Lev Tigai's Blog: When Zenit Is More Dangerous Than Barcelona

The VTB United League playoff bracket only took final shape yesterday on the last day of the regular season, 24 hours before the start of the quarterfinals.

Some might say that in the final game of the regular season Zenit took advantage of Lokomotiv Krasnodar's fatigue following an exhausting five-game series with Barcelona in the Euroleague. They would certainly be right. But you try and take advantage (few, of course, ever have the opportunity) of a Euroleague Final Four club's fatigue. It's not so easy to do!

Zenit took its chance and passed the test with flying colors. They conquered the Barcelona victors and shut me up for good after I questioned their resilience and ability to remain among the league's elite throughout the regular season....

They never stumbled. 3rd place in such a strong league and with... such a limited roster. It's impressive! I can tell you right now who was most responsible for this surprise: coach Vasily Karasev. There's no doubt about it.

I like how he works, his tactics (especially on defense), how he maintains a balance between composure and mini-outbursts (you can't get by without them) during games... It's clear that's he matured as a coach. That's very important for Russian basketball. Ten years ago there was no one. Then Evgeny Pashutin came on the scene and now Karasev. And Bazarevich will get his chance to prove himself. Those are details, though, nothing more. The main thing is to have coaches. The rest will come with time. If there aren't any coaches, then there can be nothing at all, no matter how much money you spend.

That's what a strong league is for: weeding out the weak and giving the best a chance to shine. From the players to the coaches. By the way, the playoffs are much better for that than the regular season. And today the postseason gets started.

My predictions for the quarterfinals:

CSKA - Nymburk: 3-0
There's not much to say here. The Czechs, of course, will try to give the Army Men a run for their money in at least one game (probably Game 3 at home), but it's unlikely to end with a win. With the Euroleague Final Four looming, CSKA will need every extra day it can get.

UNICS - Nizhny Novgorod: 3-1
As strange as it may sound, this series is closer to going five games than three. But that doesn't change the balance of power. Nizhny will try to slow down the league's top scorer in Keith Langford, but Kazan's most important players are actually Kostas Kaimakoglou and Quino Colom.

Khimki - Lokomotiv-Kuban: 3-2
This is the most interesting and unpredictable quarterfinal matchup, featuring two Euroleague Top 16 clubs. The series will also decide who gets to meet CSKA in the semifinals. I favor Khimki for two reasons. First, they have more stars. Second, Lokomotiv needs to keep the Euroleague Final Four in mind, which begins immediately after the series with Khimki. But don't overestimate either factor. There could be more intrigue, such as injuries. In general, anything is possible in this series: a sweep for either team or something in between. At the same time, both teams are strong enough that avoiding a 2-2 split in the first four games and a Game 5 in Khimki will be difficult.

Zenit - Avtodor: 3-1
These two teams overachieved this season, but don't have a lot in common... Zenit's bench is longer and the coach, in my opinion, is a bit more interesting, plus they will have home-court advantage. To put it simply, on the final day of the regular season, Zenit essentially played in the quarterfinals and won, defeating Lokomotiv more than Avtodor.