The battle of second-place teams - Austin finished second in the Southwest Division, and Idaho finished a game behind Utah in the West. This will also likely be the best coaching matchup of the playoffs - NBDL Coach of the Year Quin Snyder vs. RU's pick Bryan Gates. The Stampede won both of the regular season meetings between these two teams, but I'm not putting much stock into those outcomes as Anthony Tolliver, Blake Ahearn, Andre Brown and Jermareo Davidson all started in one or both of those games.
The possible starters:
Malik Hairston has played like he's on a mission, trying to prove the Spurs wrong for essentially choosing Marcus Williams over him. Over the last two games of the season against Rio Grande Valley, Hairston scored 83 points on 56 shots along with 10 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and four blocks.
Dwayne Jones is one of the best defensive centers in the game, and rebounds like a fiend. He doesn't have a lot of post moves (and the ones he does have aren't great), and if the opposing center can guard him without fouling he'll struggle, but Jones uses his rebounding ability to get a lot of tip-ins, and he's showing improvement on his free throws.
Ryan Bright is Austin's designated energy guy. He's nothing if not active, and gets a few steals each game just by reaching his hand in and poking the ball away. He's also collected five blocks in his last two games. Don't tell Scott I said this (whoops?), but if you squint hard enough Bright might be about four or five years away from being a shorter Josh Davis.
I've talked about Squeaky Johnson (LINK) and Stanley Burrell (LINK) before, and as shooters they're both maddeningly inconsistent; They can each shoot 1-9 on threes one night and 3-5 the next. The positives they bring are aggressive on-ball defense (Burrell) and an amazingly low number of turnovers (Johnson). They're also going to need Johnson to step up his distribution game with Marcus Williams gone, otherwise guys are just standing around watching whomever has the ball. Not only is that a bad offensive strategy generally, but it also slows the Toros down when they rely partly on a fast pace to overwhelm opponents. If my calculations are correct, the Toros average 100.6 possessions per game. By way of comparison, the Golden State Warriors lead the NBA at 98.1 possessions per game.
I don't know much about Fred Gibson, the 27 year old guard they picked up for the last two regular season games, but he also played 30 games for Albuquerque this year, and didn't really seem to do much. His best game this season was his first, when he scored 13 points on 9 shots and had seven rebounds against Colorado. That was on November 28, though. It's unclear whether Eric Dawson or Ezra Williams will be active for the Toros, and either one may also start, but they're both inefficient scorers. Williams mostly relies on a three-point shot that comes and goes, while Dawson is an undersized center who spends a lot of time playing out of position at PF, where he throws up perimeter shots that he doesn't make.
The possible starters:
Brent Petway is your NBDL Defensive Player of the Year, and I'm assuming he'll have the task of guarding Hairston. Offensively Idaho doesn't rely on him for much, and while he's made over 50% of his field goals this season he also shot less than 32% from three-point range and 63.4% on free throws. Still, given Austin's overall lack of offensive weapons beyond Hairston and Jones, if he can shut Hairston down, Idaho has a shot.
Lance Allred is a very solid big man who's seen some time in the NBA, and deserves to get back there soon. He's a decent rebounder but probably not a good enough one to compete much with Dwayne Jones in that area, however he rarely turns the ball over and is a smart enough defender not to foul Jones too much, which as I mentioned above could provide a source of frustration for the Austin center.
Jason Ellis is an excellent rebounder, third in the league overall in rebounds per 48 minutes, but scoring-wise he topped out this season at 16 points on February 19. He also averages right around one assist and one steal, and just under one block per game. Again, though, not a lot of turnovers.
I assume Roberto Bergerson is there because he went to Boise State and because of his veteran presence (he's 33), because overall he's not a very efficient scorer. He's been on fire from long range in April, though, making almost 71% of his threes. It should go without saying (though it didn't, for some reason) that he needs to keep that up against the Toros.
Kevin Burleson is very inconsistent assists-wise. His three April games of 12, 10 and 11 assists were sandwiched in between games where he had three and two assists in roughly the same amount of playing time.
Lanny Smith and Jamaal Tatum are each probably steadier distributors on a per minute basis than Burleson. Tatum averages more points per game although Smith has a slightly higher FG%. And congratulations, Nate Jawai - you're in the playoffs! His feelings about making those playoffs in an Idaho uniform aside, Jawai can be a solid rebounder in limited minutes, but has a propensity for foul trouble. Mohammed Abukar spent some time on the Toros' roster earlier this season, so if this were the NBA game Reggie Miller probably wouldn't stop calling it a revenge game. He's also a decent-but-not-great rebounder.