EuroCup runners-up clash with VTB United League bronze medalists
Basket Hall (capacity 7,500), Krasnodar, Russia
8:00 PM (8:00 MSK), October 5, 2018
Match TV, VTB-League.com
Who’s better prepared for the start of the season?
Both rosters were completely rebuilt during the summer, with both the North and the South signing well-known NBA’ers. One-time NBA swingman Sergey Karasev has been joined by Brandon Jennings, who once put up 40+ points on America’s top teams. Krasnodar, meanwhile, has inked deals with ex-Warrior Dorell Wright and Isaiah Whitehead, who could have played 10-15 minutes per night on virtually any NBA roster.
The signings (which attracted a lot of attention when announced) will have an immediate impact on each team’s playing style. Though Zenit and Lokomotiv will not throw everything out the window when it comes to coaching philosophy, both teams should positively benefit from the changes.
The kings of the North should become more calculating on offense without losing any explosiveness. Meanwhile, the fast break offense, judging by preseason games and the EuroCup season opener, has become even more dangerous. At the same time, the team appears to have found a nice balance on offense, with much of the credit going to Reynolds and Uthoff.
The Southerners, on the other hand, run everything through the defense. Krasnodar knows how to shift tempos, take advantage of its size and maintain strict discipline in order to disrupt an opponent’s game plan. The improved level of individual skill on offense will help to compensate for a certain amount of predictability, common to Obradovic-run offenses. It’s important to note that Obradovic is well aware of this weakness of his, which is why he tried to sign players who are accomplished, reliable specialists. For example, in search of snipers who could stretch the defense and give his forwards space to maneuver, Obradovic turned to established competitors like Fridzon. He took the same approach when signing playmakers, seeking to introduce more unpredictability into the Loko attack.
Face to Face
Loko vs. Zenit, 5-3
These two teams lit up the League with a couple of regular-season classics. On both occasions, the home team came out on top. Krasnodar clawed out an 87-84 win at home thanks to heroics from Mardy Collins, while Karasev and co. were the victors in St. Petersburg, 79-78.
Over the past four seasons, Krasnodar has won five of eight meetings. In 2015, Lokomotiv dominated in a 22-point win. For their part, Zenit’s wins have been hard-fought, never beating the Southerners by more than six points.
Last season’s accomplishments afford both teams a measure of pride, but on the other hand, there’s more work to be done.
Loko was undefeated throughout much of the EuroCup season, winning 20 in a row. But Obradovic’s men came up empty in the championship to Darussafaka. David Blatt led his team to victory and a EuroLeague berth, while the Railwaymen crashed out of the VTB United League playoffs in short order, 3-0 vs. Khimki.
Zenit exited international competition much earlier than Lokomotiv, losing to Reggio Emilia in the first knockout round. As a result, the club threw everything at the domestic league with decent results: St. Petersburg advanced to the Final Four, where it captured bronze over a favored UNICS squad. Looking back, there was a measure of regret. Had Zenit played with the same intensity in the EuroCup, who knows how far they might have advanced.
For Zenit – Evgeny Voronov
The unnoticed (and unfairly overlooked) star of the game could be Zenit’s Evgeny Voronov. The Russian basketball veteran will take the court against his former team, looking to provide reliable, gritty defense. Voronov is skilled at defending opposing guards one-on-one and denying the ball. In doing so, he not only slows the opposing team’s tempo, he also kills time and forces rushed shots. It should be noted that Karasev uses Voronov in short spurts, which Voronov uses to maximum effect, thereby enjoying an outsized impact on the game.
For Lokomotiv – Mateusz Ponitka
It’s harder to find an x-factor on Loko’s roster, given the rotation has not been established yet. But Mateusz Ponitka should be useful no matter where he’s slotted. He’s experienced enough to adapt to a wild card role off the bench, if needed. Playing in the EuroLeague and on the Polish national team has taught him to make an impact in limited time. Ponitka is versatile enough to shoot 40% from beyond the arc (as in recent seasons) and back down a small forward on the blocks. Mateusz can handle a big workload, too. He played 30 minutes a game at Karsiyaka, and never saw his decision-making or ballhandling decline. Plus, he’s very good at communicating his coach’s wishes to the rest of the team, which makes him indispensable as a team player and someone capable of keeping the team on the same page.
Isaiah Whitehead vs. Brandon Jennings
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) September 6, 2018
These two former NBA players are too good to focus only on playmaking and running the attack. Both Whitehead and Jennings will drive the basket, knock down stepbacks and bring the crowd to its feet.
Friday’s game is a chance for a positive first impression and an opportunity to establish themselves as leaders. For the Russian fans, the showdown between Karasev and Kulagin has more intrigue, but these American stars have their own plans for the evening.
The first game of the League’s 10th anniversary season is the perfect time to show what you can do.