Taylor Griffin was assigned to the Energy today. This could change things.
Jon L picks the Utah Flash to win in two games, while me and Mike Gansey (I'm either titling a book that or that will be the name of our band) both picked the Iowa Energy to last until the third and deciding game before bowing out gracefully in the first round for the second year in a row.
We'll try to preview these games just like we did last year (ridiculously in-depth), but we'd also like the open thread participation like we had last year (same link. Get it? Because I'm talking about the same thing!).
The Energy defeated the Flash 126-112 in their only meeting this season, but a lot has change since then. For instance, Iowa's missing three of their top four scorers (Cartier Martin and Othyus Jeffers have been called-up, Courtney Sims has went overseas) in that game as well as three of their starters (starting center Earl Barron only had 12 that game, but had 17 points and 18 boards last night for the New York Knicks). The only big change for the Flash, however, is that Dontell Jefferson is out for the season due to injury. Essentially, one of these teams is a lot more stable than the other.
(highlights from only meeting this season)
I'll put the Iowa player first since they're the higher seed:
PG: Curtis Stinson vs. Kevin Kruger - I have to give Stinson the edge in this match-up, though Kruger might be able to keep it close with his dead-eye from beyond the arc. Stinson still gets the advantage, though, due to his ridiculous assist numbers (10.9 per game), veteran moxie (some might call it cockiness) and the fact that he's going to have to step his game up much more in this series due to nearly the entire rest of his team being in the NBA.
SG: Pat Carroll vs. Andre Ingram - This, I'm going to say, will be a push. Both are almost entirely one-dimensional 3-point shooters, though both excel at that one thing. The storyline to follow might be the underachieving Carroll (he was the Energy's first round pick this year) versus the overachieving Ingram (drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 D-League draft).
SF: Jeff Trepagnier vs. Orien Greene - Greene has the edge in this match-up of former NBA draft picks now known for their defense. Not only is Greene averaging over three points more than Trepagnier, but Jumpin' Jeff has been struggling something awful from the field: he's hit just 38 of his last 123 field goal attempts, including shooting 23-of-67 from beyond the arc.
PF: Mark Tyndale vs. Bennet Davis - Tyndale is by no means a power forward at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, but he started at the 4 in Iowa's last game so we'll keep him here. Davis, on the other hand, is a power forward and coming in with a three inch height advantage. This will be a mismatch on both ends of the court, keeping it interesting.
C: Connor Atchley vs. Luke Nevill - This one could get ugly. Atchley is a stretch four with scrappy defense while Nevill is a 7-foot-2 Aussie who might be the only player less physical in the offensive post besides Atchley. I can't give either player a clear advantage, but I am sure one will get in early foul trouble leading us to the bench.
Iowa's bench includes isn't what anyone would call deep, though sixth man Marvin Phillips is a special D-League player as a 6-foot-7 forward that explodes all over the court. Shy Ely has a lot of potential as the back-up guard, but hasn't been tested much this season - the rookie out of Evansville is averaging less than a quarter of action per game. The rest of the bench is rounded out by seldom used big man Darian Townes (doesn't fit Iowa's up-tempo offense) and recently re-acquired Brian Evans, who has played 14 minutes in his two games with the Energy this season. The Energy have also recently acquired Justin Bowen, but he hasn't played a game for them yet after starting 20 games with the Austin Toros this season.
Utah's bench is a bit deeper than Iowa's and is led by Brian Hamilton, who has been in camp with the New Jersey Nets the past two season and has actually started their two most recent games against the Toros. Gabe Pruitt is a former NBA draft pick who had spent his professional career with the Boston Celtics up until this season. Brian Jackson has been the third player off the bench for the Flash, but could potentially be the difference maker in this series if he's finally in basketball shape after sitting out most of this season - he's a 6-foot-9 vet that is willing to bang and make the hustle plays - plus he has plenty of D-League experience. Last but not least is Jordan Brady, a muscle-bound John Cena lookalike that plays with a lot of aggression.
Utah's bench gets the nod between benches.
Coaching: Nick Nurse vs. Brad Jones - This is very tough to call, so I won't call it. Both are fiery, smart coaches with NBA talent. I will point out, though, that Jones took his team to the D-League Finals last season while Nurse's team suffered a first round exit. Each coach's circumstances were similar to this season, though - Utah with a steady roster (and actually some NBA help) while Nurse lost his top players to a call-up just before the playoffs.
I'm going to give the Flash the nod in this game just because I assume the Flash will pack the house and the Energy are known to self-destruct once in awhile.
Score prediction: 121-115 in favor of the Flash with Kevin Kruger leading the way.
Random prediction: Iowa gets more technical fouls than the Utah Flash, who lead the league in technical fouls.