As we near the NBA D-League Showcase (Jan.7-10), and reach one of the measuring points of the season, what better way to rank the current NBA D-League standings than by using the BCS bowl system in order to do so? Which NBADL team best represents the high powered Oregon offense? Is there a D-League team with a wicked stout defense such as Notre Dame? Without further ado, here is where each of the top NBA D-League teams would play and why under this season's BCS bowl system. Let the debating begin!
Rose Bowl - Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5) // Texas Legends (8-4) vs. Los Angeles D-Fenders (5-4)
Similar to Stanford's huge win at Oregon during their regular season, the Texas Legends have reeled off some big wins early this season as well. The Legends scored two wins against Sioux Falls, and back-to-back victories against the defending champion Austin Toros already this season. Head coach Eduardo Najera surely benefited from having the No. 1 prospect Chris Douglas-Roberts for the majority of the start to the season, but the Legends will likely continue to chalk up victories even with CDR's departure.
The D-Fenders sneak their way into a BCS game after starting the season a bit slow ala the Badgers, who suffered an unexpected defeat to the Oregon State Beavers in their early going. Like Wisconsin, the D-Fenders have been able to right the ship, winning their last three games heading into this weekend's set in Iowa. Courtney Fortson has been able to take his game to the next level it seems, and don't be surprised if the D's start to add up the W's in January.
Discover Orange Bowl - Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) // Erie BayHawks (6-4) vs. RGV Vipers (5-6)
The Florida State Seminoles finished ranked 12th overall in the nation while the Northern Illinois Huskies crashed the party as the 15th ranked team in the final BCS rankings. Florida State and Northern Illinois will be a tale of offense vs. defense, and a Erie BayHawks vs. Rio Grande Vipers showdown would be similar. The BayHawks have established a reputable defense in their early going. Center Henry Sims has put together a nice start with averages of 14.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and a block per contest.
Northern Illinois is riding the success of their offense to help them prove to the country that they are worthy of their bowl nomination. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers are averaging 102. 2 points per game this season and have certainly had some exciting players come through their roster via their NBA affiliate the Houston Rockets. RGV leads the D-League in 3-point shots attempted (26.6) a game, a stat representative of their fearless bravado to shoot their way into games. After winning their last two games, RGV sits just one game under .500 heading into the weekend with recent assigned player Terrence Jones at their disposal for their set in Bakersfield.
Fiesta Bowl - Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-1) // Sioux Falls Skyforce (7-4) vs. Bakersfield Jam (8-5)
The matchup between Oregon and Kansas State has been heralded as the best game outside of the National Championship. Oregon and Kansas State were in line to meet in the "Natty" before dropping valuable games late in the season. Both the Skyforce and Jam have catapulted their way near the top of the D-League standings this season and would certainly be deserving of a bid in the big game, however, squaring off here in the Fiesta Bowl is no knock on the two teams.
The Skyforce are currently atop the D-League rankings in points per game averaging an impressive 105.4 points a contest. Perhaps the "Mini Mamba" could change his nickname to "Mini Mariota" in respect to Oregon's outstanding quaterback, who leads one of the nation's top offenses. Andrew Goudelock has been exceptional for the Skyforce as he has helped guide one of the D-League's top offenses averaging 21.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in the early going.
Meanwhile, Bakersfield is right behind the Skyforce in terms of scoring, averaging 105.0 points a game. The Jam are 6-1 at home, and have been led by steady play from Renaldo Major, Damion Jones, Brian Butch and James Nunnally off the bench. Solid contributions from top to bottom have help the Jam place themselves near the top of the D-League standings. Perhaps another Kendall Marshall stint will come their way in January as the Suns rookie continues to try and grow his game. His earlier play helped the Jam established the second highest total assists average per game at 21.2 a night, right behind the D-Fenders who have averaged 21.8.
Sugar Bowl - Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2) // Santa Cruz Warriors (7-2) vs. Austin Toros (7-5)
Florida and Louisville enter their bowl matchup from different backgrounds. Florida has been a perennial powerhouse over the years and is never really a surprise as one of the teams who land in a BCS bowl game. Louisville is a rather new addition to the scene, but after winning the Big East despite losing their last two games of the season, the Cardinals will look to prove that they are worthy of this opportunity.
Some of the same could be said for both the Santa Cruz Warriors and Austin Toros. The Toros would fit that sort of Florida-role, where they have seemed to cement themselves as a top contender in the D-League especially after winning their first NBADL championship last season. The Toros haven't had the success record-wise as the Gators had, but at 7-5 and with the backcourt duo of Cory Joseph and reigning D-League MVP Justin Dentmon at the helm, they remain a very dangerous team heading into January.
Santa Cruz have played the role of the new kids on the block, and have done a terrific job so far this season. With another impressive win last night, in just their second home game of their brief history, the Warriors are quickly becoming a powerhouse in the NBA D-League. The Warriors currently sit atop the standings record-wise in the NBADL, one would think that would assure them a spot in the title game, but as newbies to the scene a place in the Sugar Bowl seemed more appropriate. The Warriors have a nice balance of offensive and defensive weapons, and by bringing Stefhon Hannah off the bench as they did last night, their depth will continue to be a key factor regarding their future success. Look out for the Warriors going forward!
National Championship - Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1) // Maine Red Claws (8-4) vs. Tulsa 66ers (8-3)
The National Championship brings football fans a clash of historic teams with incredible defenses. The Irish are led by their Heisman trophy runner-up Manti Te'o, who recorded 7 interceptions and 103 tackles this season. The Crimson Tide bring another well conditioned team, nasty defense, and a punishing running game to the table yet again for head coach Nick Saban. Big hits and big plays will likely be the theme for the title game as the two very deserving teams square off January 7 in Miami, Florida.
Maine Red Claws center Fab Melo is quite possibly the D-League version of Manti Te'o. The Boston Celtics assigned player out of Syracuse is coming into his own lately and putting up ridiculous stat lines. He is a defensive terror and now seems to be feeling more comfortable on the offensive end as demonstrated by his 32 point outburst against the Idaho Stampede recently. Melo is just another piece in the talent laden roster for first year head coach Mike Taylor, as the Red Claws have given "Crustacean Nation" plenty to cheer about to start this season.
The Tulsa 66ers have been the recipient of their NBA affiliate Oklahoma City Thunder's youngsters quite often to start the year. Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones all have spent time with the club so far this season. First year head coach Darko Rajakovic can't complain either, as his club has only dropped 3 games thus far. It's all about team defense for the 66ers as they have held their opponents to an average of 93.7 points per game. Tulsa themselves are averaging 96.5 points a contest - how very SEC of them.
It would be a slug it out, knock em' down matchup between Maine and Tulsa, one that would likely resemble what we will see in the National Championship when the Irish meet the Crimson Tide to close out the college football season.