The second of BallinEurope’s league previews looks at the VTB United League and doesn’t even bother to ask if anyone can challenge CSKA Moscow this season
Last year’s VTB League looked really promising in terms of competitive depth. Khimki had made some big name signings and had a couple of results early on, both in league play and Euroleague, that made you think they could live with CSKA in a series. Nope. Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar made their choice clear early, prioritising Euroleague and riding that wave all the way to a third place finish but exiting the VTB playoffs at the first hurdle.
Both of those sides, teams that looked like they might be able to hang with CSKA, are shells of their former selves after losing oodles of key parts in the off-season. Russia’s got plenty of clubs with money but only CSKA have CSKA money. Only CSKA seem capable of keeping that kind of quality together for season after season and reloading instead of rebuilding.
For the reigning champs, Demetris Nichols is the only noticeable loss while James Augustine is a nice acquistion from Khimki. The core of the side that won everything a year ago is back and that means even Joel Freeland gets a chance to make a run at impressing in his second season with CSKA after his debut year was wrecked by injuries.
Khimki and Loko have both made a couple of interesting acquisitions, Perry Jones III joining the former and Taylor Rochestie returning to VTB play with Loko. The nearest thing to a challenge however looks likely to, once again, come from Unics Kazan which keeps the bulk of the players thought brought it to second place last season along with a few interesting additions including Evgeny Voronov (Loko) and Coty Clarke (Maine, NBADL).
One nice upside for Jon Stockton’s family, they’ll be able to watch all of Mike Stockton’s games live and free online this year as the hall of famer’s son has signed with Avtodor. For those unaware, for all the grief the VTB league gets it is the easiest in Europe to watch with free streaming worldwide via its site and app.
This corner has long been a defender of the VTB League in terms of watchability but it’s a really hard league to care about this year. CSKA are just so far ahead of the pack that come the playoffs it’s hard to see them dropping a game never mind a series. The Red Army will always enter the season as favourites but there’s usually some semblance of hope for a challenge from elsewhere. Not this time. This time, the march to glory is going to be a procession. That’s not promising.