Read below as Head Coach of the Polish National team, Mike Taylor provides Future Stars with the first of an extensive series of in-depth comments and analyses of the Euroleague Final Four in Cologne. In the first part Mike Taylor embarks on the almost suicidal mission of predicting the outcome of both semi-finals, based on his assessment of the regular season performance of all participating teams.
After a balanced regular season and competitive playoffs, the Euroleague Final Four tips off with the semifinal game on Friday 28th May in Koeln, Germany’s Lanxess Arena as Barcelona faces Armani Milano and CSKA Moscow meets Anadolu Efes. Who will win their way into Sunday’s Euroleague Championship game and what basketball fans should watch for is found here in our Euroleague Final Four Preview.
This Euroleague season was as exciting as ever and the top four teams are ready to play in the Final Four. Let’s take a look at the matchups, analyze the teams, keep our eyes open for what to watch for and recognize some X-factors for these four great teams.
FC Barcelona (24-10) VS AX Armani Exchange Milano (21-13)
December 11, 2020 FC Barcelona 87 AX Armani Exchange Milano 71
March 19, 2021 AX Armani Exchange Milano 56 FC Barcelona 72
Bringing arguably the best and deepest roster to Lanxess Arena, it is easy to see Barcelona as a favorite. But the best roster does not always guarantee the best team. Enter the excellent work of Head Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius who imposes structure and discipline on the talent within an old-school system resulting in efficient basketball. Directing the offensive attack is crafty PG Nick Calathes (7.8ppg 3.3reb 6.6ast) whose court-vision and skillful passing is a joy to watch. There is also something special in Calathes running the team for Jasikevicius, a legendary point guard in his time. Three-point sharpshooting has been a strength of the Barca squad this season led by Kyle Kuric (66 for 111 59.5% threes), Alex Abrines (53 for 127 42% threes) and Mirotic (43 for 102 42% threes). Along with Barcelona’s perimeter firepower, important role players include experienced wings Corey Higgins (12.9ppg) and Adam Hanga (6.4ppg 3.4reb 2.1ast). Barcelona likes to play through the post using talented big man Brandon Davies (12.1ppg 4.3reb) and Nikola Mirotic. Late season addition, Pau Gasol looks more and more comfortable in his role and will also be a factor establishing the post. Offensively, the inside-out balance and players staying within the system make Barcelona extremely efficient. But Barcelona is not only an offensive team, demonstrated by the fact they ranked first in fewest points allowed in the Euroleague regular season at 73.2 per game. A physical, disciplined defensive team, Barcelona likes to begin games in traditional pick and roll coverages like (hard show or ice) and then adjust to switching defenses later in the game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
AX Armani Exchange Milano Head Coach Ettore Messina has a blueprint to study when trying to stop Barcelona. After surprising Barca early in the play-off series, Zenit St Petersburg did an excellent job defending Barcelona three-point shooters limiting Nikola Mirotic and Alex Abrines in their Five game series.
Barcelona big man Brandon Davies may not attract as much attention as names like Gasol or Mirotic, but the talented center can be a difference-maker for his team. Look for Brandon to have a big impact in Koln at the Euroleague Final Four. Along with Davies, Kyle Kuric is capable of shooting Barcelona to victory from within his role with one hot stretch of threes.
AX ARMANI EXCHANGE MILANO
Another extremely talented offensive team, AX Armani Exchange Milano likes to spread the floor with shooting and features several outstanding play-makers. After years working alongside Gregg Popovich as an assistant with the Spurs in San Antonio, legendary Head Coach Ettore Messina returned to the Euroleague and once again has his team competing in the Final Four. This time, Coach Messina has adapted his system and coaching style with excellent results. Earlier Messina teams were big and played with meticulous structure. In Milan, Coach Messina has given his players more offensive freedom and playing with more spread-floor lineups including some 5 out. Key players include scoring guard Malcom Delany (9.1ppg 2.6reb 3ast 45% threes 90% FT in 10 games with Milan) and experienced under-sized big man Kyle Hines (7.3ppg 5.3reb). Veteran PG Sergio Rodriguez (11.5ppg 5.3ast 50% three 66 for 131 3ptfga) directs the attack with Kevin Punter (10.3ppg 42% three 33 for 79), Luigi Datome (9.1ppg 3.1reb 52% three 39 for 75) and Michal Roll (9.2ppg 2reb 2ast 46% three 42 for 91) adding perimeter scoring punch. Skillful Shavon Shields (14.2ppg 3.6reb 2.8ast) provides Milan with a unique secondary play- maker from his forward position. Defensively, Milan likes to switch screens earlier in games than most teams. Despite solid numbers from center Kaleb Tarczewski (6.9ppg 5.7reb), the battle on the boards could potentially be a decisive factor in this semi-final as Milan ranked 12th in rebounding at 28.3rebpg.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The offensive emphasis to outscore opponents has led to the Milan’s success this season but can they beat Barcelona that way after losing both regular season match-ups. A jump-shooting team, If Milan shooters heat up, everything is possible for this team.
AX ARMANI EXCHANGE MILANO X-FACTOR
Big Man Zach Leday (15.4ppg 6.1reb) has been outstanding this season and Milan will need his production against Barcelona.
FC Barcelona 90 AX Armani Exchange Milano 78
CSKA Moscow (24-10) VS Anadolu Efes (22-12)
December 15, 2020 CSKA Moscow 100 Anadolu Efes
March 4, 2021 Anadolu Efes 100 CSKA Moscow 70
Another fun team to watch, and potentially a favorite to win it — Anadolu Efes runs on great guard play and multiple playmakers. If guard play is the key to winning championships, then Anadolu Efes is ready to roll. Attacking opponents like the European version of Lillard and McCollum, the dynamic Efes guard duo of Shane Larkin (15ppg 4.2ast 43% three 31 for 72) and Vasilije Micic (16.3ppg 4.8ast 33% three 30 for 91) has been arguably the best in the Euroleague this season. While Larkin and Micic attract attention, experienced Croatian sharpshooter Krunoslav Simon (10.5ppg 3.3ast 41% threes) has been a key player for Efes creating a unique three-guard play-making attack which is both fun to watch and hard to guard. Along with their play-makers, three-point firepower is provided by French sniper Rodrigue Beaubois (10.6ppg 48.9% three). Disciplined shot selection, teamwork in ball-movement and making the extra pass are all characteristics that Head Coach Ergin Ataman has prioritized for his players as Efes ranked 2nd in scoring offense during the Euroleague regular season at 84.1ppg. Defensively, German big man Tibor Pleiss adds size and rim protection in the paint that cleans up perimeter mistakes or gives the guards a chance to gamble. French forward Adrien Moermann (6.4ppg 4.6reb) leads the team in rebounding.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Winning the exciting Quarter-final series over Real Madrid was a clutch step for Coach Ataman and the Efes team. It did not come easy. After jumping to a 2-0 series lead, Efes looked to finish the series and led Game 3 58-48 at the end of 3 quarters but was unable to close it out as Real Madrid rallied outscoring Efes 32-18 in the 4th quarter to stay alive with an 80-76 win. In Game 4, Efes also led by 16 points in the 2nd quarter and was up 72-59 early in the 4th, only to go scoreless the final 7:20 of the game and lose as Real Madrid forced game 5 with an 82-76 win. Holding leads in these two close-out games, Efes lost. CSKA Moscow surely takes note and will fight for 40 plus minutes even if Efes gets up. Even more interesting, are there any lingering affects on the with the Efes team?
ANADOLU EFES X-FACTOR:
Forward Chris Singleton has done it before. The experienced scorer Singleton exploded for 26 points and 8 rebounds in Efes’ decisive game 5 win over Real Madrid, this after single digit scoring in the first four games of the series.
An old basketball coaching adage says to win a championship, a team must experience in-season adversity. CSKA Moscow can check that box. First, the team lost Nikola Milutinov to season-ending injury. At least this blow was stable. What came next was the in and out drama with star guard Mike James who took the team on a roller coaster before departing. Throughout all the adversity and change, Head Coach Dmitris Itoudis kept his team focused forward and with remarkable work, the team matched FC Barcelona with a Euroleague best 24-10 regular season. Rising to the top, CSKA was the Euroleague’s top-scoring team this season averaging 84.4ppg. Stepping up in the adversity, experienced forward Will Clyburn (13ppg 3.1reb 2.2ast 40% threes) and Daniel Hackett (9.5ppg 2.6reb 2.8ast 51% three) have been outstanding for Moscow. Georgian Forward Tornike Shengalia (12.9ppg 4.1reb 2ast) has been productive and German center Johannes Voigtmann (9.8ppg 6.2reb 40% threes) is an inside- out threat to the front-court as a unique play-making 5 man. Shooting guard Darrun Hilliard (11ppg 34% threes 91%ft) started the season well, struggled at times, but has come back strong and can be a factor. VTB Newcomer of the Year, Iffe Lunberg (10.1ppg 3.2ast 27% threes in 9 Euroleague games with CSKA) joined CSKA after starring for Zastal Zielona Gora in Poland.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
CSKA Moscow has used a switching defense 1 through 5 to slow down opponents. In the Semi-final match-up, how does the game planned switching work against the Efes play-makers? Does it impact the excellent Efes ball-movement?
CSKA MOSCOW X-FACTOR:
Russian forward Nikita Kurbanov (5.2ppg 3.2reb) adds size and versatility to the team. Doing the dirty work and bringing physicality to both forward positions, Kurbanov helps CSKA as a post up 3 man or at his more natural power forward position. While teammates attract the attention, Kurbanov makes winning plays.
Anadolu Efes 95 CSKA Moscow 85