CSKA Moscow hosts Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar in a match-up between the League’s top two teams.
USH CSKA (capacity 5,000), Moscow, Russia
7:30 PM (7:30 MSK), January 7, 2018
Match TV, VTB-League.com
Face to Face
CSKA vs. Lokomotiv – this has been one of Russian basketball’s best rivalries in recent years. Even though CSKA has won four in a row vs. the Railwaymen in League competition (including a sweep in the 2017 playoffs), and Loko’s last win came in December 2016, the club from Krasnodar has been CSKA’s toughest rival during the regular season. Since moving to a round-robin format, the Red-Greens has split every season series and even swept the Army Men during the 2014-15 campaign.
Overall, CSKA has a 15-7 edge in League competition.
The League is charging into the New Year with a showdown between 1st-place unbeaten CSKA (10-0) and 2nd-place Lokomotiv (8-1). With a win, the Army Men can open up a big lead in the standings as the season nears the midway point.
CSKA and Loko are both clicking, guided by two of the League’s most respected coaches. Each team is dominant, but in its own way. The Army Men boast the highest-scoring offense in the League (92.8 ppg), while Kuban gives up a League-best 68.1 ppg. Dimitris Itoudis’s system emphasizes free-flowing creativity, while Sasa Obradovic’s Loko focuses on disrupting and shutting down opposing offenses. Both are models for other clubs to mimic–on Sunday we’ll learn which approach is more effective.
Balance of Power
This isn’t the first game of 2018 for either team. Krasnodar won another game in the EuroCup, this time on the road vs. Buducnost in its first Top 16 outing. CSKA, on the other hand, suffered a surprising setback to 12th-place Barcelona in the EuroLeague.
CSKA and Loko are both mostly healthy and will enter Sunday’s game at full strength, determined to play at a high level. After the defeat in Spain, the Army Men will be looking to prove to the fans that Thursday’s loss was nothing more than a temporary blip. CSKA’s desire to quickly rebound could be an X-factor in the game.
Dmitry Kulagin vs. CSKA
Dmitry Kulagin spent the last two seasons with CSKA. During the 2017 offseason, the Army Men decided to part ways with the Russian national team guard. It was an amicable divorce, but that doesn’t mean Kulagin won’t be itching to prove the Army Men wrong.
After missing the first few weeks of the season, Kulagin signed with Loko, where he’s quickly become a valuable member of the rotation. Kulagin is extremely dangerous when hot and there’s no question he will be raring to go in his first meeting with his ex-club. The fans have a lot to look forward to.
There are plenty of interesting connections between the various Russians in this match-up, but there’s also a fascinating backstory to a pair of Americans. Loko guard Chris Babb and CSKA forward Will Clyburn both played for Iowa State during the 2012-13 season, but will be on opposing sides come Sunday.
Things to Watch
Obradovic will probably focus a lot of attention on Cory Higgins. The swingman has been scoring in double digits almost every time out, particularly in League games. Higgins is best driving to the basket and getting to the line. Expect Itoudis to use Higgins as a weapon for tearing down Krasnodar’s sturdy defense.
Mardy Collins will have an outsized impact on Loko’s performance. As everyone knows, CSKA can make a team pay for even a brief lapse of concentration. The experienced point-forward will be asked to control Loko’s offense and take the big shots when the need arises. Lucky for the Krasnodar fans, Collins love working one-on-one.
CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis:
– We are facing a serious opponent and a very good team. Lokomotiv has everything–post game, paint penetration, pick-and-rolls and iso’s. We need to bounce back from our unsuccessful outing in Barcelona.
Lokomotiv-Kuban head coach Sasa Obradovic:
– As usual, CSKA is one of the favorites to win in the EuroLeague and VTB United League. They have a wonderful coach and excellent players who can carry out his vision on the court. The Army Men suffered a tough loss to Barcelona, but at the same time they know how to play after a loss. We expect a very aggressive game and should show pride in our play against an elite opponent.