Experts Round Table: Final Four edition

2018-05-15T19:56:01+00:00 2018-05-15T19:56:01+00:00.

Antigoni Zachari

15/May/18 19:56

Eurohoops.net

Welcome to the Experts Round Table, Final Four edition, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague experts across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day.

By Eurohoops team / info@eurohoops.net

The panel for the 2018 Final Four includes Luca Chiabotti, the former basketball expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; Final Four Ambassador Dusko Savanovic, who was a member of the2011 All-EuroLeague team; Djorjde Matic of Serbian newspaper Novosti; Eurohoops.net Chief Editor, Stavros Barbarousis; and Frankie Sachs of Euroleague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions going into Game 3 of the playoffs.

Which team will win the CSKA vs. Real Madrid semifinal, and why?

Luca Chiabotti

“I say Real Madrid. In a game that is unpredictable because it is too close to call, I am shooting in the dark and betting on Real, which has overcome a lot of injuries during the season and found different ways and go-to guys to win games. That is probably the most important thing that helps the team in the semifinals. CSKA has dominated the season, has De Colo and Hines back after their injuries but, as the history says, the semifinal is the worst game for this team: CSKA has lost it in four of the last five Final Fours and only won in 2016 against an underdog.”

Dusko Savanovic

“Well, this is the Final Four and everybody will have a chance, but CSKA has played very well throughout the season. It has been the best team until now, so I am going to say CSKA. They have a great team, just like Madrid, which of course will also have a chance. If I had to go with percentages, it would be 51-49. That is how close I think it will be. CSKA has played at a great level all season and even though Madrid brought back Sergio Llull, I am still going with CSKA.”

Djorjde Matic

Real Madrid. CSKA Moscow is the eternal participant in the Final Four. In Berlin two years ago, Coach Itoudis got them back to the throne after eight years of drought. They found excellent replacements for the players who left the team last season. On the other side, Madrid had a lot of problems with injuries this season, but I think the fact that Madrid is not the favorite can be a factor for them to play more relaxed.”

Stavros Barbarousis

“I think this pair is very balanced and the winner will literally be decided by details. I also believe this one will be the closer of the two semifinals. CSKA Moscow finished first in the regular season and was the most consistent team on the road to the Final Four. The condition of its two injured players, Kyle Hines and Nando De Colo, is a big question mark, since they will be key players for Dimitris Itoudis’s team. Both from the perimeter as well as close to the basket, and with long-range shooting and their post-up game, Madrid has many ways of putting the ball in the basket – and with different players – and I believe that without the stress of being the favorites weighing down on them, Real Madrid will be the one that will go through to the final for the first time since 2015.”

Frankie Sachs

“Two-hundred and fifty-six games down. Four to go. There has been a lot of time to observe the strengths and weaknesses of all the teams and their players, to see them at their best and their not-so-great moments. Picking which team will win by now is less a matter of basketball matchups and when it comes to the intangibles, my gut tells me Real Madrid will win. Its deep frontcourt with Gustavo Ayon, Anthony Randolph and Walter Tavares is a major advantage against CSKA’s smaller lineup. The return of Sergio Llull means there are two MVP caliber players (together with Luka Doncic) to lead the charge. Of course on paper CSKA has almost everything it needs to match Madrid, but I feel Los Blancos are trending in the right direction to withstand CSKA’s best effort right now.”

Which team will win the Fenerbahce vs. Zalgiris semifinal, and why?

Luca Chiabotti

Fenerbahce, but it won’t be easy despite the deep and talented roster. The champions will face the most enjoyable basketball in Europe (and my coach of the year), but I don’t believe that the 2018 Zalgiris can do what 1999 Zalgiris did, when it surprised the top teams with its “new” game and won the trophy. It’s too difficult in this century where only the best and powerful teams have won the EuroLeague. But the Jasikevicius brand of basketball is different, so in a single game Zalgiris could be the most-dangerous team to play against.”

Dusko Savanovic

Fenerbahce is obviously the favorite because of the many talented, experienced players it has and of course, because of Coach Zeljko Obradovic. Zeljko said it is not a surprise that a great player like Sarunas Jasikevicius turned into a great coach. He may have surprised a lot of people but now, if you think about it, it is not a surprise anymore. He was a winner as a player, arguably the best European point guard of his generation, in my opinion, and had great coaches in his career. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Zalgiris beats Fenerbahce, but the quality and experience is on Fenerbahce’s side. Zalgiris needs an element of surprise and that would have to be its players’ will and determination to win. I would give the edge to Fenerbahce, 60-40, and I think they will make it to the final.”

Djorjde Matic

Fenerbahce. Zalgiris has achieved great success by making the Final Four and it arrives in Belgrade without any pressure, which can be a big plus for them. They are led by the most talented coach in Europe, and a probably the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year winner, who has experience winning the EuroLeague as a player. However, Fenerbahce is led by a man who won the most trophies in the history of European basketball, who knows how to win silverware as a coach. Also, just like most of this Fenerbahce team, it has the experience of winning the EuroLeague last season.”

Stavros Barbarousis

“With this pair, I think there is a clear favorite and an outsider. Fenerbahce has the edge against the competition’s pleasant surprise, Zalgiris Kaunas. Zeljko Obradovic’s team, aside from the experience, will be armed with their switching defense and I think they can match up with Zalgiris’s assets with players who are as big and as fast. The key, of course, will be the game rhythm, as Sarunas Jasikevicius’s squad refuses to be forced into attacking in transition, but rather choosing to do so only when there is a clear option. He will try to limit the attacks in the game, and since his team is the one with less stress and the greatest enthusiasm, this will put all the pressure on Fenerbahce, who are the favorites. However, I believe that the defending champions have the quality and experience to handle any problem posed by Zalgiris.”

Frankie Sachs

“If we were to measure by talent alone, Fenerbahce is the clear favorite. But it’s not easy to defend the title, which is why only three teams have ever won back-to-back Final Fours. Does Fenerbahce have the Eye of the Tiger this time? I’m not sure, but Zalgiris sure does, which is why it is my pick to win this semifinal. One might think that Zalgiris has peaked and is happy just to be here, but when I look at the players – and certainly their coach, I see a group that wants more and has nothing to lose. Zalgiris has gotten to where it is by playing as a team that produces more than the sum of its parts and it is exactly that quality which makes it so dangerous.”

Who will win the championship game between the teams you chose as semifinals winners, and why?

Luca Chiabotti

“And the winner is… Fenerbahce in the first ever final between them. I think that what Obradovic and his team did this season is extraordinary: they lost 2017 Final Four MVP Ekpe Udoh and their best scorer, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and again they will play at the top thanks to their system and the continuous improvement of their players. Llull’s long absence from the highest level of basketball and the image of the last season semifinals, when Luka Doncic played his worse game of the season, and the atmosphere at Stark Arena filled with Fener – more than Real – fans could help the champions lift their second trophy in two years.”

Dusko Savanovic

“It would be great for Serbian basketball if Fenerbahce wins because it would be Obradovic’s 10th EuroLeague title. If CSKA and Fenerbahce make it to the final, both teams have pretty much the same chances to win the title; the 2016 final went to overtime and they played twice this season, one had an overtime and the other was won with a shot at the buzzer. Of course, I want Fenerbahce to win because of Zeljko Obradovic, Marko Guduric and Nikola Kalinic. So I am going to say Fenerbahce.”

Djorjde Matic

Fenerbahce. I am subjective, but I would love for Zeljko Obradovic to win his 10th EuroLeague crown in the city where he started his incredible career.”

Stavros Barbarousis

“I’m going to choose Real Madrid. As I analyzed above, I believe they are a complete team and, especially in offense, they can get points from many different players and in different ways. On the other hand, Fenerbahce may be an experienced team with a full roster, but I think their game style is more predictable that Madrid’s. Also, I think the defending champion is a notch below last season’s roster.”

Frankie Sachs

“It all comes down to one game. While I don’t buy into the idea that experience will matter once the opening tip goes up, it may matter in the preceding 48 hours. Real Madrid‘s seasoned team may have an easier time preparing in such a short period of time. Los Blancos also have in Doncic, Llull and Tavares the type of weapons that scouting cannot always ready get players ready for. Tavares’s sheer size could trouble Brandon Davies and Paulius Jankunas. And Doncic and Llull’s creative styles of play also nullify the opposition’s best plans. A frustrated Zalgiris is not a team that throws in the towel, but I believe Madrid has enough to be able to hold off the Lithuanian champs to ascend to the top of the podium.”

Which player from the team you predict to be champion will be the Final Four MVP?

Luca Chiabotti

“It’s almost impossible to say with so many big players on the court. I would be so glad if one of “my” two guys, the Italians Datome and Melli, raise the MVP trophy, but… I am betting on Kostas Sloukas, one of the most courageous and exciting players under pressure ever: with three titles won and facing his sixth Final Four in seven years, it is time for Kostas to win the MVP title. But it will be a hard fight with Jan Vesely.”

Dusko Savanovic

“I don’t know, even the last player in Fenerbahce is a very good player. They have good players like Brad Wanamaker and Luigi Datome, experienced guys who could win that award. With this competition system being only two games, anybody can step up and have a good Final Four. A main candidate would be Kostas Sloukas, who has experience and a lot of his team’s success will depend on him. Ali Muhammed can get hot in games like this, but this is Fenerbahce and it is a final, so anyone can step up and play his best basketball. But if I have to say one name, it would be Sloukas.”

Djorjde Matic

“This is a tough question and I think it is just a bit easier than guessing the NCAA tournament bracket. There are 48 candidates, from Llull, Doncic, De Colo, Rodriguez, Wanamaker, Vesely. Through the history, Final Fours were known to give us heroes from the shadows, like Nocioni three years ago, or Udoh last year. And if you remember last year, another Fenerbahce player had a fantastic semifinal and championship game: Nikola Kalinic. Those who follow know that Nikola preforms great in big games.”

Stavros Barbarousis

“I think Luka Doncic, with his comprehensive game and the intensity with which he plays, will be the one who will have the most important role in Laso’s team and who will take them all the way to the trophy. I hope we will all experience unforgettable moments and a one-of-a-kind Final Four in a city like Belgrade, which I personally consider one of European basketball’s metropolises.”

Frankie Sachs

Luka Doncic may be a cliché pick, but I do not think Madrid can get it done without him. However, the same is true of at least one of Gustavo Ayon, Walter Tavares and Anthony Randolph… There will be at least one Madrid big who shakes things up and I think Felipe Reyes will do so in at least one of the games. Likewise, Sergio Llull can be the difference maker too. In short, no team can win without several players shining, however after his magnificent season to date, Doncic may have it even a little easier with Llull there to share the weight, which is why I predict he will take the Final Four MVP home.”

Source: EuroLeague

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