By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been certainly challenging for Nizhny Novgorod in the Basketball Champions League. The 2020-21 season, planned to conclude at Nizhny Novgorod, is a massive reward but not the endgame. It can be a safe bet that the Russian outlet will rise beyond simply hosting the Final 8. Fans should not look past the Russian club while studying the Final 8 bracket.
The possibility of having fans at CEC Nagorny was key in moving the season-ending tournament featuring the eight top teams of the exciting Champions League season to Nizhny Novgorod. A crowd evolving into a rarity in the coronavirus era affects sport-events planning all around the world and the BCL. But anticipation builds as the Final 8 approaches.
Before focusing on the team itself, the city of Nizhny Novgorod is celebrating its 800th anniversary. It was founded on February 4, 1221. The sixth-largest city in Russia awarded the Final 8 would be a very exciting event before these unprecedented restrictions stemming from the pandemic, but to a large extent still is for a city branding successful teams across several sports.
From Spain to Russia
The inaugural Champions League season, 2016-17, ended with a Final Four in San Cristobal de La Laguna, Spain. The host, Iberostar Tenerife, captured first place. The 2018 Final Four in Athens and 2019 Final Four in Antwerp followed before the coronavirus paused the 2019-20 season and practically forced a Final 8 in Athens.
The 2020-21 season packed with further adjustments demonstrating the league’s adapting skills leads us from Spain, Greece, and Belgium to Russia, and to a second Final 8 in a row. This will be the farthest East for the BCL champion to be crowned.
Paying its dues
Nizhny Novgorod debuted in the Basketball Champions League back in the 2017-18 season. The first run was cut short though. Zoran Lukic’s side was eliminated by Telenet Giants Antwerp suffering two defeats in a home-and-away series of the second qualifying round.
Moving past Porto, Aris, and JIP Pardubice granted Nizhny Novgorod its first Regular Season berth the next season, 2018-19. A 7-7 record in Group A punched in a playoffs ticket and a 161-156 aggregate win over Umana Reyer Venezia pushed the Russian club into the quarterfinals. The Telenet Giants came back to knock them out.
Back in the qualifiers of the 2019-20 campaign, Nizhny Novgorod comfortably got the job done versus Legia. The team again advanced through the Regular Season but failed to move past JDA Dijon in the best-of-three series stretching several months through the hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This season, qualifiers were not necessary. With Lukic still in charge and the best squad assembled during the BCL era, Nizhny Novgorod tallied a 4-2 record in both the Regular Season and the Playoffs to clinch the Final 8 berth.
Vorontsevich, Shepherd, and more weapons
The addition of Andrey Vorontsevich in early March was another sign of success for Nizhny Novgorod. The team, powered by Kasey Shepherd’s amazing showings, was already looking extremely good, but the Russian expert helped close the deal in the Round of 16 with his talent and veteran experience.
Vorontsevich, 33, over four games averaged a team-high 19.3 efficiency rating eclipsing Shepherd’s 17.5 through the entire six-game schedules of the Regular Season and Playoffs. The second-leading scorer of the 2020-21 BCL Season is entering the Final 8 carrying 18.1 points per previous appearances, while Vorontsevich has 14, Artem Komolov 11.5, and Ivan Strebkov 10.4 points per match.
A team heavily relying on and so far dangerously accurate from beyond the arc packing the familiarity advantage of home court can become an explosive combination enough to power through the Final 8 competition. Nizhny Novgorod shares a season-high 136 threes with Lenovo Tenerife and tops the list of Final 8 teams with 43.5% from long-range.
Casademont Zaragoza, prior to its recent head-coaching change, is the opponent in the quarterfinals. The winning team will face ERA Nymburk or Pinar Karsiyaka for a spot in the final. Lenovo Tenerife, SIG Strasbourg, Hapoel Unet-Credit Colon, and Hereda San Pablo Burgos are on the other side of the bracket.
May 5 and 6 will feature the Final 8 quarterfinals. May 7 will bring up the semifinals. The championship and third-place games will be held on May 9.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League