Required Viewing: March 24-25

Required Viewing: March 24-25

Six regular season VTB League games will be played on Sunday and Monday.

Sunday, March 24

Enisey Russia – Zenit Russia

Time: 4:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: Arena.Sever, Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Enisey: The Siberians’ playoff hopes suffered a blow with the loss last weekend to three-win PARMA. Now the schedule gets much more difficult, with only one more game remaining against a team beneath Enisey in the standings: Tsmoki-Minsk. At the same time, Oleg Okulov’s men have three games in hand compared to VEF, a team Enisey defeated in the first meeting of the season. 

Zenit: St. Petersburg is back on track, scoring more than 100 points in two straight games. Joan Plaza’s men will be try to extend that streak vs. Enisey and their chances look good. St. Petersburg is 9-0 all-time vs. Krasnoyarsk, while averaging 98 points. The most recent result came in November, when Zenit scored a season-high 116 points. Jalen Reynolds, who’s been unstoppable in recent games, poured in 17 points in 15 minutes. He’s seeing a lot more court time these days. 

Tsmoki-Minsk Belarus – PARMA Russia

Time: 3:00 PM (3:00 MSK)
Place: Falcon Club, Minsk, Belarus

Tsmoki-Minsk: Entering the game as the League’s two worst teams, Tsmoki and PARMA have little to play for. Even with a win, Minsk will remain in last place, so the main motivation is to give the home fans their second win of the season. The Dragons last won in Minsk in December.

PARMA: The Ural club snapped a 10-game losing streak last week and now the longest skid (also 10 games) belongs to their opponent on Sunday. PARMA won the first meeting between these teams thanks to nearly ideal offense: 30 assists and nine turnovers. Both teams had different coaches at the time, so this will be the first meeting between Rostislav Vergun and Viacheslav Shushakov. 

Nizhny Novgorod Russia – Zielona Gora Poland

Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny Novgorod came up empty in its visit to Poland earlier in the season, 80-72. The loss was Nizhny’s fourth in five games at the time, while Zielona Gora was in the mix for a playoff spot. Plenty has changed. Zoran Lukic got his team going and Nizhny has been one of the League’s hottest teams since the New Year, winning nine of its last 11. Despite a bad start to the season, the Russian club has an outside shot at a top-five finish. The team’s most recent win came against red-hot VEF as Kendrick Perry poured in 31 points.

Zielona Gora: Despite seeing its playoff chances fade, Zielona Gora continues to bring in reinforcements in hopes of a strong finish to the season. In addition to Kodi Justice and Michael Humphrey, who joined from PARMA, the Poles added 36-year-old veteran Thomas Kelati, the ex-Khimki forward. Kelati played for Zielona Gora from 2016-2018 and now he’ll make his debut for the Poles in the United League. 

VEF Latvia – UNICS Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Arena Riga, Riga, Latvia

VEF: Riga’s remarkable winning streak helped them escape the cellar and rejoin the playoff race. But Nizhny Novgorod’s aggressive press kept VEF from winning its sixth in a row. Of the three teams competing for 8th place (Kalev, Avtodor, VEF), Riga appears to have the worst odds, having already played 22 games. With four games remaining, two are against significant favorites (Lokomotiv and UNICS). 

UNICS: The past week featured very mixed results for UNICS. Kazan took down Lokomotiv-Kuban once again to hold onto 2nd place in the League and keep Khimki at arm’s length. The EuroCup semifinals were a different story. Dimitris Priftis and co. lost to Valencia twice and were eliminated from the competition. The team is also dealing with injuries. Errick McCollum picked up a serious injury vs. the Spaniards and the UNICS scoring leader is expected to miss several weeks. Jamar Smith is also banged up. Nonetheless, UNICS remains the favorite vs. VEF. Kazan is second behind CSKA when it comes to defense on the road (75.3 points allowed per game).

Monday, March 25

Avtodor Russia – CSKA Russia

Time: 7:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
TV: Match! Strana

Avtodor: Expect a lot of offense when Saratov and Moscow take the court. Both teams are ranked in the top three for offense (92.7 ppg for CSKA and 90.1 ppg for Avtodor). The Volga club’s issue is that despite an ability to score points in a hurry, none of its coaches this season have been able to implement an effective defense. Saratov remains the worst defensive team in the league, trailing even last-place Minsk at 93.6 points allowed per game. CSKA’s offense will likely feast on Monday. Avtodor gave up a season-high 110 points in the previous meeting between these teams. 

CSKA: The Red and Blue are playing at an extremely high level, picking up back-to-back wins against top-four EuroLeague teams Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahce. Cory Higgins was the hero vs. Fenerbahce, scoring several clutch baskets down the stretch. He was also terrific in the November win over Avtodor, though the team was led by young Russian Mikhail Kulagin, who scored 20 points. But Kulagin is out with an injury, making Higgins a likely candidate to be the X-factor vs. Avtodor. He’s scored in double digits in all but one of his last five United League games. 

Khimki Russia – Astana Kazakhstan

Time: 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK)
Place: BCMO, Khimki, Russia

Khimki: Moscow Region enters the game with Astana on the heels of a disappointing loss in the EuroLeague. On Thursday, Khimki fell to Maccabi, its sixth-straight loss in the European competition. On the other hand, ravaged all season by injuries, Khimki can finally focus its full attention on the United League. Rimas Kurtinaitis’ squad is in good position. CSKA may be impossible to catch, but 2nd-place UNICS is only one game up. Khimki also has a favorable schedule down the stretch with only two games against top-five teams (Astana and Loko), as well as a match-up with Nizhny Novgorod. The rest of the schedule is made up of teams outside of the top-eight. 

Astana: The Kazakh club’s schedule is significantly more challenging. In addition to Khimki, Astana faces meetings with Loko, Zenit and CSKA. Emil Rajkovic’s men will likely play through the paint. Even though Mickey and Thomas make a formidable duo, the visitors have a significant edge in rebounding (Astana ranks second in the League with 36.6 per game). That said, Khimki dominated the glass in the first meeting, grabbing twice as many offensive rebounds. Moscow Region was able to get a win largely thanks to its advantage in second-chance points.