VTB United League
The biggest news from the past seven days in the League.
Coming Into Focus
The past week answered a lot of questions about the final standings. CSKA clinched the top seed, Zenit’s locked into second, while Nizhny Novgorod was knocked out of the playoff race, leaving Astana and Avtodor to battle for the final spot. UNICS, meanwhile, is guaranteed a 5th-place finish, Loko and Khimki will fight for 3rd and Enisey is on the verge of clinching 6th.
Khimki and Zenit have been jockeying for 2nd place since winter and it took a head-to-head matchup to decide who would come out on top. Behind the terrific play of Stefan Markovic and Sergey Karasev, St. Petersburg beat Khimki for the second time this season and guaranteed the #2 seed. Zenit finished in 3rd last season, so this is a positive step forward in the club’s quest for a EuroLeague berth.
CSKA guaranteed 1st place in the regular season by beating Tsmoki-Minsk handily. Zenit could still finish in a tie with CSKA, but the Army Men have the tiebreaker. This is the 6th-straight regular-season title for Moscow.
The matchup between Alexey Shved and Sergey Karasev, the League’s two biggest Russian stars, once again ended in the Zenit forward’s favor. Karasev outscored Shved 23-18 and posted a better efficiency rating (23-10) to help his team to the win.
Karasev’s fadeaway jumper over Shved’s outstretched arm to beat the buzzer is a fitting symbol of his win.
UNICS and Lokomotiv-Kuban played a contested game in Kazan with Krasnodar clinching a top-four finish and home-court advantage in the first round. Loko could still catch Khimki for 3rd place, but needs to win out against VEF, Kalev, Tsmoki-Minsk and Parma and hope that Khimki loses to either Astana or Enisey. It’s not a very likely scenario, meaning that Lokomotiv and UNICS could be meeting soon in the playoff quarterfinals as the four and five seeds.
Doing It All
Zenit point guard Stefan Markovic was named the March MVP, beating out CSKA guard Cory Higgins and Enisey forward Suleiman Braimoh.
Markovic played twice in March, helping Zenit to wins over UNICS and Lokomotiv-Kuban. He averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and a 21.0 efficiency rating during the stretch.
“As strange as it might sound, this was a very upsetting loss. We came up short by five points and this situation illustrates perfectly our entire season. We were close many times and almost won, but came up a little short in the end,” – stated Nizhny Novgorod boss Arturs Stalbergs after the game against Astana.
Nizhny’s only hope of making the playoffs was to beat Astana by 10 or more points. Trailing by nine at halftime, the Black-Whites were able to squeak out a win (76-72), but it wasn’t enough. However, it did make a difference for a different team on the Volga.
The battle for 8th place is down to two teams: 9-13 Astana and 7-14 Avtodor, which defeated Parma earlier in the week. Astana could have clinched with a win over Nizhny Novgorod, but came up a little short. Both teams have tough opponents left the schedule: Astana plays UNICS and Khimki; Avtodor faces Enisey, Zenit and VEF. If the two teams finish tied, Astana will advance thanks to a superior head-to-head record.
Khimki and Zenit may have had the Game of the Week, but the matchup between Enisey and VEF was no less intriguing. The two teams entered with identical records (11-10), tied for 6th place. Krasnoyarsk stayed hot with a 17-point win, picking up the tiebreaker and improving its odds of a 6th-place finish. Enisey and VEF are most likely to face Khimki and Zenit, respectively, in the first round of the playoffs.
Enisey head coach Oleg Okulov believes his team can spring an upset:
“I’ve got no preference for an opponent in the playoffs. Like my good friend says, “your opponent will find you on its own.” We need to do our job, win games and play smart basketball. Anybody we play will be favored, but that only plays into our hands.
Lokomotiv-Kuban and head coach Sasa Obradovic signed a new agreement, which extends the Serb for three more seasons, through 2019-20.
“I know which big coaches worked here before me and the success they had with Loko. I also know how high expectations are for the front office and fans and I’ll do everything I can to live up to those hopes,” – promised Obradovic.
20 – number of double-doubles recorded by Enisey center Frank Elegar.
Elegar recorded his 20th double-double in the VTB United league against VEF (13 points, 11 rebounds). That matches the League record, set by ex-Tsmoki-Minsk center Ivan Maras.
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
– I’ve been ready for the EuroLeague for a long time. The important thing is for the team to be ready. Yes, we really do have our own style, which the players and the fans enjoy: aggressive defense, quick transition. That’s how they play in Europe and the NBA.
Nick Minnerath (Avtodor)
Buoyed by its first win, Parma hoped to keep rolling in Saratov. Avtodor star Nick Minnerath had other plans, putting up 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for a 31 efficiency rating as his team kept its playoff hopes alive.
Sergey Karasev (Zenit)
Karasev boosted his MVP campaign with another signature win. He’s now scored 26 on UNICS, 23 on Loko and 23 more on Khimki.
Ian Vougioukas (Lokomotiv-Kuban)
According to UNICS boss Evgeny Pashutin, Kazan prepared carefully to restrict Krasnodar’s big man duo of Ian Vougioukas and Kevin Jones. After the final horn, he stated that the job only got half done. Ex-UNICS center Ian Vougioukas shot 9-13 from the field for 21 points, giving Lokomotiv a huge advantage in the paint.