After a forgettable February that saw the BayHawks go just 1-8 and be all but eliminated (never give up hope!) from the playoff race, no one is happier to turn the calendar to March than the Erie BayHawks. The Bayhawks host the first of theireight March home games tonight as the East Conference-leading Iowa Energy return to Erie for a weekend set of games tonight and tomorrow.
These teams are pretty familiar with each other at this point, having played each other eight times already this season. The margin has been as much as 24 and as small as 3, but the result has always been the same: a BayHawks loss.
Erie is hopeful that their new acquisition, Blake Ahearn, who came from Bakersfield in exchange for Alade Aminu will be the missing piece that finally helps Erie defeat the Energy. Ahearn is expected to debut tonight, though his role is yet to be determined. If Cedric Jackson is good to go, Ahearn will likely come off the bench to spell Jackson at point guard and possibly Mike Gansey at shooting guard. If Jackson, who is dealing with bruised ribs, is unable to go, it's possible Ahearn could get the green light to be on the court from the opening tip. We'll have to wait and see.
There will be some new faces on the other sideline as well. Gone from the Energy roster since the last time these teams met are Courtney Sims (now playing overseas) and Othyus Jeffers (called up by the Utah Jazz). One of the new names on Iowa's roster is former BayHawk Darian Townes.
Game 38 Preview: Iowa Energy (30-9) vs. Erie BayHawks (13-24)
Iowa coming in: Despite maintaining the league's best win/loss record, the Energy enter this game riding a season-high three-game losing streak with all three losses coming at home. Tonight's game will also be the team's first since Othyus Jeffers was called up to the Utah Jazz. In four games against the BayHawks, Jeffers averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 33 minutes per game.
Erie coming in: The BayHawks current losing streak (two games) is actually shorter than Iowa's, but as I mentioned in the opening, that is just the tail end of a bad month of basketball that started with four consecutive losses to Iowa from February 3-9. March presents them the opportunity to redeem or repeat themselves.
BayHawks keys to success:
- Work the offense from the outside in.
If you've been following my game previews this season, you'll note that this is a change of philosophy. But with the departure of Alade Aminu and the acquisition of Blake Ahearn, the BayHawks clearly have a team with different strengths and weaknesses. This is now a guard-heavy, perimeter-oriented team. Ahearn, along with Mike Gansey and Ivan Harris gives Erie three dangerous shooters to space the floor. If any one (or, preferably, a combination) of these players gets in a rhythm from long range, it will force Iowa to stretch its defense, opening holes for dribble penetration.
- Keep Bryant out of foul trouble.
John Bryant is arguably the most dependable, consistent performer on Erie's roster. With the departure of Alade Aminu (had I mentioned he was traded yet?), Big Bad John becomes the anchor down low for Erie on both sides of the floor. Both Jarvis Gunter and Kyle Goldcamp provide great energy and will have to make up for the loss of Aminu's production on the glass, but Bryant is the big man most capable of carrying the team with his offense, which is why he needs to play smart and stay out of foul trouble against the Energy. Interestingly, Bryant and Iowa counterpart Earl Barron are tied for third in the D-League with 16 double-doubles this season.
- The pride factor.
Don't try to tell me that Jackie Manuel, Mike Gansey, Ivan Harris, and company don't know what it takes to win in March. At this point in the season, the BayHawks are aware that it would take a monumental win streak and some luck to finish the season and make the playoffs. But there's still a lot to play for, including the shot at an NBA call-up, Summer League invite, etc.
One additional motivating factor that I hope and expect to see on display starting tonight at the Tullio Arena is the pride factor. Losing is one thing. But losing to a team eight straight times without a single win is tough to swallow. Six of Erie's eight losses against Iowa have come by 10 points or less, three by 5 or less, so it's not like they're being run out of the arena.
In order to break through with a win tonight in the ninth attempt it's going to take a determined, focused effort. Diving for loose balls, taking charges, holding that box out for an extra second to ensure the rebound is possessed, taking care of the ball, and working each possession for a quality shot attempt. The total package (insert Lex Luger joke here). NCAA March Madness is just around the corner, but the D-League version starts tonight for Erie. Like a tourney team in the big dance, the BayHawks have no margin for error. It's winning time.