7 Stories To Watch In March And April

Less than two months remain in the VTB United League regular season, but there's still plenty to be decided. Can Krasny Oktyabr make a run at the postseason? Will UNICS and Zenit remain in the top three and can Khimki climb the standings? Who will finish where in the top eight and what will the bottom of the standings look like? Who's going to win the MVP?

VTB-League.com brings you the seven biggest stories as the regular season winds down.

UNICS in 2nd Place?

Finishing in the top two means home-court advantage through the playoff semifinals. CSKA Moscow has nearly clinched a top-two finish, boasting a six-game lead over 3rd-place Zenit. UNICS is also likely to hold onto 2nd place, but there's still plenty of basketball to be played. Zenit has lost just four games (Kazan has three defeats) and could close the gap quickly in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Lokomotiv-Kuban lurks in 4th, 3.5 games back after getting upset in Nizhny Novgorod. Kazan also has a tough schedule, with five of its six remaining games to be played on the road with the only home game coming against Krasnodar. It's going to take a strong finish to protect a top-two seed.

Zenit in the Top Four?

Zenit is one of the teams chasing UNICS, but finds itself in a unique circumstance due to competing in both the Eurocup and Russian Cup. St. Petersburg has played just 18 games in the VTB United League, 3-5 games fewer than the rest of the league, with CSKA, UNICS, Lokomotiv-Kuban and Khimki remaining on the schedule. Even worse, Zenit went 0-4 against these four clubs earlier in the season, losing big most of the time. Vasily Karasev's club needs to take its play to the next level if it wants to stay in the top-four and enjoy home-court advantage in the quarterfinals.

Turnaround for Khimki?

Khimki was ranked in the top-three for much of the regular season, before a four-game losing streak dropped the club to 6th! The skid included defeats to Nizhny Novgorod and Avtodor, two teams that are now nipping at Moscow Region's heels in the standings.

The club responded by firing long-time head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis and replacing him with Montenegrin legend Dusko Ivanovic. The change should have a major impact on the team. Ivanovic is known for his strict approach and ability to instill discipline on the court.

It's difficult, however, to predict how Moscow Region's star-studded roster will respond. Khimki could catch fire and climb the standings or continue to struggle and drop even further. The club has little margin for error. A poor finish to the season means no home-court advantage in the postseason and a tough first-round opponent.

5th-8th up for Grabs

The battle for 5th-8th in the standings promises to be good. The trio of Avtodor, Nymburk and Nizhny Novgorod (currently 6th-8th) is capable of surprising and possibly catching either Zenit or Khimki in the race for playoff positioning.

It's difficult to predict how it will all shake out. Nymburk and Nizhny Novgorod have one more win than Avtodor, but Saratov has played three extra games on the schedule. The difficulty of the remaining calendar is roughly the same for each team. Whichever team can be more consistent down the stretch is likely to come out on top and possibly even sneak into 4th or 5th.

Krasny Oktyabr's Playoff Hopes?

The league's top eight teams have opened up a significant gap on the rest of the field, with only Krasny Oktyabr remaining in contention for a playoff berth. Yesterday's loss in Tallinn, however, dealt a serious blow to Volgograd's postseason hopes. The club now trails Nymburk and Nizhny Novgorod by four games with six games remaining. With games against Khimki, Lokomotiv-Kuban and UNICS looming on the schedule, Oktyabr's chances are slim, but not completely gone. Kirill Bolshakov's club has already shown a penchant for shocking comebacks and still has an opportunity to get back in the hunt.

Divvying up the Bottom Eight

The teams at the bottom of the standings may have little, if any, hope of reaching the postseason, but that doesn't mean there's nothing left to play for. Each team's final position will determine the amount of prize money it receives from the league, an excellent stimulus to finish strong.

There's also personal pride at stake. Enisey would love to catch Krasny Oktyabr and avoid finishing last among the Russian teams. The league's non-Russian teams--Bisons, Kalev, VEF, Tsmoki-Minsk and Astana--could also make some noise down the stretch. Given that just two games separate 10th from 15th, the competition should be fierce in the final month and a half.

Who's the MVP?

Keith Langford of UNICS is enjoying a terrific season. Kazan's American guard has a healthy lead in the scoring race (21.8 ppg) and is likely the top contender at present for the MVP. But several other players could push Langford for the award, including CSKA guard Nando De Colo and Lokomotiv-Kuban center Anthony Randolph.

De Colo has played very well in the spotlight, taking over for CSKA in the biggest games to will his team to victory. Based on minutes per game, the Frenchman leads the league in points scored and efficiency rating (if De Colo played a full 40 minutes per game, he'd average 30 points and a 34 efficiency rating).

Randolph is 2nd behind De Colo in productivity. The Loko forward has been magnificent in recent wins over CSKA and Khimki, leading Kuban back to the top four in the standings.

In the end, the MVP award will depend both on individual performances and how the final standings shake out. Which star player can lead his team to a strong finish in the regular season?