Must-See Games In The Upcoming Season

The VTB United League has published the 2016-17 calendar, starting the countdown for the regular season. The schedule consists of 180 games and includes a number of high-profile games that will highlight the league's depth and attract attention from around Europe.

Exclusive for VTB-League.com, Dmitry Gerchikov breaks down this season's must-see games in the VTB United League.

October 2

UNICS Kazan - Nizhny Novgorod

Fans get an early look at a rebuilt Nizhny squad in the opening game of the season, as the Volga club begins life without Ainars Bagatskis. The changes made by Arturs Stalbergs during the offseason promise to preserve the Black-Whites pesky competitive spirit and role as scrappy underdog, even if the roster no longer features players from Nizhny's Superleague beginnings. Matching up against the Black-Whites in the Volga derby will be a dangerous, ambitious UNICS team. Kazan would like to avoid a repeat of last season's opener, when the club suffered a shock defeat to Tsmoki-Minsk at home.

2nd Game: February 16

October 8

Parma Perm - Kalev Tallinn

Debuting in the VTB United League, Parma is bringing big-time basketball back to Perm. This will be a big event for both the region and the nation, given the traditions that were established here in past decades. Kalev, entering the season with a modest budget, will be the first to visit. Expect a hard-fought game and an unpredictable outcome. Kalev is known for its canny scouting and didn't release any of its veteran core to play on the national team this summer. As a result, the Estonians should be in excellent shape entering the battle in Perm.

2nd Game: January 26

October 23

Khimki - Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar

This is the first heavyweight matchup of the 2016-17 season. These two teams have long battled for the #2 spot in the League, and dream of knocking CSKA Moscow from the throne. The Yellow-Blues did it once, but Krasnodar has yet to capture a title. The game also features two elite European coaches: Montenegrin Dusko Ivanovic and Grecian Fotios Katsikaris. Prepare for an exquisite tactical showdown on both ends of the court.

2nd Game: February 24

October 23

Avtodor Saratov - Zenit St. Petersburg

Two of the league's most Russian-centric teams will meet to determine which club has found a better approach to developing young talent. Vasily Karasev, who knows a thing or two about nurturing prospects, received a big boost this summer with the return of his son Sergey from the NBA. The addition of the former Brooklyn Net will largely compensate for the team's offseason departures. Avtodor has once again engineered a rebuild in hopes of finding a coach who can help a young, intriguing squad reach its full potential. Given that opposing teams always find it tough to play in Saratov, I'm going to predict a hotly-contested matchup.

2nd Game: February 12

November 6

Khimki - UNICS Kazan

These two Russian clubs will have already begun European competition by the time they meet in the VTB United League and it will be interesting to see which team is better rested entering the showdown. Evgeny Pashutin is known to favor a short rotation; don't expect changes this season. With Euroleague expectations high, how will the Kazan coach keep his leaders fresh, given the busy calendar? Khimki will have an advantage, playing at home in the front of the Moscow Region fans. While it's still the regular season, this is a great chance for Khimki to show UNICS that it deserved Tatarstan's spot in the Euroleague.

2nd Game: February 13

December 4

Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar - CSKA Moscow

The Euroleague bronze medalists take on the champions in a rematch of last season's Euroleague semifinals. Moscow cruised to victory six months earlier in Berlin, going on to win the title. The Red-Greens ended up in 3rd place, though an early elimination from the VTB United League playoffs left a bit of a bad taste. Not surprisingly, Loko will be gunning for revenge in the Krasnodar Basket Hall. Given that the Railwaymen aspire in many ways to copy CSKA's winning approach, this should be a thrilling game.

2nd Game: February 19

December 18

CSKA Moscow - Khimki

Only two teams have ever won the VTB United League and they meet once more in Moscow's USH a few days before Christmas. For Russian basketball fans, it doesn't get better than CSKA vs. Khimki. The rivalry draws comparisons to other famous European derbies: Oly vs. Pao in Greece, Real vs. Barca in Spain, Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce in Turkey... Thankfully, our showdown doesn't feature the same extracurricular fan activity, but it's going to be heated on the court, especially with Alexey Shved and James Augustine facing their former teams.

2nd Game: March 27

December 22

VEF (Latvia) - Kalev (Estonia)

This isn't the most obvious choice for Russian fans, but the Baltic rivalry has developed nicely in the League, especially on the court. Last season, both teams won away from home, while the 2014-15 campaign featured a bitter battle for the final playoff spot, though Astana ultimately squeaked in with a late surge. The first meeting of the season will draw extra attention, and help to demonstrate the level of talent in the League's foreign teams.

2nd Game: March 27

January 8

Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar - UNICS Kazan

Fotios Katsikaris vs. Evgeny Pashutin: fans will remember this coaching duel from the 2012-13 season. The Grecian was in charge of Bilbao, while Pashutin had the job at Lokomotiv. They met in the Eurocup final, where the Railwaymen came out on top. Both men have also served as head coach of the Russian national team. Not surprisingly, this matchup between VTB United League elites will be viewed primarily as a showdown between coaches. We should also note that Lokomotiv and UNICS have traded spots in the Euroleague in recent seasons, adding a bit to the tension between the clubs.

2nd Game: April 10

January 16

UNICS Kazan - CSKA Moscow

Evgeny Pashutin once coached the Army Men and even reached the Euroleague Final Four with CSKA. But he wasn't able to convince the CSKA management to sign him to a long-term contract. It's been years since his departure, but the past continues to be brought up whenever he faces his former club. January's game is another chance for Pashutin to prove the Army Men wrong. Kazan's status as Euroleague participant, the only other Russian club in the competition alongside CSKA, will bolster his case.

2nd Game: February 26

February 14

VTB United League All-Star Game

The League will host its first-ever All-Star Game in mid-February. Given the impressive starpower in the League, it was a no-brainer to organize a game for the fans that would seek to wow and to entertain. And with fewer dates on the regular-season schedule, the League finally had a window to make it happen. Expect an exciting, captivating day of basketball on Valentine's Day 2017.

April 23

Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar - Tsmoki-Minsk Belarus

While an unlikely pick to make this list, Lokomotiv-Kuban and Tsmoki-Minsk will close out the 2016-17 regular season. Plus, Minsk is always dangerous in the final months of the season. Last year, Tsmoki took down Nizhny Novgorod, and once toppled Zalgiris Kaunas to help stave off elimination from the League. Spring is also when playoff basketball heats up. It's entirely possible that Loko could be focused on Eurocup competition and give the Dragons an extra chance at an upset.

Dmitry Gerchikov