By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The Eurocup semifinals start on the 1st of April, the second leg will be played on the 8th of April and four representatives from the three best domestic leagues in Europe – not only according to the general consensus, but also according to our ranking back in the start of the season – will fight for a place in the finals.
However, with Russia and VTB practically having just two guaranteed spots in Euroleague, it’s obvious that Unics Kazan and Khimki are the favorites because of their motive and quality to make the next step. Can Gran Canaria and Banvit turn the tide? That’s what we will try to answer.
Unics’ saving grace (Unics Kazan – Gran Canaria 19.15 CET)
So far, Gran Canaria is one of the pleasant surprises of Eurocup, while Unics started the season with big ambitions, but couldn’t leave its mark in Euroleague. After a coaching change, with two times Eurocup winning coach Evgeny Pashutin replacing Argiris Pedoulakis, and despite losing Nikos Zisis to Fenerbahce/ Ulker, Unics has the biggest possible motive in order to get to the title. For the Russians, this is the easiest way to get a Euroleague license for next season. Being sixth for the moment in VTB, winning the Eurocup seems to be the easiest path to Euroleague.
Gran Canaria has also a Eurocup winning coach on its bench, Aito Garcia Reneses who got the title in 2008 with Badalona and he is one of the best coaches in Spanish basketball’s history. The big on the court question is the condition of Unics’ Keith Langford who was injured in the quarterfinals. With Langford healthy, last season’s Euroleague top scorer, Unics has the obvious advantage against a solid unit which already exceeded expectations in Eurocup.
The hottest team left (Banvit – Khimki 19.45 CET)
Khimki is currently on a nine-game winning streak in Eurocup and its leader, last season’s Euroleague Final Four MVP, Tyrese Rice is on the peak of his form. In the last 16 Eurocup games, Khimki has 15 wins and it’s also the only team which can still challenge CSKA Moscow for the VTB league regular season’s top, making them candidates to enter next season’s Euroleague via VTB.
There’s also the experience factor with Khimki being a former Eurocup champion, while Banvit for the first time competes in the semifinals. Khimki’s head coach, Rimas Kurtinaitis, has won the Eurocup title in 2009 with Lietuvos Rytas and in 2012 with Khimki. Still, you can’t underestimate Banvit, the ability of the club to win at home and the boost of the coaching change with Burak Selcuk Ernak to replacing Zoran Lukic.
In both cases the Russians have the advantage, at least on paper. It remains to be seen if Banvit and Gran Canaria can object on the court.