VTB United League
Last year’s playoff semifinalists meet on Sunday in Moscow Region: Khimki vs. Zenit.
BCMO (capacity 4,000), Khimki, Russia
4:30 PM (4:30 MSK), November 19, 2017
Match TV, VTB-League.com
Face to Face
Founded in 2014, Zenit hasn’t had time to establish many rivalries around the League, but there’s one easy exception: Khimki.
During St. Petersburg’s debut season, these two teams played SIX times (including four meetings in the EuroCup), setting the tone early. The rivalry reached a fever pitch this past spring as Khimki and Zenit met in the VTB United League playoff semis. A spot in the championship and EuroLeague berth was on the line as the epic series went five games. Trailing 2-0, Moscow Region stormed back for a 3-2 series win, including a Game 5 victory on Zenit’s home court.
Khimki leads the overall series 9-6, including a 6-5 edge in VTB United League match-ups.
The outcome of that series had a lasting impact on both teams. Welcomed back to the EuroLeague, Moscow Region went on a spending spree, bringing in a big-name coach in Georgios Bartzokas and a bevy of new talent. Zenit, on the other hand, was forced to rebuild, shaking up the front office and replacing nearly the entire roster. St. Petersburg has also been plagued by injuries, making it difficult to assess the team’s potential. As for Khimki, count Zenit boss Vasily Karasev as a believer. Earlier this week, he said Khimki’s roster rivals powerhouse CSKA.
Sunday’s meeting will give Khimki and Zenit a chance to learn something new about themselves. This is the first meeting between the two teams since the semifinals and the atmosphere should be electric. In-depth analysis and predictions often play second fiddle in these types of games. Toughness and resilience are the most important qualities.
Not surprisingly, Khimki and Zenit are also tied in the standings, boasting identical 4-1 records. Neither team wants to pick up a second defeat this early in the season.
Balance of Power
Zenit has been plugging holes since the season began, but it finally looks like the team is on the mend. Apart from Anton Pushkov, who’s out with a season-ending injury, only Shayne Whittington will not be available on Sunday. Not only will Karasev have more options on the bench, his team will also find it easier to maintain a high tempo for 40 minutes.
Khimki is in a bit more trouble. Anthony Gill has joined Tyler Honeycutt on the injury list with an appendectomy. This will also be Moscow Region’s third game in a week, following back-to-back losses to Panathinaikos and Maccabi in the EuroLeague. Georgios Bartzokas blamed the defeats in part on a “lack of energy.” On Sunday, Khimki will be playing on shorter rest than Zenit, who last played on Tuesday in the EuroCup. At the same time, Moscow Region will be extremely motivated to avoid a three-game losing streak, especially playing at home.
Stefan Markovic was a fan favorite in St. Petersburg during the 2016-17 season. The Serbian point guard even battled through injuries in the semifinal series vs. Khimki, very nearly leading Zenit to a victory in Game 5. But he didn’t take long in the offseason to sign a new contract with Khimki and move south for the 2017-18 campaign.
Now he’s fighting to win the hearts of the Khimki fans.
Markovic’s move may not have had the same resonance as LeBron James ditching Cleveland for Miami, and Zenit fans probably understand his desire to play for a EuroLeague club, but it will still be fun to see how he responds to playing against his former team.
The duel between Sergey Karasev and Alexey Shved was, for many, the highlight of the 2016-17 campaign. Karasev had the upper hand in the regular season, but Shved got the last laugh, rescuing his team from a 0-2 series hole in stunning fashion. Things only got worse for Karasev as he suffered a shoulder injury over the summer and missed EuroBasket. Shved, on the other hand, led the tourney in scoring, helping Russia advance to the semifinals. This weekend, Karasev has an opportunity to make up for lost time and prove he belongs in the same sentence as Shved when it comes to talking about Russia’s best players.
Khimki head coach Georgios Bartzokas:
– It won’t be easy at all to beat Zenit. It’s a quality team with a distinct style of play. Coach Karasev has been in charge for many years and everyone understands what he wants. There are a lot of new players at Zenit. Some have EuroLeague experience, for example, Laprovittola and Simonovic. Harper, Karasev and Gordon are also very talented. It’s going to be a tough game. Tyler Honeycutt is back, but he’ll need 15-20 days to get in shape. You need to understand that he was out for almost two and a half months and can’t start playing after only a couple days.
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
– Khimki has assembled a nice roster, but we’ll do everything we can to win. Like us, Moscow Region is trying to figure out how to play its best. They’ve got some issues with chemistry because of all the new players. That had an effect in the game vs. CSKA. In terms of the roster, Khimki is on the same level as the Army Men, and may even be stronger at a few positions.