This preview of the upcoming series between the Warriors and Mad Ants is going to be a little different than what you may be used to, as I called for the assistance of Santa Cruz broadcaster Kevin Danna (@kevo408). This could have as easily have been done as your everyday preview, but Kevin is probably more knowledgable about the series, because he's your man with the plan when it comes to everything to do with the Santa Cruz Warriors.
So, the following preview will basically be an interview I had with Kevin as he answers the most important questions people would have going into this series.
Question 1: How do you think Santa Cruz will approach this series?
Danna: Santa Cruz will approach this series with a supreme focus; Nate Bjorkgren wouldn't have it any other way. He is the kind of coach that won't let any detail get past him. The Dubs played Fort Wayne twice back in January in Indiana, and it didn't go so well for the road team- Fort Wayne won by 16 and 28, respectively (though the 102-86 game was a lot closer than the final score indicates- Santa Cruz had a 12-point lead in the third). That, combined with the fact that this is the playoffs, and the Sea Dubs don't need any extra motivation for the Fighting Ticknors.
Question 2: Matchup of the Series?
Danna: It's not necessarily a matchup in terms of guarding each other, because they won't, but which guy between Tony Mitchell and Stefhon Hannah really gets off could really decide the series. Mitchell has scored 80 points in his last two games and can fill it up like no other.
The key for Santa Cruz isn't necessarily limiting the number of points Mitchell scores, but rather how efficient they allow him to be. In his 49-point outing against Sioux Falls, Mitchell took 30 shots- pretty good ratio right there. In his 31-point outing the next night, he chucked it up 34 times and was 13-34 from the floor- Santa Cruz can live with a stat line like that.
For Santa Cruz, Stefhon Hannah can turn a game with a hot offensive performance. His first time against Fort Wayne this season, Hannah hit his first nine shots en route to 23 first quarter points (granted, he finished with 27 points and hit just 1 of his last 11, but that first quarter was something to see. He could have thrown up shots blindfolded and would have drilled 'em). Now, a Hannah hot night from the field isn't necessarily going to determine who wins- he also brings a whole lot on the defensive end and can really get underneath the skin of opposing ballhandlers- but if he gets it going offensively, look out.
Question 3: What should new D-League fans look for when they're watching the series?
Danna: What should new D-League fans be watching out for... These guys are good. Really, really good. I know some people talk about how a really good college team could beat the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats or something like that (which is completely false, but that's another story)- and I'm sure people think that, say the national champion Louisville Cardinals could beat a D-League team- no chance. The best college basketball team would lose to the worst D-League team by 20-30 points. People might take their jabs at the D-League, but there's a reason these guys are playing professional basketball- they're really damn good. Don't let the "development" tab fool ya- these guys are playing at one of the highest levels in the world- 8 guys on Santa Cruz have NBA experience, and a handful of guys on the Mad Ants have played in the NBA as well.
Question 4: Underrated player to look out for?
Danna: For Santa Cruz, the "underrated" played would be Cameron Jones. He averages a cool 12.6 per game, but is just sneaky good at getting to the basket. He has perfected the Eurostep in a way that many American players don't and always finds a way to get off his shot. He is always under control and is just a solid player who has really improved his rebounding and distributing as the season has progressed (he was also traded by Fort Wayne to Santa Cruz before the season started, so there's that).
For Fort Wayne, it would be Anthony Richardson. People might get lost in the number of points Tony Mitchell has been putting up lately, but Richardson is just as dangerous from deep, connecting on about 38 percent of his treys. He can really stretch out a defense and is someone Santa Cruz really needs to keep an eye out on. I was also really impressed with how hard Brandon Wallace crashes the glass for Fort Wayne- he's an undersized big man who rebounds well and can also step out and stroke it from deep.
One other underrated guy to look out for on Santa Cruz is Darington Hobson. I know this isn't exactly what the D-League top prospect list is all about, but I dare you to find me 30 guys in the D-League who have more natural talent than Hobson. He also made history in the regular season finale by recording the first-ever triple-double (16 pts, 12 reb, 11 ast) in Santa Cruz history in the Warriors' 106-105 win.
Question 5: Do you have a series prediction?
Danna: Since I'm broadcasting the series, I can't make a prediction, but I'll give you a Sheed-esque political line and say both teams are going to play hard and it should be a great series. God bless and good night (don't fine me, now).