Zenit St. Petersburg hosts CSKA Moscow in the Game of the Week.
Yubileyny (capacity 6,381), St. Petersburg, Russia
9:00 PM (9:00 MSK), January 14, 2018
Match TV, VTB-League.com
Face to Face
Though two of Russia’s biggest sports brands, Zenit and CSKA don’t have much history on the basketball court. St. Petersburg and Moscow have met six times in the VTB United League with the Army Men enjoying a 5-1 edge. The Blue-White-Sky Blues only win came last season as they exacted revenge on CSKA for a 49-point loss in Moscow earlier in the year, winning 90-77 at the Yubileyny.
For the second consecutive weekend, we have a top-four matchup on tap. CSKA opened the season 10-0 but a loss to Lokomotiv-Kuban means the Army Men would likely drop out of 1st place with another defeat on Sunday. At present, the top four teams are separated by only a game and a half, making every head-to-head matchup a big deal.
Nobody has been able to win in St. Petersburg yet this season. On the other hand, CSKA has yet to lose away from home. Which streak will end this weekend?
Balance of Power
CSKA got off to a slow start in 2018, losing back-to-back games to Barcelona in the EuroLeague and Lokomotiv-Kuban in the VTB United League. The team rebounded with a 107-81 blowout in Milan, but there’s no doubt CSKA wants to avoid consecutive losses in the League. After the game in Italy, Dimitris Itoudis remarked that his team would use the win as a foundation for future victories. If CSKA is knocking down shots early, St. Petersburg could be in trouble in a hurry.
But Zenit won’t take a passive approach on Sunday evening. Vasily Karasev’s team hasn’t lost in 2018, though it hasn’t necessarily been a cakewalk. Two of three wins (vs. Lietuvos Rytas and Tsmoki-Minsk) were exacted at a heavy cost and St. Petersburg needed a big 3rd quarter (27-10) to put away a pesky Torino club on Wednesday (95-84).
CSKA fans know all about Zenit captain Evgeny Voronov from his time on the team in the early 2000s. The tough-minded guard is making an impact on offense in recent games, dropping 15 on Tsmoki-Minsk and 16 on Torino. While the scoring is a pleasant bonus, Zenit will especially need his defense Sunday against Cory Higgins, who spent the 2013-14 season at Triumph under Vasily Karasev and can score in a variety of ways.
As Vasily Karasev said following the win over Lietuvos Rytas, “When Kuric’s shot is falling, he’s almost impossible to guard.” Kuric is shooting at a terrific clip in 2018, scoring 30 against Vilnius, 15 vs. Tsmoki-Minsk and 28 in the win over Torino, which earned him the EuroCup MVP of the Week.
Nando De Colo plays with enviable consistency, an excellent quality for a player of his caliber. The Frenchman was CSKA’s leading scorer in the first three games of 2018 (23 vs. Barcelona, 17 vs. Loko, 24 vs. Milan). Expect fireworks when Kuric and De Colo square off on Sunday.
CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis:
– The team is in good spirits. We played hard in Milan and got back on track after losses to Barcelona and Loko. Zenit is a very serious, dangerous team that has everything: passion, athleticism, fast break scoring. That’s how they score more than 50% of their points–on fast breaks and secondary breaks, and one-on-one offense. They have a lot of shooters–Karasev, Kuric, Simonovic, Harper and the rest. They can play under the basket or drive the lane–Voronov, for example–and create opportunities.
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
– Our biggest concern prior to the game has been recovery. We needed to let the guys rest a little, then we held a couple practices. As for the game itself, we’re going to battle. The biggest thing is giving 100% on defense. Of course, playing against a team like CSKA we need to avoid mistakes whenever possible, because our opponent will capitalize immediately on any miscue.