Man vs. System: UNICS Battles Khimki

Man vs. System: UNICS Battles Khimki

UNICS Kazan hosts Khimki Moscow Region in a regular season showdown.

Basket Hall (capacity 7,000), Kazan, Russia

1:00 PM (1:00 MSK), December 3, 2017

Match TV,

Looking Back

Face to Face
This rivalry between elite Russian teams has a rich history. Take the 2010-11 season, for example, when Khimki and UNICS played nine times, including a meeting in the VTB United League semifinals. Moscow Region won that game in Kazan and went on to defeat CSKA for its only League championship. 

Incredibly, the memorable Final Four match-up in 2011 was the last time these two teams met in the League postseason. Perhaps the return of the Final Four format in 2018 will result in a long-awaited rematch? 

Last year, Khimki won big twice in the regular season (87-70, 98-73). Overall, Moscow Region leads the series, 8-5.

For years, Kazan’s offense ran strictly through Keith Langford, On Sunday, the roles will be reversed. Dimitris Priftis has much a brought much more team-centric approach in Tatarstan, whereas Moscow Region is often heavily reliant on Alexey Shved for offense. 

Look at Khimki’s most recent game vs. Zenit. Shved poured in a career-best 34 points, but needed 23 shots to do so and wasn’t able to lead Khimki to victory. That’s an extreme example, but it’s obvious that Shved’s play will largely dictate his team’s approach and success on the offensive end, especially when Khimki brought in a mostly new roster over the summer and is currently without star forward Thomas Robinson. That’s been the case for Khimki ever since signing Shved. The same dynamics were also evident during Russia’s run at EuroBasket 2017, as well as in the win over Bamberg in the EuroLeague, after which Andrea Trinchieri called Shved a killer. Expect more of the same in Kazan.

New UNICS boss Dimitris Priftis demands his team share the ball and five players are currently scoring in double digits for the Tatar club. The team does a good job of executing the game plan, moving the ball, helping everyone get involved and utilizing a wide array of weapons. The strategy worked earlier in the season vs. Zenit and Lokomotiv-Kuban and UNICS remains one of only two unbeaten teams in the League (also CSKA). Khimki, on the other hand, already has two losses and ranks 5th in the standings.

Balance of Power
UNICS started strong this season, but hasn’t played in an official game since November 15. Kazan was forced to schedule an exhibition vs. PARMA, but rust could be a legitimate concern for the White-Greens. That, and the prospect of guarding Alexey Shved. Khimki, on the other hand, was able to stay sharp thanks to EuroLeague competition. The club has struggled some in recent weeks, losing back-to-back games in the EuroLeague to Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce, as well as the setback vs. Zenit. But a win over Bamberg on Thursday was encouraging and could continue in Kazan on Sunday. One concern is Stefan Markovic’s ankle injury, but it will hopefully heal quickly.

While Khimki searches for a replacement for Thomas Robinson, UNICS already inked Maurice Ndoure to a season-long deal following Kostas Kaimakoglou’s injury. The Senegal native has experience in Europe with Real Madrid, and appeared in 32 games for the Knicks last season. People in Kazan are convinced the versatile big man will give the team a big boost. With the crowd roaring on Sunday, Ndoure will look to enjoy a comfortable win at home in his debut. 

Familiar Faces
Dimitris Priftis and Georgios Bartzokas are both Greek coaches. They know each other well from the Greek league, where they regularly played in the early 2000s. Each have also received Best Coach of the Year honors. 

Priftis and Barzokas have very similar philosophies–attention to detail, defense first and discipline–though Bartzokas has a much longer list of accomplishments. This will be their first meeting in Russia, however. Hungry for success, Priftis is ready to add a new chapter to the rivalry. 

Worth Noticing
Quino Colom earned a call-up to the Spanish national team, which recently played several tough games in FIBA 2019 World Cup qualifying. Colom led his team in scoring, putting up 25 points and nine rebounds. Colom returns to Kazan as a Spanish national hero. He’d love to keep it going on Sunday.

UNICS head coach Dimitris Prifits:
– This will be a truly tough game against a EuroLeague opponent. We need to play our best in order to be competitive and have a chance to win. We need to maximize our focus, especially on Khimki’s defense, which takes advantage of the team’s athleticism. We need to learn how to be our best. I think it will be a very tough game.

Khimki head coach Georgios Bartzokas: 
– We have a tough road game ahead vs. UNICS. They have a good team with an excellent coach and plenty of time to prepare for this game. We only had one day. We have some issues with the roster too. Markovic turned his ankle and won’t fly with us to Mt. Washington. We expect him to be back for the next game, but we are confident in our strengths and plan to give 100% to win.