Six games are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday as the VTB United League rings in 2018.
Saturday, January 6
Time: 3:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: SC Velotrek, Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana: In the final game of 2017, Astana failed to keep it close against CSKA, scoring only 63 points. Saturday’s opponent is unlikely to be as stingy. Nizhny favors a run-and-gun style, giving up an average of 86.8 points per game. Of course, the home team still need to take advantage. The Kazakh club doesn’t shoot a very high percentage, including a meager 65.6% from the line.
Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny hasn’t played in the League since December 17, but stayed busy with victories over Kataja in the Europe Cup and Samara in the Russian Cup, ensuring a spot in the semifinals. Despite the victories, Zoran Lukic was critical of his team following the Russian Cup win, saying they didn’t look like a VTB United League-caliber club. Nizhny will try to rise to the challenge against Astana and move ahead of PARMA into 8th place.
Time: 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Arena Riga, Riga, Latvia
VEF: The Latvians are the only team in the League with only one win. VEF will try to change that on Saturday as they host Evgeny Pashutin’s Avtodor. Riga is 4-2 all-time vs. Saratov. The game plan appears simple for VEF: knock down more 3’s and prevent Avtodor from getting into the lane. If Riga can do that, expect the visitors to struggle, especially since the team is not known for its perimeter shooting.
Avtodor: Saratov has gone nearly a month without a game in the VTB United League, last taking the court on December 9 in a loss to Zenit. The Volga club spent the break improving its roster, signing Shaquielle McKissic from Gran Canaria. As Evgeny Pashutin has noted, he’s a perfect fit for Avtodor’s up-tempo offense and packs a punch on the glass, even though he’s not a big man. Rebounding has been a major concern in Saratov with the team ranked last in the League (30.3 per game).
Sunday, January 7
Time: 2:30 PM (2:30 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia
UNICS: Russian clubs were a perfect 3-0 in the EuroCup this week, including UNICS, which earned a hard-fought overtime win vs. Villeurbanne. Head-to-head, UNICS has a clear advantage vs. Enisey, and sits seven spots higher in the standings (3 vs. 10), but don’t forget that Krasnoyarsk came out on top the last time these two teams met. The 2017-18 campaign, however, has not been as kind to Krasnoyarsk and UNICS will be heavily favored at home.
Enisey: Krasnoyarsk snapped its losing streak with a win over PARMA, but went on to lose to Khimki by 30 points in its most recent outing. The offense continues to disappoint. Enisey is last in the League in assists (13 per game). While the ball movement could be better, Enisey is also shooting a paltry 25.6% from beyond the arc as a team, nearly seven percentage points worse than the next-best team in the League.
Time: 2:45 PM (2:45 MSK)
Place: Falcon Club, Minsk, Belarus
Tsmoki-Minsk: Despite its many limitations (last in points scored per game, for example), Minsk is sitting in 7th place with four wins. But taking down Zenit, even at home, is no easy task. The Dragons have never defeated Zenit in the League, losing by an average of nearly 20 points per game.
Zenit: St. Petersburg followed in UNICS and Loko’s footsteps, taking down Lietuvos Rytas in the EuroCup Top 16. Kyle Kuric was the hero in Zenit’s thrilling 98-96 win, scoring a career high 30 points. Zenit has had some trouble on the road, winning only three of five in the League, but will still be favored against Tsmoki-Minsk. Of the home team’s four victories, none have come against a team with a winning record.
Time: 6:00 PM (7:00 MSK)
Place: Saku Suurhall, Tallinn, Estonia
Kalev: Kalev gave up a record 19 3’s against VEF, but somehow managed to escape with the win. On Sunday, the Estonians face much stiffer competition. Kalev and Khimki have met 12 times with Moscow Region boasting a perfect 12-0 record.
Khimki: Georgios Bartzokas and co. rebounded from a slow start in the League, winning on the road against Nizhny and Enisey. 2017 finished on a sour note, however, as Barcelona smoked Moscow Region on the road. It would be a huge surprise, nonetheless, if Khimki went down to defeat in the Estonian capital.
Time: 7:30 PM (7:30 MSK)
Place: USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
CSKA: The weekend finishes in style as the League’s top two teams meet in the capital. CSKA has a perfect 10-0 record entering the showdown, but Thursday’s 13-point defeat to Barcelona in the EuroLeague showed the team is not invincible. The Catalan club limited the Army Men to only 72 points in the win. Smarting from the loss, CSKA could be highly motivated to secure a win in Sunday’s game.
Lokomotiv-Kuban: CSKA and Loko have very similar playing styles, in addition to ranking 1st and 2nd in the standings. CSKA is the only team in the League averaging more than 90 points per game (92.8), while the Railwaymen are the only club giving up less than 70 (68.1). Unlike CSKA, Loko opened 2018 with a victory, suffocating Buducnost in the EuroCup. If Kuban can replicate Barcelona’s performance on defense by slowing down CSKA’s ball movement and dominating the glass (Loko leads the League with 37 per game), they will have a real shot at the upset.