Myself, along with some other RU faithful (hopefully) will be doing our patented open source live blogging in the comments. Join us!
I have no idea what to write about this game. Contrary to popular belief, I don't have all of the answers. Can Dakota's David Bell successfully follow up his 34 points off the bench? Will Utah be able to find someone on that uber-uber-sooper-dooper deep bench that can matchup with Richard Hendrix now that Kosta Koufos has been called up? Will Kevin Kruger be able to keep showing he's more than a pure point by doing this whole scoring thing of which he's recently taken a linking? Can Jazz guard Mo Almond and Celtic JR Giddens enforce their 'NBA-ness', as I'll call it? Will Romel Beck finally play? Lots of questions is about all I have.
Overall, there will be a lot of matchup's that will end up fun to watch, as they'll either shut each other down or light each other up. Always like these sorts of games.
After the break, individual player breakdowns, sponsored today by... drumroll please...ritch peeple hoo don't spell good this lovely website.
Richard Hendrix is going to have to play well, and he should, given that Kosta Koufos will now, more than likely, be replaced by Brian Jackson, who is still good, but not on the same level as Koof defensively. Hendrix is powerful down low and should be able to control the glass, as that's what you'd expect from one of the D-League's leading rebounders. On offense, it depends. He's usually good for a quiet 18 points. I'd like to say he can eclipse that tonight if he's able to stay out of foul trouble.
Blake Ahearn will need to show up tonight. It's going to be pretty tough for the Wizards to win if they are forced to endure another 4-for-18 performance from the field. Ahearn shouldn't have as much trouble on defense as he's typically had this season, as Kevin Kruger, sans his last few games, is a pass-first point guard. If he's matched up with Mo Almond, there will be fireworks - either the pretty Fourth of July kind if they get into a battle or one of these if you're a defensive purist. Ahearn, as told by the Bismarck Tribune's wondrous Steve Thomas, has had some recent shooting issues that will need to be fixed for a Wizards win tonight.
One long-time basketball observer described the sport as attempting to throw a bag of air through a hole in the sky. For Dakota Wizards guard Blake Ahearn that hole has been small, indeed, this week.
"There's a guy by the name of Jon Sundvold who said 'if you're hot, you've got to keep shooting and if you're not hot you shoot until you get hot.' That's what I do," Ahearn said.
Good stuff, right there.
Renaldo Major will be involved in the must-watch matchup of the night, as he'll be paired with Ronald Dupree from the Flash in a matchup of the best defenders on the floor. They're either both going to get 20 points or they'll both get six points. Major is usually the fire starter for the Wizards, as it seems recently he's the only that really shows up to win games in the beginning. Eventually, the rest of the team follows his lead and starts playing with heart, but it's safe to say if Major gets off to a cold start, the Wizards are in trouble.
Maurice Baker is a vet. Not much to say about him. As I've said earlier, he's a "what you see is what you get" type of player. Never all that noticeable, but often very solid. As the saying goes in Bismarck, "as Mo goes, so go the Wizards." He'll more than likely put up a big box score line, though you won't notice it until you actually see the box score.
The fifth starter is always in question. I'd prefer an all-day chess match between Duane Ticknor and Brad Jones that ultimately end in each going small for this game and inserting an extra wing. Since this is my preview, that's what we're going to do - and Romel Beck is getting this slot for Dakota, as I'm assuming he'll finally be healthy. Beck, when healthy, is a scoring machine. He can slash, he can shoot, he can flat out play basketball - when healthy. Unfortunately, that's been a rarity this season. Expect him to play a big role tonight, if he plays. If they don't go this route, David Monds will win the tip for Dakota before Ticknor decides to play small ball.
Well, obviously Utah has a much stronger bench. I mean, Dakota only has David Bell, he who is coming off a 34 point game and shot 41% from beyond the arc during the regular season. Get him the ball, don't make him dribble, and he'll put it in the hoop. If you don't believe that, it might be time to hedge your bets. Wait, they also have Jesse Smith, who is basically Brian Jackson, except coming off the bench, and with darker hair and less British-looking in the teeth department (love you, BJ). Carlos English has the ability to tire out whoever he's defending, but I doubt we'll see a heavy dose of the Pride of Cleveland State tonight. Dakota may have the deepest 3 1/2 man bench in the D-League.
Ronald Dupree has been an impact player for Utah since being acquired in a deal for Steven Hill. No, his averages aren't all that impressive (16.2 points, 6.6 boards, and 3.9 assists) but Utah's a much better team when he's on the court. He's long, he can get to the basket, he'll lockdown the other teams best perimeter player (a huge benefit as defense is something the majority of his team seriously lacks), and he hustles, working hard while out on the court. He's an efficient scorer, and brings either his rebounding or assisting mindset, though rarely doing both in the same game.
JR Giddens is a player that, if nothing else, is fun to watch. He seems overwhelmed by the pro game, but only when he has the ball in his hands. Otherwise, he moves well without the ball, uses his athleticism on defense, and dunks the ball like he did in the NCAA dunk contest. His best aspect is probably his rebounding, as he's probably the best rebounder, at his size, in the D-League. Is that saying much? Maybe, maybe not, but if he shows that he can rebound, defend, and somehow adds a jumpshot, he'll have an NBA future. If not, he'll probably garner a couple 10-day's in the D-League next year playing in Maine.
Kevin Kruger is a heady, pass-first point guard. He's getting a lot of accolades recently for his scoring, but I'm not convinced that he's going to make a living as a point guard shooting the ball 15 times a game. Overall, there's not much I don't like about him, as he impressed me in the NCAA's with UNLV a few years ago and hasn't done anything to lose that recogntion he earned. I know he cares what I think, so a big game tonight will go a long way to solidy my thoughts on K-Kroogz.
Brian Jackson is the default center tonight, I assume, as he's started a decent amount of games this season. I'd prefer James Lang to start, but he's (reportedly) been working out with Jasper Johnson, which led to Coach Jones to relegate him to bench duties for the last month or so. Anyway, back to Jackson. He's second in the D-League in games played and personal fouls - All-Time! Neither of those are goals that one should even attempt to attain, because Jackson has a lockdown on this. Regardless, he is a fun player to watch. He's a 6'9" scrapper with a mean streak.
Morris Almond is getting my fifth starter role, in my hopes that both Coach Jones and Coach Ticknor agree to play small ball to make sure this game sends the fans home happy from the "Flash Factory" (I almost want Utah to win solely so Freddy Finals can make an appearance there... That many F's will about describe what Freddy gets from me). Almond, as people say, is a chucker. He doesn't seem to like passing, but he does love to shoot - from deep, off the drive, even with seven guys guarding him, it doesn't matter, he'll shoot. He could go off in this game, as the Wizards don't really have a lockdown defender unless they do something crazy and put Renaldo Major on him, leaving a big to cover Ronald Dupree. My favorite thing about Mo: This.
Well, according to their owner, the Utah bench is deep. Since I don't want you to think less about my basketball IQ, I'll agree with a Mark Cubanesque dotcommer that owns a D-League team. J/K. They do have players that fill niche roles, but the only one I really like is Gavin Grant, a swingman that was decent at NC State. Andre Ingram is Utah's David Bell, but not quite on his level. Bennet Davis is pretty athletic at the 4-spot, but brings a bit of shot alteringness and not much else that I've seen. Carlos Wheeler is 31, a 6'7" power forward, went to Campbellsville(?) and once owned a car dealership. James Lang is probably their most talented player on the bench, but for whatever reason, he hasn't been getting minutes the second half of the season.