2017
Crowds wrap around the Kokugikan all the way o the Edo Tokyo Museum for the sokken open practice- John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 3, 2017

When tickets went on sale for the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in April, they disappeared in a flash. Within an hour, Tokyo’s Kokugikan was sold out for all fifteen days as the Kisenosato-effect continues to take hold of the Sumo world.

The 30-year old’s back-to-back Emperor’s Cup wins seem to have brought a level of enthusiasm for Sumo in Japan that has not been felt, perhaps, since the 1990s when Sumo last had four grand champions at the same time.


Silver Star Smother Pirates’ Unorthodox Offense

Yuta Hayashi scored all four Silver Star TDs - Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, May 7, 2017
Yuta Hayashi scored all four Silver Star TDs - Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, May 7, 2017

Asahi Beer opened their Pearl Bowl with an easy 28-3 victory over a Penta Ocean Pirates team that unveiled an offense that started out as novel, but quickly degraded into one-dimensional futility. QB Ryosuke Nishizawa is the only QB on the Pirates’ roster; however (despite standing on the sidelines in uniform) being injured meant all snaps under center went to tight end Hiroyuki Akatsu who handed the ball off or kept it himself on every play until halfway through the third quarter. You read that right, the Pirates attempted zero passes in the first half. The Pirates’ first drive looked promising as they marched down the field on a ten minute, 16 play drive that befuddled the Silver Star defense and resulted in a field goal. The field goal was kicked by none other than today’s makeshift wildcat operator, Hiroyuki Akatsu.


Cyclones Blow Away Golden Fighters En Route to Green Bowl Challenge Final

In the last of the first series of games (and the only one played outside Kobe) Nagoya Cyclones showed the difference in class between most X1 teams and those in X2 with a comprehensive 27-3 win over Golden Fighters. Nagoya scored TDs in the air, on the ground and on an 87-yard punt return by Shoichi Matsubara. Matsubara also finished the day’s scoring in the third quarter with an 11-yard TD reception.

 


Finies Outlast Challengers To Reach Green Bowl Final

Interceptions, Missed FGs And No Visa For QB Niznak Too Much For Asahi Soft Drinks To Overcome

Challengers and Finies in action in Kobe  — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2017
Challengers and Finies in action in Kobe — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, May 5, 2017

In the second game of the  2017 Green Bowl, with a warm afternoon breeze drifting though Oji Stadium, the Elecom Kobe Finies held on for a 10-7 win over the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers.

Fans who came to get a look at the Challengers' newest foreign import, QB Alex Niznak, saw him in action, though not under center. Roaming the sidelines, enthusiastically calling plays while wearing a headset over his blonde crew cut, Niznak stood out. Head and shoulders above the other coaching staff, he looked a little out of place but that’s not to say he didn’t fit in with his new team.


Game Of MisThrowns

Lions win sets up an elimination game with Lixil - John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 4, 2017
Lions win sets up an elimination game with Lixil - John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, May 4, 2017

All Mistubishi Lions and Fujitsu Xerox Minerva kept it close early on in the second Pearl Bowl game played in May 4th. The Lions had a ten point edge at the half, but distanced themselves in the second period, winning 38-7. This was the sixth game of the 2017 Pearl Bowl and the only game so far where the mercy rule* was not used.

All Mitsubishi did however run 25 more plays than their opponents and gained 469 yards on offense to Minerva’s 95.

Despite 300 yards combined through the air, a windy night meant there were five recorded INTs as well three other interception opportunities dropped.

 


Ruling The Volatile East

Brex Clinch Crown In BLeague’s Most Competitive Division

Action from Tochigi Brex -  Alvark Tokyo — Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, May 3, 2017
Action from Tochigi Brex - Alvark Tokyo — Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, May 3, 2017

Having missed their chance a few days ago, when they were dealt back-to-back losses in a weekend series for the first time this season, the Tochigi Brex, despite missing two veterans, put it all together to finish off the title race in the B.League's East conference.


Continental Drifter

Globetrotting QB Niznak Reaches Main Destination With Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers 

Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers QB Alex Niznak with his new jersey at a shrine in Kobe — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, April 25, 2017
Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers QB Alex Niznak with his new jersey at a shrine in Kobe — Lionel Piguet, Inside Sport: Japan, April 25, 2017

When Alex Niznak eventually takes the field as the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers’ new quarterback, he will not only be playing on a fourth team in a fourth country in less than two years, it will be on a fourth continent.

Talk about a well-traveled athlete.

Following his final season of college football in the U.S. in the fall of 2015, Niznak played successive seasons in Sweden and Brazil. Through all the globetrotting though his first choice of destination was always Japan, and after missing out on one team, he has landed with the Challengers and hit the ground running.


IBM Big Blue Blowout The Bulls In Pearl Bowl Opener

IBM Big Blue's Kevin Coughlan in action during the 2017 Pearl Bowl Opener - John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 22, 2017
IBM Big Blue's Kevin Coughlan in action during the 2017 Pearl Bowl Opener - John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 22, 2017

The Big Blue kicked off the Pearl Bowl with a 34-3 victory over the outmatched Bulls on a cloudy day in Kawasaki. IBM’s unrelenting and fast-paced offense overwhelmed the Bulls as Big Blue scored on all but one possession. The victors had a bigger battle with the men in zebra stripes than they did with their opponents, being penalized six times including a fumble recovery that was erased by an offside call and two touchdowns brought back on OPI and holding. 


Living On The Razor's Edge

Freshly Shaven Parker Helps Jets Complete Vital Sweep Of East Rival Alvark

Michael Parker score for Chiba Jets— Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, April 16, 2017
Michael Parker score for Chiba Jets— Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, April 16, 2017

For his fifth wedding anniversary, veteran forward Michael Parker acceded to his wife’s wishes and shaved off the bushy facial hair that had been his trademark this season. It seemed appropriate given the close shaves that the Chiba Jets had over the weekend in a quest to improve their playoff situation.

Holding on for an 84-78 victory on Sunday at Tokyo's Yoyogi No. 2 Gym, the Jets completed a sweep of the two-game series with the Tokyo Alvark, the team they are trying to chase down for all-important second place in the East Division. With seven games left, the Jets are now just one game behind the Alvark.


Fighters Pull Away In Fourth Quarter To Win Season-Opener

Kwansei Gakuin Fighters LB Kinoshita (53) lays the wood on a Keio Unicorns ballcarrier — Rube Redfield, Inside Sport: Japan, April 15, 2017
Kwansei Gakuin Fighters LB Kinoshita (53) lays the wood on a Keio Unicorns ballcarrier — Rube Redfield, Inside Sport: Japan, April 15, 2017

Reigning National Champions Kwansei Gakuin met perennial Kanto powerhouse Keio today in the kick-off (for KG) of the Spring College football season. Although spring games have no affect on actual league standings, they are hard fought contests for both regional and school pride.

 


Difficult Second Season Continues For Sunwolves

Only six days after their dramatic win against the Bulls, the Sunwolves were brought back down to earth with a crushing 50 - 3 defeat against the Crusaders in Christchurch

Most bookmakers had written off the away side's chances before a ball was kicked but the manner in which the Sunwolves surrendered possession and leaked tries meant the match was done and dusted by half time.

 


Experience, Emotion Help Sunwolves To First Win Of Season

Yu Tamura kicks the game-winner — John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 8, 2017
Yu Tamura kicks the game-winner — John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, April 8, 2017

The Sunwolves won their first match of the season on Saturday, in a tight encounter against the Bulls at Chichibunomiya Stadium. The return of senior Japanese players, including Fumiaki Tanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Yu Tamura, Shunsuke Nunomaki and Keita Inagaki, added composure to the team and galvanised the home fans.

Hayden Cripps got things rolling with a clever chip for captain Timothy Lafaele to chase. The ball was then swept out to the left wing, with debutant Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco racing to the corner to score the first try of the match.


Kisenosato Wins Title After Dramatic Playoff 

New Yokozuna Downs Ozeki Terunofuji Twice on Final Day Despite Serious Injury

Kisenosato performs his first honbasho yokozuna ring entering ceremony — John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, March 12th, 2017
Kisenosato performs his first honbasho yokozuna ring entering ceremony — John Gunning, Inside Sport: Japan, March 12th, 2017

Kisenosato’s January promotion to yokozuna in January made this year’s Osaka basho one of the most highly anticipated tournaments in recent times.

In a incredible display that will be remembered for years to come, Kisenosato powered his way through injury to claim a valiant come-from-behind yusho.

The Ibaraki native’s campaign began with 12 consecutive wins. With fellow yokozuna Hakuho pulling out injured and Harumafuji and Kakuryu suffering early defeats, Kisenosato looked a sure bet to take back-to-back titles.

However, the dream looked to have been derailed on day 13, when a determined Harumafuji blasted Kisenosato out of the dohyo and onto his shoulder. The 30-year old winced in pain and took a long time to get up as the crowd fell silent.


A Season Like No Other

JX-Eneos Rolls Over Toyota In WJBL Finals To Complete Historic Span Of Perfection

Sunflowers celebrate their historic achievement. — Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, March 12, 2017
Sunflowers celebrate their historic achievement. — Chris Pfaff, Inside Sport: Japan, March 12, 2017

With the exception of losing the opening tipoff and his star player early in the second half - the latter being much more serious, but in the end, also not much of a factor--there was little that concerned JX-Eneos Sunflowers head coach Tom Hovasse as his team finished off the most dominant season in the history of the Women’s Japan Basketball League.  JX-Eneos capped a perfect season by routing the overmatched Toyota Antelopes 75-51 on Sunday at Tokyo's Yoyogi No. 2 Gym, completing a three-game sweep of the best-of-five WJBL championship finals for their ninth consecutive crown.


2017 Pearl Bowl Matchups Set

The schedule for the 39th edition of the Pearl Bowl was released at last weeks Xleague awards ceremony in Tokyo.

The spring tournament kicks off at 2pm on April 22nd at Fujitsu Stadium with defending champion IBM Big Blue taking on Bulls Football Club. Lixil Deers against newly promoted Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC will follow that game at 5pm.The twelve teams are divided into four groups of three with the winner of each group advancing to the semi final.

All games are in Kawasaki with the exception of the final which will be played at Tokyo Dome.


2016 All-XLeague Awards

2016 All-XLeague Team Members Pose at a Tokyo Hotel on Jan 28th 2017 - John Gunning (Inside Sport: Japan)
2016 All-XLeague Team Members Pose at a Tokyo Hotel on Jan 28th 2017 - John Gunning (Inside Sport: Japan)

Japan’s National Football Association held its annual awards show at a central Tokyo hotel on Jan 28th

National champions Fujitsu Frontiers led the way with nine players selected to the All X-League team. Runner-up Obic Seagulls had six and Semi-finalists Panasonic had four apiece.