Lev Tigai's Blog: Don't Expect A 3-0 In The Semifinals

It's a bit awkward to follow an Expert Opinion blog post from someone as respected in the basketball world as Stanislav Eremin (we've known each other for 25 years and Stanislav Georgievich was one of the first, if not the very first, interview of mine with someone famous to be published), but there's nowhere for me to hide. Given that I gave my predictions for the quarterfinals, it wouldn't be right to switch things up this time. It'd be like asking to be replaced because of an injury after missing the first of two free throws. Even poor Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce didn't stoop to that level, despite missing nine of ten free throws against CSKA in Sunday's Euroleague final in Berlin.

So, let's talk about the semifinals. One starts today in Kazan, while the other begins tomorrow in Moscow. Prior to breaking down each of the series, we should take some time to look back at the previous round.

Let's be honest, we expected more from the quarterfinals. There were some interesting games (take Nymburk, which gave CSKA a scare twice in Moscow), but there's no hiding that each series ended 3-0. Lokomotiv-Kuban's controversial, to put it lightly, strategy was especially disheartening. One leader, Anthony Randolph, only played 17 minutes against Khimki, while Malcolm Delaney didn't see a single minute. As a result, Krasnodar ended up losing to Moscow Region and came home from the Final Four without a championship, despite resting for that competition. The season ended prematurely for the team.

That said, Loko's real problems began earlier, during the regular season. The Railwaymen finished only 5th, despite being in the top three much of the season. Everything was decided by the final game in St. Petersburg against Zenit, which was rescheduled for the end of April and took place two days after the end of the Euroleague series with Barcelona. Krasnodar had nothing left for Zenit, dropping from 3rd to 5th, and ended up with a murderous draw. What happened next was simply the result of that defeat, a chain reaction, if you will.

Obviously, this was an unusual situation. Except for CSKA, none of our clubs have dealt with such serious competition on two fronts in April and May. But you can't ignore the planning mistakes made by Krasnodar this season, with all due respect to the team's brilliant achievements on the European stage...

That said, you can't mess up if you don't try. The most important thing is to not repeat the same mistakes in the future. Experience is something you learn. CSKA is a great example: the Army Men's management, as it turned out, foresaw the busy nature of the European calendar and worked with its opponents and the league to reschedule several spring games. The club then went 3-0 vs. Nymburk in the quarterfinals, while Lokomotiv suffered a 3-0 defeat vs. Khimki.

I hope there won't be any 3-0 series in the semifinals. It doesn't look like there will be, either. Let's move to the predictions.

UNICS - Zenit: 3-1

Kazan has a stronger roster, of course, but the offense is a little too dependent on the league's leading scorer, Keith Langford. Also, Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev has demonstrated his inventiveness before in preparing various defensive traps. St. Petersburg, after all, bounced back convincingly from a big loss in Kazan early in the season, winning at home by 24 in April. Langford struggled in that game, scoring only 10 points on 3-10 shooting.

But Kazan boss Evgeny Pashutin is a highly-respected defensive tactician and will likely make life miserable for Zenit sniper Ryan Toolson. The duel between Janis Timma (Zenit) and Kostas Kaimakoglou (UNICS) could also be quite interesting, though it's possible the coaches will separate the two forwards to avoid a direct matchup on the court.

You can't underestimate the Euroleague factor, either. A berth in the competition is potentially at stake. Kazan has been there before and would love to return, while Zenit probably isn't ready for that trial, at least not in its current condition.

But even if UNICS makes the VTB United League finals, the team will only qualify for the Euroleague if CSKA also makes it to the finals.

CSKA - Khimki: 3-1

It's not easy taking on Europe's strongest club without home-court advantage, but Khimki had two weeks to prepare and will have no trouble getting motivated. Expect Khimki to try and take advantage of CSKA's lingering Berlin euphoria. After all, CSKA has already accomplished its biggest goal.

Of course, a lot will depend on how Moscow Region star guard combo, Tyrese Rice and Alexey Shved, perform. When both are playing well, Khimki is extremely tough to stop. Of course, we could pose the question in a different form: how much will Rice and Shved be able to do in the semifinals? My intuition tells me that even if the Army Men are a bit sluggish in one of the first two games, Khimki can't hope for more than one win in Moscow.

A 5th game is possible in this series, but Moscow Region advancing to the finals is unlikely. But I guarantee entertaining basketball throughout the semifinals. That's something significant, to be sure.

Lev Tigai,
sportfakt.ru expert