Tonight at 7 p.m on their home floor in Allen War Memorial Coliseum, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (1-4) take the floor to face off against the Iowa Energy (4-2) in their first Thursday game of the young season. The two have an extensive history playing against each other as Central Division foes before Fort Wayne was realigned to the Eastern Division this year. Fort Wayne sports an 8-6 all-time mark against the Iowa Energy at home, and will look to pick up its second win of the year against one of the most potent offensive attacks in the league.
In terms of team statistics, Iowa ranks 3rd in the league in points per game at 115 points per contest, and are 5th in total rebounds per game at 47.5 per game. When they are on a roll, the team is hard to stop: Iowa has scored at least 120 points four times, and has gone 3-1 in those games, including a 133-123 shootout loss to the league’s best offense, the 8-0 Rio Grande Valley Vipers, in the game leading up to tonight’s matchup. Iowa is 4-1 overall on the road this season.
This game is a great offensive matchup for Fort Wayne, which has started slowly out of the gate due to their struggles beyond the arc (28.2%, 14th in the league on a league low-14.4 attempts per game), the ability to get easy buckets (16th out of 17 teams in team assists per game), and a middle of the pack rating in turnovers per game (18.2, 10th overall). While some of that high figure has to do with the pace they play at and number of extra shot attempts they receive from their rebounding efforts, Iowa is not nearly as good on the defensive end, yielding 112.2 points per contest, 13th in the league. As a result, it should give the Mad Ants the opportunity to get going on offense and crack triple digits in scoring for the second time this season.
Defense is where the Mad Ants have hung their hat on so far, racking up steals (12.8, 2nd in the league) and are in the top five in points surrendered per game with 100.4 per contest. Fort Wayne will need to contain the three point arc and capitalize in defensive rebounding situations given that Iowa is one of the worst teams in the league at generating second chance opportunities on offense. This begins with individuals such as forward Sadiel Rojas for the Mad Ants, who has been on a rebounding tear (3 straight games of 10+ rebounds) and has been pulling down 3 offensive rebounds per game. Besides Rojas, the Mad Ants have put in a collective team effort on the glass, with 6 players grabbing at least 4.8 rebounds per game. Fort Wayne will probably need to win the rebounding battle in order to get the win.
Players to Watch
Individually for players to watch on the Energy, it starts with former Miami Heat forward Jarvis Varnado. Acquired before this season in a trade with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Varnado has lived up to the hype: he is 3rd on the team in points (16.3), 4th in the entire D-League in rebounds (11.7), and is an absolutely devastating shot blocker, rejecting 5.3 per game. His 5.3 blocks per game is 1st overall in the league after leading the league with 3.4 last season.
To pair up with him, Iowa has the red hot Othyus Jeffers, a guard-forward who is 3rd in the league in scoring per game (25.5) thanks to his efficiency from the field (51.8%). Jeffers has attributes similar to a blank Scrabble tile: wherever you need help in a particular situation, he gets the job done for you. In addition to his scoring, he also brings rebounding (11.1 per game, 5th overall in the league), passing (4.2 assists), and creates important opportunities in transition thanks to his 2.2 steals per game.
Fort Wayne Mad Ants
For the Mad Ants, the arrival of guard Bennie Lewis is an interesting story line to watch. Lewis, who prior to signing last week spent three seasons playing overseas, brought the ability to shoot beyond the arc in his first game in a Mad Ant uniform, knocking down 3 three point attempts. A critical need for Fort Wayne right now is space to operate on offense, and if Lewis can force defenders to come out to three point arc, it would help open up room on the floor for many of Fort Wayne players who look to drive to the rim to get their buckets such as forward Trey McKinney-Jones and D-League All-Star guard Ron Howard.
After attending training camp on a loaded Indiana Pacers team and just missing out on a NBA roster spot, Howard has returned to Fort Wayne and continued his stellar play from the guard position. He is first on the team in points (23.0) and assists (3.0), and is 4th in rebounding while shooting a solid 44.8% from the field as the Mad Ants number one option on offense. He is assisted in carrying the scoring load by an emerging rookie, Trey McKinney-Jones. The forward is second on the team in points per game (18.0), and is coming off a spectacular performance against the Skyforce, playing 47 of a possible 50 minutes and posting a team season-high 30 points, snagging 6 boards, and coming up with 3 steals without turning the ball over.