It was decided to make the regular season more interesting: Only the top four teams at the end of the regular season would contest the LFB championship play-off, hence March madness.
The second decision was the creation of the challenge round with the winner acquiring a spot in the EuroCup.
Furthermore the two teams that missed out off the play-offs would be relegated.Bourges Basket dominated the regular season and only dropped one game but the competition for the rest of the places was furious.
Six clubs were battling for the fourth spot. At the end of the regular season there was a three-way tie between Villeneuve d'Ascq, Challes-les-Eaux and Mondeville. Due to a better record between the matches played by the three teams, Villeneuve finished in fourth place.
Bourges, as regular season winners, have already qualified for EuroLeague Women. The next ticket is given to the winner of the Coupe de France (French cup). As the final is between Bourges and Villeneuve, all the clubs in the top four places have won the right to represent the LFB in the 2008-2009 EuroLeague Women competition.
What is the LFB challenge round all about?
It gives an opportunity this season for the clubs that finished from 9th – 12th to play in Europe next season. It is important to remember that European participation is not compulsory.
Last season Montpellier declined participation in the EuroLeague and played in the EuroCup instead. Some of the clubs in the LFB challenge round will not be able to decide on European participation if offered till after their general meetings.
Challes-les-Eaux had a season that will not be forgotten in a hurry by their supporters. If not for their surprise defeat against Mourenx in January they may have been looking at playing in the LFB Championship play-off instead of the challenge round. The club lost four key players to injury. With the surprise departure of Jessica Davenport the future did not look bright for the club.
However the new players gelled quickly. Challes stopped Bourges Basket from finishing the season undefeated.
They will play Arras who finished 12th. During the regular season both sides won on their home court with Challes edging the series on aggregate score by a single point.
Mondeville finished in sixth place. The injury to Lenae Williams really hurt them as she was unable to play in the last game of the regular season. Mondeville took time to adjust to the departure of Caroline Aubert. Yet with Williams filling the void and the efforts of Jennifer Digbeu the sixth place finish is unlikely to see them in the EuroLeague next season.
They will play Aix-en Provence who finished 11th. Mondeville had two comprehensive victories against them this season.
Saint Amand's progress this season was seriously impeded by injuries that has seen them basically build a new team. They are hard to play at home but have not been consistent playing away from home. They lost to Tarbes during the LFB open but beat them during their great sequence at the start of 2008. Since they have had to put together a new team and the play-off will tell if the new members of the team have gelled.
Clermont-Ferrand plays well at home. Against Mondeville where they had to play under pressure and with a victory has put them in a possible European qualifying position.
Reims have not been the same since March and dropped from 5th to 9th place. They have shown this season that they play best when under pressure. They have a habit of winning tight games on their home court and have improved on the road. If they hope to upset Clermont-Ferrand they will have to play with all their heart for the full 80 minutes.
Tarbes has had three coaches this season and have taken the whole regular season to get their act together. While Isabelle Yacoubou's return has been good for the team, the LFB rules have hurt the club in more ways than one. Jaklin Zlatanova who is actually a product of their youth programme has not been able to play for the club since the arrival of Fatima De Camacho. Tarbes must win the LFB challenge round if they hope to play in Europe next season. They have players who are used to playing in winner take all situations. This could see them win the series against Saint Amand.
Aix-en-Provence has shown that on their day they can beat any team in the league. They just have not shown enough consistency all season. Anastasia Kostaki's season with them is already over. Aix will need Ines Kresovic to be back to her best and hope that Anda Jekabsone (left) can play more minutes. They have not had much luck against Mondeville this season but all that can change.
Arras do not miss many free-throws, they aslo have excellent three-points shooters. They have two players from the regular season all star team. Arras is most deadly when not under pressure. If Sheana Mosch and Carla Thomas are allowed to work their magic, then Arras could surprise Challes.
The LFB challenge round starts on Tuesday, 22 April at 20:00 local time.
Arras - Challes-les-Eaux
Reims - Clermont-Ferrand
Aix-en-Provence - Mondeville
Tarbes - Saint Amand
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