BallinEurope is sorry that CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos, finalists of that memorable 2012 Euroleague Final Four (one of this association’s best tournaments ever – and readers know just how much BiE hates sports-historical hyperbole) won’t get to repeat their matchup in the climactic game again this year, but at least we get a heckuva revenge game on Thursday.

Once again, Olympiacos goes in as underdog of both this match and to take the tourney – but this out, media members (by which BiE means an overwhelming majority, including BiE) won’t be expecting a bunch of overachievers to be steamrolled by squads apparently more talented on paper. Doesn’t it still seem like the factors are all in Moscow’s favor, though? Here are BiE’s five key questions going into the London grudge match…

● How great will the psychological effect of last year’s championship game be?
Olympiacos returns nine players from last season’s Moscow-upsetting champion squad, including among them Vassilis Spanoulis, Giorgios Printezis, Kyle Hines, Acie Law and Pero Antic. CSKA returns six, including Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic, Viktor Khryapa and Sasha Kaun.

Many observers will doubtlessly be factoring in the extra pressure put on The Red Army to avenge that disappointment – heck, the big league itself has MVP nominee Krstic proclaiming on the official site that the “loss against Olympiacos was the toughest loss on the club level in my entire career … and I see this as an opportunity to get back at Olympiacos for last year’s defeat.”

But BiE can’t help believing that even more important is the potential positive reinforcement last year’s Greek heroes will enjoy. For CSKA, the dependence on the diamond-rare skill set of Andrei Kirilenko is out and Ettore Messina is in, but the Reds surely believe the blueprint for victory is there – and that lightning can strike twice in the Euroleague Final Four

● On a related note, will Bad Milos emerge again?
Since his memorable meltdown (and of the entire CSKA side, to be honest) in last year’s Euroleague championship game, BiE’s been keeping tabs on Mr. Teodosic’s performances in fourth quarters and overtime periods. Milos suffered a further setback to his reputation in the clutch back in late October, when CSKA blew a double-digit lead with 10 minutes remaining against Žalgiris Kaunas in VTB United League play to earn their very first loss of 2012-13: Teodosic went 0-of-3 shooting with one assist and zero everything else in that period.

While Teodosic came through to lead the ‘Army over possible finalists FC Barcelona in December to close out the EL season (albeit to a mathematically irrelevant result), but subsequent back-to-back Euroleague L’s – along with another disappearing act from Milos – had Ettore Messina lamenting that he was “no Dr. Frankenstein” vis-à-vis his PG’s psychological woes.

But didn’t the playmaker redeem himself with his brilliant final stanza including two key threes in the quarterfinal ticket-punching Unicaja Malaga game that might have slipped away in March? Perhaps, but just as surely CSKA backers must be slightly unnerved at having to wonder which Milos shows up come do-or-die time.

● Could small- (or smallish-)ball work for Olympiacos?
Rafael Uehara of The Basketball Post noted Monday on Twitter:

The ever-prescient Rodhig (a.k.a. Rodney Higgins of Euro-Step; we’ll hear from him again) tweeted in reply that “K-Pap could keep Khryapa from roaming on defense & defend CSKA 1/4 pnr. Khryapa doesn’t post up a lot so size doesn’t matter.”

True enough, the secret to Khryapa’s outstanding individual success on offense this season has been much about his pick-and-roll play with Teodosic; on defense, his guile and Ettore Messina’s tight trap schemes have allowed him to become the league’s best help defender. Few teams have invested in forcing Khryapa into playing isolation D, but Rodhig’s contention that Papanikolaou is the man for the job is a good call.

Yet would even a readily available Perkins (who did not play in the semifinal round) enough? While a speedier Olympiacos unit featuring Doron Perkins and Papanikolaou or Perperoglou – perhaps Antic-as-irritant might also be in the mix – could well deny many opportunities which typically facilitate CSKA post play, then there’s also this…

● How much can CSKA exploit Olympiacos’ weaknesses in their halfcourt defense?
A must-read over at Euro-Step tells of “The Spectre Haunting Europe,” which could have been easily dubbed “The Spectre Haunting Olympiacos.” The piece starts from the following YouTube clip from the Fenerbahce Ulker series…

…and goes on to analyze specifically how the Reds’ susceptibility to quick entry passes and sometimes-slow rotations combined with their standard aggression in attacking the ball handler can result in a simple short-range two (or uncontested dunk) when the help doesn’t arrive. With the massive frontcourt advantage CSKA boasts in this matchup, coach Bartzokas will have to quickly introduce a modicum of patience in the halfcourt – and perhaps a dash of ESP once a veteran eye like Theo Papaloukas enters to run things.

● The bookmakers currently make CSKA a 6.5-point favorite; is that handicap too high or too low?
The Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™ says it’s too low – but just barely. BiE says CSKA has too many weapons, too much size and the coaching advantage. Final score: CSKA Moscow 78, Olympiacos 70.

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