Required Viewing: December 1-4

Required Viewing: December 1-4

Six VTB United League games are scheduled for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Friday, December 1

Zenit Russia – Enisey Russia

Time: 7:00 PM (7:00 MSK)
Place: SC Yubileyniy, St. Petersburg, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport

Zenit: After a triumphant outcome vs. Khimki, several Zenit players headed out on national team duty–Kyle Kuric debuted for Slovakia and Sergey Karasev helped Russia take down Belgium. Overall, St. Petersburg sent five players to national teams, nearly half its squad. As a result, Vasily Karasev had only one full day of practice prior to Friday’s game, unlike Enisey, which enjoyed a full week of preparation.

Enisey: Krasnoyarsk has a chance to steal a page from Zenit’s playbook and push the tempo and drive to the bucket. Enisey could be in trouble if it can’t outrun its fatigued opponents. It won’t be easy to outshoot Zenit, given Enisey currently ranks last in three-point shooting and assists. Krasnoyarsk averages only 12.8 dimes per game vs. 19.5 per outing from Zenit. 

Saturday, December 2

Avtodor Russia – Nizhny Novgorod Russia

Time: 2:00 PM (1:00 MSK)
Place: Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport

Avtodor: Saratov’s Kristall Sports Palace will host the Volga derby on Saturday. It should be a high-scoring affair. Last season, Nizhny Novgorod put up 110 points in Saratov, though the home team’s defense is in better hands now. Evgeny Pashutin won his VTB United League coaching debut for Avtodor a couple weeks ago and is working hard to restore the team’s confidence after an extended losing streak.

Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny’s blowout win over Kalev last week both led to Alar Varrak’s firing in Estonia (Donaldas Kairys takes over at Kalev) and helped the Russian club climb to 8th in the standings. Nizhny shot an extremely high percentage (64%) in the game, while Jake Odum enjoyed a big debut. Of course, Zoran Lukic’s club still has issues–rebounding, for one. Avtodor, however, also struggles on the glass, with both teams ranking near the bottom of the league despite boasting elite rebounders in Coty Clarke and Stefan Jelovac. 

Lokomotiv-Kuban Russia – Tsmoki-Minsk Belarus

Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia

Lokomotiv-Kuban: Five players earned call-ups to the Russian national team, complicating the club’s preparations for Tsmoki. That may give Minsk a slight edge, but Loko is still the League’s top defensive team at home (70.3 points allowed per game). The Belarusians also struggle on the road, averaging less than 70 points per game, worst in the League.

Tsmoki-Minsk: The Dragons may have lost 10 straight to Kuban, but bring a skilled, balanced roster to Krasnodar on Saturday. Tsmoki recently scored 91 on the road in a win over Nizhny and erased a 14-point deficit to Avtodor, before losing on a Brendan Frazier buzzer-beater. Alexander Krutikov’s men are shooting at a higher percentage in recent games, though not at the free-throw line, where Minsk ranks last in the League. 

Sunday, December 3

UNICS Russia – Khimki Russia

Time: 1:00 PM (1:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia
TV: Match TV

UNICS: Kazan made a big pick-up earlier in the week, inking ex-NBA and Real Madrid big man Maurice Ndour to replace an injured Kostas Kaimakoglou. Given Khimki’s health issues in the frontcourt, the home team could have an advantage down low. UNICS is already in the top three in offensive rebounding (Khimki ranks last), which could lead to plenty of second-chance opportunities. That was one of the keys to victory vs. Avtodor–29 of Kazan’s 89 points came after offensive rebounds.

Khimki: Moscow Region received bad news a few days ago–one of the EuroLeague’s top rebounders, Thomas Robinson, will miss several months to injury. Georgios Bartzokas won’t have an easy time replacing him. Khimki was able to take down Bamberg in the EuroLeague on Thursday, showcasing its depth and resilience. Tyler Honeycutt is finally back and looked great in his return vs. Bamberg. As for Robinson, big man Marko Todorovic will try to compensate for his absence.

PARMA Russia – VEF Latvia

Time: 5:30 PM (3:30 MSK)
Place: Molot Universal Sports Palace, Perm, Russia

PARMA: Despite only one victory, Perm has kept it close in almost every game. After playing CSKA and Lokomotiv-Kuban tight, PARMA would love to reward the home fans with a first-ever VTB United League win in the Molot. The Siberians have an edge in most statistical categories against VEF and are coached by former Riga boss Nikolajs Mazurs. Watch for Ivan Ukhov, who’s on cloud nine after earning a call-up to the Russian national team last week, to have an impact.

VEF: Riga does have options. The Latvians are an excellent three-point shooting team, averaging 38.5% vs. 31.3% from PARMA. VEF also took advantage of the national team window, improving its backcourt by bringing in sniper Corey Hawkins, son of former Sonics star Hershey Hawkins. 

Monday, December 4

CSKA Russia – Kalev Estonia

Time: 7:30 PM (7:30 MSK)
Place: USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia

CSKA: As always, CSKA is dealing with a busy schedule. Kalev visits only three days after a showdown with Barcelona in the EuroLeague. But CSKA shouldn’t have any trouble taking care of business on Monday. All-time, CSKA is 8-0 vs. Kalev with an average margin of victory of nearly 30 points. One week ago, despite playing without Mikhail Kulagin, Vitaly Fridzon and Semyon Antonov, the Army Men were able to take down Unicaja in the EuroLeague. That kind of depth will likely be the difference against Kalev.

Kalev: There’s been serious upheaval in Tallinn. Alar Varrak is out after five years in Tallinn, replaced by Donaldas Kairys, who has experience at several Russian clubs, as well as one season in charge of Tsmoki-Minsk. Kalev has largely disappointed this season, with the exception of a hard-fought win over Astana sparked by Isaiah Briscoe, and management decided drastic measures were needed to facilitate a turnaround.