Quarterfinals: UNICS's Power vs. Nizhny's Grit

UNICS Kazan plays Nizhny Novgorod in the playoff quarterfinals.

UNICS, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists
Nizhny Novgorod, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists

Time & Location:
Game 1. Basket Hall, Kazan. 3:00 PM (3:00 PM MSK), April 30, 2016
Game 2. Basket Hall, Kazan. 6:30 PM (6:30 PM MSK), May 2, 2016
Game 3. Nizhny Novgorod Trade Union Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod. 6:30 PM (6:30 PM MSK), May 5, 2016
Game 4 (if necessary). Nizhny Novgorod Trade Union Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod. 2:00 PM (2:00 PM MSK), May 7, 2016
Game 5 (if necessary). Basket Hall, Kazan. May 10, 2016

Match TV (Russia), Match! Nash Sport (Russia), United League TV

Regular Season:
UNICS: 2nd place (25-5)
Nizhny Novgorod: 7th place (17-13)

Face To Face
Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod have met eight times in the VTB United League, with UNICS holding a 6-2 edge.

UNICS took the first meeting in the regular season. Kazan went on a big 3rd-quarter run to go up 20 points and ultimately cruise to a 102-68 victory. Nizhny got revenge at home. Trailing by 14 at halftime, Ainars Bagatskis's club forced overtime then ran away with a 91-81 victory in the extra period.

These teams also met in the Eurocup as UNICS won twice in the Last-32 stage, but both clubs still advanced to the knockout rounds. Looking back, UNICS and Nizhny also met in the group stage of the Euroleague last season. Nizhny swept that series, edging out Kazan for the final spot in the Top 16.

Looking Back

UNICS didn't reach its goals in the Eurocup, but still has a chance to make this a successful season. Everything's just getting started for Kazan. A terrific performance in the regular season helped Evgeny Pashutin's club earn home-court advantage through the first two rounds and avoid a potential matchup with longtime nemesis CSKA until the finals (Kazan also avoids Lokomotiv-Kuban and Khimki). If everything goes according to plan, UNICS will make it to the finals and earn a spot in the Euroleague... But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Kazan should be happy with its positioning, but its first-round opponent poses a huge challenge.

Nizhny is an excellent underdog. Tough and plucky, Nizhny is never afraid of big-time opponents and has picked up a lot of experience in the VTB United League postseason and Euroleague Top 16 in recent seasons. UNICS will be the favorite, but don't expect Nizhny to care. The Black-Whites defeated each of the league's Top 4 at home during the regular season: Loko, UNICS, Khimki and CSKA. During the quarterfinals, Bagatskis's men will try once more to overcome the odds and advance to the next round.

How much production will Nizhny get from its bench?

Nizhny has a very talented starting five where each player is capable of taking over a game, or at least performing at a high level. The issue is that Nizhny is overly reliant on its starters. Early in the season, the club lost Eric Maynor and Maxim Grigoryev to injuries, while Kaspars Berzins made the move to Zenit. Naturally, that had an impact. Nizhny will have a tough time getting by with limited resources against a very familiar opponent. UNICS, on the other hand, has one of the league's deepest rosters, with Quino Colom and Latavious Williams both coming off the bench.

Once the playoffs start, each game is a separate story, often featuring an unexpected hero. The chances that one of Kazan's reserves gets hot during a critical moment are significantly better.

Keith Langford (UNICS) vs. Victor Rudd (Nizhny Novgorod).

Langford led the league in scoring during the regular season and is a contender for the MVP. The star guard can decide the outcome of a game on his own. At times, he only needs a quarter.

Rudd may not have the same accolades, but he's Nizhny's main hope in this series. The Black-Whites' top scorer and most efficient player acquitted himself well in two regular-season meetings with UNICS. He played almost 45 minutes in the win at home, finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three blocks and one steal. Victor won the MVP of the Week award for that performance before going on to be named March MVP. Without Rudd at his best, Nizhny will be hard-pressed to compete with UNICS.

The UNICS and Nizhny leaders won't match up often on the court, but they are likely to be the most important players on the court in the quarterfinals.

Nizhny Novgorod's play in Kazan.

Much will depend on Games 1 and 2 in Kazan. Nizhny Novgorod's famous upset of Khimki in the 2014 quarterfinals began with two road wins in Moscow Region. That gave the Black-Whites a huge boost of confidence and set the tone for the series. It will be important for Nizhny to win one game at the Basket Hall. If not, the seven seed will likely have a difficult time overturning a 2-0 series deficit to win three straight, including Game 5 in Kazan.

Interesting Facts
- UNICS has three players on the roster who recently suited up for Nizhny Novgorod: Artsiom Parakhouski, Vadim Panin and Petr Gubanov.
- Colom (UNICS) and Rudd (Nizhny Novgorod) led their teams in scoring in both meetings this season.
- UNICS had a much better road record during the regular season, going 12-3 to Nizhny's 5-10.

UNICS head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
- During the first stage of the playoffs, we face Nizhny Novgorod, a team that's become a big rival for UNICS in recent seasons. Our battles in the VTB United League and Euroleague laid the foundation for the Volga derby. 7th place in the standings doesn't reflect Nizhny's full strength. The team defeated each of the league favorites at home. We'll have to rely on our defense and control the paint in order to get by Nizhny Novgorod.

Nizhny Novgorod head coach Ainars Bagatskis:
- We know UNICS very well, like they know us, so we're not likely to surprise each other. Kazan has been consistent all season long and demonstrated quality basketball. For our part, we have nothing to lose, which is why we need to enjoy the game and execute our plan. It's important to be very careful against UNICS. Otherwise, any mistake will turn into points for our opponent. If we can minimize our mistakes and slow down Langford, the series should go well for us.

- This will be a very interesting matchup, - says 2007 EuroBasket champion Nikita Morgunov. - The UNICS - Nizhny Novgorod series is technically a meeting between the two and seven seeds, as well as clubs with different budgets and rosters. But Nizhny has defeated each of the league's top teams, including CSKA, Khimki and Loko, which is why Kazan shouldn't expect an easy trip to Nizhny Novgorod. Despite finishing 2nd, UNICS stumbled a bit down the stretch, and there are a lot of questions for the players and coachings staff. It's tough to predict the outcome of this series, but I think it will go down to a Game 5. Watch the games and enjoy!

Team Stats:

Nizhny Novgorod
88.9 Points 84.1
23.6/41.9 (56.4%) 2-pointers 20.1/37.7 (53.3%)
8.7/22.2 (39.0%) 3-pointers 9.4/26.6 (35.2%)
15.6/21.3 (73.1%) Free throws 15.9/19.6 (80.8%)
38.7 Rebounds 36.4
20.6 Assists 20.3
10.9 Turnovers 13.3
6.6 Steals 4.9
2.3 Blocks 3.0
20.5 Fouls 22.5

Player Stats:

Nizhny Novgorod
Keith Langford (21.0) Points Victor Rudd (16.4)
Latavious Williams (6.6) Rebounds Victor Rudd (7.3)
Quino Colom (6.4) Assists Dmitry Khvostov (5.9)
Keith Langford (1.1) Steals Evgeny Baburin (1.2)
Artsiom Parakhouski (0.8) Blocks Semyon Antonov (0.9)