The League’s 10th season opens this weekend with eight games.
Friday, October 5
Enisey Russia – CSKA Russia
Time: 7:10 PM (3:10 MSK)
Place: Arena.Sever, Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Enisey: Head coach Oleg Okulov posted a motivational picture on social media prior to the first game of the season and it appears Krasnoyarsk is serious about challenging the reigning champions. This will also be a good chance to evaluate Enisey’s progress. Several talented foreign players with serious weapons on offense have joined the team and by all reports there’s good chemistry already in the locker room. The Siberian club will also be playing at home.
CSKA: The reigning champions fly east as heavy favorites, but without a complete roster. Mikhail Kulagin and Cory Higgins are injured, while Joel Bolomboy is waiting to resolve a passport issue. But everyone else on the team is ready to go. De Colo, Rodriguez and Hunter pack a serious punch and should help deliver a win on the road.
VEF Latvia – Khimki Russia
Time: 7:30 PM (7:30 MSK)
Place: Arena Riga, Riga, Latvia
VEF: Riga has always punched above its weight, despite a modest budget. Talented coaching and a gritty approach to the game have made VEF one of the League’s most dangerous teams. Khimki will face a hostile welcome on Friday in the Latvian capital, especially since VEF appears to be firing on all cylinders to start the season, picking up a pair of blowout wins in their domestic league.
Khimki: Moscow Region made significant changes in the offseason. But Alexey Shved remains the cornerstone of Georgios Bartzokas’ system. Unfortunately for the Greek boss, Shved missed most of the preseason due to national team action. The team will likely need more time to become acquainted. Expect the Yellow and Blue to improve as the season progresses, but early on Khimki may be at risk of an upset or two.
Lokomotiv-Kuban Russia – Zenit Russia
Time: 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia
TV: Match TV, VTB-League.com
Lokomotiv-Kuban: Krasnodar made perhaps the biggest waves in the offseason and now it’s time for the team to live up to the hype. The southern club struggled in its EuroCup debut, scraping by Polish minnows Gdynia. But for a team that replaced two-thirds of the roster, a sluggish beginning is to be expected.
Zenit: St. Petersburg also shook things up over the summer, so don’t expect a brilliant display of basketball on Friday. But a runaway victory over Turk Telekom in the EuroCup provides optimism. The team likes to push the tempo and the newcomers are gradually adjusting to the style of play. Brandon Jennings may not need much time at all. The ex-NBA star nearly recorded a triple-double in his first official game: 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists.
Sunday, October 7
Astana Kazakhstan – CSKA Russia
Time: 2:00 PM (11:00 MSK)
Place: SC Velotrek, Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana: The Yellow and Blue have tied their fortunes to their new head coach, Emil Rajkovic, who has a reputation for getting the maximum out of his roster. As in recent years, Astana did not make any big moves in the summer. CSKA is a tough draw to open the season, but the experience should help identify the team’s weaknesses.
CSKA: For any other team, back-to-back road games in Krasnoyarsk and Astana would be a brutal punishment. But this has become a well-worn path for the Army Men. Over the past two seasons, CSKA has cruised through the eastern road trip. Once again, they will be focused on picking up a pair of wins, helping the new signings adjust and preparing for EuroLeague competition.
Tsmoki-Minsk Belarus – Stelmet Zielona Gora Poland
Time: 4:30 PM (4:30 MSK)
Place: Minsk Arena, Minsk, Belarus
Tsmoki-Minsk: The game in Minsk promises to be one of the best of the weekend. The Dragons have already defeated one Polish club at home: Torun in Champions League qualifying. Tsmoki’s stars played well in the victory and the home team would like to extend its streak on Sunday.
Stelmet Zielona Gora: Last season, Zielona Gora lost a third-place playoff series with Torun in the Polish league. So don’t expect the League newcomers to underestimate their Belarusian opponents. The Polish visitors are stronger on paper, but will have to prove it on the court. It won’t be easy, especially since there may be some nerves surrounding the team’s VTB League debut.
Nizhny Novgorod Russia – Kalev Estonia
Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: Trade Union Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny has already battled through three rounds of Champions League qualifying and will be playing its third game in a week when it takes on Kalev. The schedule has taken a toll on the roster. Even before the final Champions League qualifier, players and coaches voiced concerns about the team’s physical condition. The situation is unlikely to improve by Sunday, which means Zoran Lukic’s men will need to grit this one out.
Kalev: The Estonians look like a team that will run and gun and rely on athletic ability, first and foremost. Kalev began the season with wins over Ventspils (97-85) and Liepaja (97-57), giving the fans reason for optimism. The Baltic club will be hunting for a win, led by the experienced Branko Mirkovic and a group of explosive foreign players headed up by Ivan Almeida.
UNICS Russia – Avtodor Russia
Time: 6:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
UNICS: With Quino Colom’s departure, Kazan will need to make some adjustments to its halfcourt offense. But the Greens will compensate with increased athleticism. Led by Americans Smith, Henry and McCollum, the backcourt will be more explosive and dynamic on the attack, and potentially stronger defensively. The schedule brings Avtodor knocking to open the season on Sunday.
Avtodor: Saratov won’t be afraid to run with UNICS on offense. It’s likely the visitors’ only shot at a win. Champions League qualifying exposed the team’s roster issues and struggles in the halfcourt. On the other hand, Avtodor’s signature helter-skelter style already looks quite dangerous. Expect to the visitors to push the tempo over the weekend in Kazan.
Monday, October 8
Enisey Russia – Khimki Russia
Time: 7:10 PM (3:10 MSK)
Place: Arena.Sever, Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Enisey: By the time Khimki arrives in town, Krasnoyarsk will have already tackled CSKA. Moscow Region will be another chance to see whether or not Enisey is ready for the season. Krasnoyarsk signed high-scoring, dynamic players in the offseason and fans will expect an exciting, high-octane performance by the second game of the season.
Khimki: Moscow Region will need to quickly adjust to a hectic schedule. Khimki opens the season on Friday in Riga, before traveling east to play Enisey on Monday. But the players should be rested and in good shape to enter the season, which may neutralize Enisey’s home-court advantage. As far as talent is concerned, Alexey Shved and co. have significantly more options than their opponents, which should be the decisive factor in this game.