The other D-League semifinal series begins today as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers head to Austin to face the Toros. The game starts at 3 pm Eastern, and will be shown live on Versus. These teams are very familiar with each other, as they played seven times this season (eight if you count pre-season). Three of those games were in Austin, four down in Hidalgo. Rio Grande Valley dominated the series, winning five of those games.
Austin, though, didn't have the services of Marcus Williams, but they also now find themselves without the services of dominant rebounder Dwayne Jones. Rio Grande Valley didn't have their current starting backcourt of Will Conroy and Antonio Anderson for several of those games either, so in some ways both teams are starting over. You might even call them perfect strangers.
Interesting side note: I didn't pick either of these teams to win in the first round. Okay, maybe that's not very interesting. Both teams had tough opponents, though, and advanced to the semifinals pretty much through sheer firepower. I'll break down the matchups and show you what I mean after the jump.
PG: Will Conroy vs. Curtis Jerrells - Conroy came to the Vipers this year after playing for the Houston Rockets' Summer League team (and being traded by the Albuquerque Thunderbirds), and he received a call-up to the Rockets earlier this year. Jerrells also played for his team's NBA affiliate over the summer, and the Spurs signed him to a contract relatively recently but kept him in Austin. Conroy was named to the All D-League Second Team, while Jerrells made the Third. Beyond that, though, they're not very similar. Jerrells is primarily a scorer who has struggled with his outside shot. Conroy is extremely well-rounded as a scorer, a distributor and a guy who can rebound regardless of position. Advantage: Vipers
SG: Jonathan Wallace vs. Alonzo Gee - Wallace is really a point guard who plays slightly out of position in RGV's three-guard lineup. He doesn't always pick up a ton of assists, he usually helps facilitate the offense pretty well. He's also a very good three-point shooter. Alonzo Gee is an extremely athletic dunker who also is a pretty good shooter when spotting up, if not always off the dribble or coming off of screens. Gee got call-ups from the Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs this season, the latter of whom put him on assignment for the playoffs. Advantage: Toros
SF: Antonio Anderson vs. Marcus Williams - Both of these players really are tall guards; Anderson is a combo guard known mainly for his defense but who also can rebound and handle the ball a bit, while Williams was a forward in college who remade his game as a point guard in Austin last season. Williams never played with Gee in the regular season, and so he's had to adjust a little bit to playing in the frontcourt in the playoffs. Williams is shooting the best field goal percentage of his D-League career this season, but his turnovers have ticked slightly upwards and he has struggled with this three-point shooting over the last few weeks. Advantage: I'll call this one a Draw.
PF: Mike Harris vs. Eddie Basden - Basden is known for his defense, and he'll have his hands full with D-League MVP candidate Harris, who came back to the Vipers on assignment for game three of their last playoff series and dominated the fourth quarter. Basden's biggest challenge will be keeping Harris off the boards, especially now that Dwayne Jones is no longer around. Basden's really more of a swingman and occasionally brings the ball up the court for Austin, but he'll have to concentrate his efforts down low. Advantage: Vipers
C: Julian Sensley vs. Michael Joiner - I'm assuming that Joiner will continue to start in the middle, even though someone like Cory Underwood might be a better option, given that Underwood is still relatively new to the team. Both Sensley and Joiner like to hang out around the perimeter, and neither one rebounds all that much. Sensley's a better board man, Joiner's a better shooter. I kind of don't care about this matchup. Advantage: Another Draw.
Rio Grande Valley Bench: By sticking three guards in the starting lineup, RGV's bench skews more to the frontcourt. Ernest Scott, Rich Melzer and Mickell Gladness all are big men with varying degrees of skill. Gladness played just six minutes of the first round, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him stay seated once more. Melzer showed flashes of talent and brought rebounding and energy to the floor. Scott's another perimeter-oriented guy who occasionally gets into foul trouble. RGV also has a good bench scorer in Craig Winder, as well as swingman Sean Barnette, although the latter doesn't do whole lot.
Austin Bench: Squeaky Johnson is a solid backup point guard who sometimes plays alongside Jerrells and Williams. He's a streaky shooter, but after playing in Austin for three years he knows the offense inside and out. I've mentioned Cory Underwood, who has bounced around a bit this season with stops in Dakota and Albuquerque, and Underwood has some decent per-minute rebounding numbers in addition to a nice shot and decent defense; he's probably the best frontcourt defender Austin has now other than Basden, though that's largely by default. Luke "Big Hugga" "Bon-Bon" Bonner is their other big man off the bench, and while he's a decent midrange shooter, he has a lot of work to do on defense and usually finds himself in foul trouble. David McClure is Austin's designated energy/rebounding guy, and after being pretty terrible early on in the season has worked himself up to "mostly passable" in that regard. Austin doesn't go all that deep into its bench, but shooter Lewis Clinch and perimeter defender Dominique Coleman also are there.
Advantage: I'm not really crazy about RGV's bench other than Craig Winder, so I'll go with the Toros.
Coaches: Quin Snyder and Chris Finch both have done good jobs this year, but I'll give the edge to Snyder. While Jerrells, Gee and Dwayne Jones all received NBA call-ups this season, the first two took most of the season to improve their games to the point where a call-up was deserved, and Snyder deserves a lot of credit for that as well as helping Jones develop some offensive moves and improve his free-throw shooting.
Prediction: This series could get chippy given how often the teams have played one other, and I expect all three games to be close. Rio Grande Valley in three.