If Courtney Sims returns (which isn't a for sure), Iowa is really good. If Sims doesn't return, Iowa is still good, albeit lacking an offensive inside presence - they have the Rookie of the Year in Othyus Jeffers and quietest Magic Johnson like number putter-upper, along with a sharp-shooter, a glue guy, and a big white stiff.
For Dakota, if they play as terrible as they did on their last trip to lovely Des Moines, they're in trouble. If they play as well as they did in most other matchups with the Energy, don't count 'em out. No matter what, this is a playoff game between the best two teams in the Central Division, with two veterans coaches that know what they're doing. I expect a war.
Othyus Jeffers is just a Rookie (of the Year), but plays like a gritty vet. I've been impressed with him all season, mostly because I've been baffled 6'5" guard out of an NAIA school that's been shot and is averaging nine rebounds per game. He's had 19 double-digit rebounding games and only once hasn't scored in double-digits. Not bad, but amazing when you consider he's started 32 of the Energy's 47 games and was relegated to coming off of the bench for the first month and a half of the season. He's not a shooter, but a great, very deliberate slasher, scoring 21 points per game. His defense, though, is what impresses me the most. Iowa almost didn't have him in this game, as he was thisclose to being called-up by Golden State before his flight got cancelled. True story.
Curtis Stinson has been a Wizard-killer this season, at least in the stats department. While I often go the entire game without noticing him doing much on the court, it always seems to show up in the box score - he's averaging 16 points, 8.7 assists, and 8.4 boards per game against the Wizards. Scary thing is, that's not far off his season averages. Stinson can't really shoot, but that's his only real weak point right now. but he can really find the open man - he's had 30 assists and four turnovers over his past two games. You never really notice him, but he helps his team win games, making him this weeks nomination for the Joel Abelson Game Changer Award.
Demetris Nichols is a shooter, plain and simple, not unlike that guy from this cartoon in that one movie he was in that I can't remember the name of right now. (Update: Found it!) Don't make him dribble, don't make him drive, just let him shoot. He's a 6'8" wingman, so odds are his defender either will be too short to really contest his shot. If not, they're usually not the perimeter-defending type. Nichols had a couple of 10-days with the Knicks, but never got a chance to play this season, which was a bit of disservice to him. He's got a pretty shot, hitting 46% from beyond the arc.
Denham Brown can ball. He went off on the Wizards, his former team, for 25 points in their last meeting, and he could easily have a big game tonight. Brown was cut earlier this season after taking a bit too long to recover from a knee injury. Anyway, Brown does everything good, nothing great. He's versatile, but not overly-athletic. He's a good shooter, but not from long range. He can handle the ball, but when he puts the ball on the floor, don't expect him to pick up an assist. He's a former member of Team Canada, which is exciting.
Courtney Sims deserved to be much higher on this list, but I'm not sure if he'll be with the Energy. As far as I know, they can't pick him up today, and he wasn't with the team yesterday. (The D-League is pretty lax on updating the transactions page, though, so who really knows.) If Sims plays, Iowa's got a great shot at winning this game. He brings offense to the post and he's a lot less stiff than John Edwards on defense. I'm not going to give you any more rundown on him, as he's all I talked about for the first three months of the season - check the archives if you're new.
If Sims isn't back, Iowa will have to start John Edwards, the patron saint of big white stiffs... Seriously, Dakota's Jesse Smith worships him... Mark Tyndale is a good player off the bench... former NBA second round pick Jeff Trepagnier replaced JamesOn Curry a few games ago, but hasn't cracked the rotation yet... Aristide Sawadogo rides ostriches and is a crowd favorite in Iowa apparently, but not the most outstanding of basketball players.
Blake Ahearn needs to have a big game for the Wizards to advance. He's been in a recent funk (just four free-throw's over the past two games) so he'll earn a new moniker if the Wizards win tonight: Big Game Blake. Basically, you know what Ahearn does - he gets to the line a fair amount and shoots 3-pointers the rest of the game. Last game in Iowa, he shot 6-for-23 (2-for-10 from deep) and the Wizards lost big time. If the Wizards get him hot early and feed him the ball, Iowa will run out of energy. (See what I did there? Tell me I'm not funny now!)
Richard Hendrix needs to have a loud game for the Wizards as well. He had a quiet 18 points, 8 boards last game against Iowa, something severely disappointing when factoring in that's he's a freaking beast. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he should be able to do something like 25 points, 12 boards, and a couple blocks. If he gets in foul trouble, and Sims plays, watch out Wizards! Hendrix should control the boards, if nothing else.
Renaldo Major is the heart of the Wizards. And the defense. And the primary ball-handler when they want to use some clock. Basically, he's their everything. He's a year removed from heart surgery, but don't you worry, he brings a lot of that as well. Major is an energy guy that will slash, get boards, and play within the offense. Not often talked about, but without him, the Wizards probably wouldn't have made the playoffs.
Maurice Baker is a veteran point that likes to win basketball games. He's played very well against Iowa and I don't foresee that changing, as Baker is a 'what you see is what you get' type of player. On the season, Baker's averaging 20.3 points, 7.6 boards and 7.3 assists. If nothing else, it'll be fun to watch to see whether he or Stinson can fill up the box score more quietly.
David Monds was the fifth starter for the Wizards last game but he played just 24 minutes after tweaking an injury (I believe it's a back injury). Monds will rebound (averaged 9.1) and play reasonable defense, but he won't get minutes if he's expected to step out on Nichols, as he's simply not quick enough. More than likely, he'll jump, get beat a few times and be replaced while Dakota plays small ball.
It'd be helpful if Romel Beck and his scoring ability played this game for Dakota, but as has been the case in 75% of his games this season, his status is doubtful... David Bell would have garnered my vote for Sixth Man of the Year, if the D-League didn't use the Impact Player of the Year instead... Bell can shoot, so if the Wizards need a 3, they can bring him in and have lots of options... Jesse Smith is the best big for the Wizards off the bench... unfortunately, that's only because he's the only big on the bench for Dakota... this team is the opposite of deep on the bench, if Beck is out.