CSKA Moscow (7-1) vs Baskonia (5-3)
This is the season’s first meeting for two of the most hyperboosted Euroleague teams, and Baskonia is aiming to declare its sovereignty on the road against Euroleague’s (at least for now) doubtless king.
When visiting Moscow, one has to perform above regular standards in order to have serious chances of escaping with a W. What have we seen from the Russians this year? A team capable of dominating both sides of the court, Europe’s best backcourt duo, a frontline that can outmuscle anyone courageous enough to stand in their way, and all of the above accompanied by vital role players who guarantee the team’s offensive and defensive fluidity. Can Baskonia survive this match-up? Yes, they can.
Why? Because Baskonia is one of the few Euroleague participants that are able to operate and defend as a team against CSKA’s transition offense, while also being able to run on the Russians and uncover all of their transition defense weaknesses. Baskonia has stretched the court in an almost ideal way so far — this might be the most important key to asking CSKA’s defense the right questions. It’s the best way to create a defensive imbalance, dragging the Muscovites’ big men outside the paint, forcing them into a position to contest long shots.
What Baskonia needs: in-the-paint survival. This is the biggest puzzle for coach Sito Alonso, and the answer might not lie in breaking through the wall but in going around it. What’s the meaning of this, in terms of applying it on the court? Drag the big man outside, creating your space in the paint. Voigtmann is a real threat outside the 3-point line, while his court vision can be of extreme value for Baskonia’s backdoor cuts, thus leading to easy points (Hanga, Larkin and Larry Budinger easily finishing after a Voigtmann bounce pass is a common Baskonia play). Bargnani has to attempt his characteristic midrange shots in addition to applying his wingspan — the Italian should be able to score over the Russians with his long arms after receiving the ball in the low post. Big man scoring is a necessity for the Basques (Bargnani is their leading scorer with 14.2 ppg and Voigtmann comes in 3rd with 12.6 ppg) — not being effective in this area could make all of their efforts pointless. Baskonia must consider that CSKA’s size is not limited to Hines and Augustine. Kurbanov’s footwork and Vorontsevich’s length in post defense also need an antidote.
What CSKA Moscow needs: in-the-paint dominance. The Russians’ frontline depth cannot be questioned. What they need to do is apply their physicality to dominate against Voigtmann and Bargnani. Baskonia lacks even a decent mobile center, one that can face Kyle Hines in equal terms — that could be a decisive factor (Ilimane Diop is not ready for such a match-up and he is not the definition of a mobile center). Think of what Hines’s paint presence brings about: strong finishing regardless of body contact, corridors for penetration with the whole defence concerned about him when he maneuvers just outside the paint, waiting to dive to the basket, (and as a result, Aaron Jackson driving to the rim after his marvellous hesitation dribble) and freedom for perimeter snipers such as Fridzon and Vorontsevich when Hines stays inside as a low post anchor.
The X-Clash: Miloš Teodosić vs Shane Larkin. In other words, intelligence against velocity. A different kind of floor general for each team — this match-up could be the highlight of the week. Nando de Colo is probably going to be missing this game, and that means that most of the responsibility is on the Serbian maestro. Teodosić is the one who will decide the game’s tempo, and Larkin is the one to question this decision. The Serbian has reached a level in which he is able to decode every situation, taking advantage of even the slightest defensive imbalance to create or score. Meanwhile, the American is fearless of facing any and every defender with his outstanding ball-handling. It’s a must-watch battle, and an unpredictable one at that.