It all comes down to this, Fenerbahce in their first ever Euroleague final against a CSKA side looking for its seventh crown after four straight failures at the Final Four. Emmet Ryan looks ahead to the biggest game in European basketball
We’re about to find out how much size matters at the top of the tree in European basketball. Fenerbahce are bigger and just plain badder on the inside than CSKA Moscow. That’s not a debate and the Moscow club re-enforced the conventional wisdom with an awful game on their defensive glass on Friday. Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar were dire in that game yet still made 22 offensive boards. Fenerbahce have better talent in the paint than Loko and a lot more of it.
Of course the reason CSKA were only briefly stressed during their semi-final was due to their riches in the back court. Having Nando De Colo and Milos Teodosic as the stars certainly helps but the sheer depth behind them is greater than any side in Europe. The challenge facing Fenerbahce on this side is just as great as what CSKA have to deal with on the inside.
A lot is going to come down to how Fener’s guards play. Up until overtime there was little damage being caused by the Istanbul club’s back court. That simply has to change on Sunday and the talent is there to do it. Bobby Dixon is going to face some tough one on one match-ups but he has the options around him to make space. That is however going to add pressure to Bogdan Bogdanovic but Serb has shown he is more than capable of handling it at this stage. Bogdanovic is a player who raises his game to the opponent in front of him, that can be a touch frustrating on occasion, but it’s hard to see him being as quiet as he was on Friday in this game.
While CSKA might struggle on their own glass, their front court is intelligent and moves quickly rather than fast. They know where they need to be at the right time and that will help them in matches where, for the most part, they face athletic disadvantages. The role of Kyles Hines could rarely be bigger as the particularly under-sized big man is facing down some towering foes on the inside. Hines has the brains and body to win the individual battles but it’s the wear and tear that Fener’s depth brings that is going to test him most. In simple terms, for CSKA to win they need Hines to have close to his best game of the season in this one.
The other factor to bear in mind with Fener is the fatigue that will have come with Friday’s win over Baskonia. Naturally, it’s the type of win that is great psychologically, but that kind of a war will have taken a physical toll. Zeljko Obradovic may be terrifying but he’s also intelligent and I expect he will have worked on the rest side on Saturday pretty well.
That lastly brings us to the obvious mental war, master vs apprentice. Dimitris Itoudis spent so much of his career at the side of Obradovic and now he’s staring down his mentor. Given the crossover nature of groups and match-ups between regular season and the Top 16, it’s almost a little surprising that this is the first meeting of both teams this season. While there isn’t a direct familiarity, you know that both men knew a match-up in a crucial game had a good chance of happening all year so I expect this to be quite the chess match.
In my overall preview I said I would list my overall favourite in this piece no matter who made the final. I have been backing Fener since before the playoffs and I really see no reason to change my mind now. It may be the club’s first final but the roster is loaded with players familiar with pressure situations. While a loss in this game wouldn’t be a case of CSKA pulling a CSKA, they just look too fragile on their own boards to believe they can beat a team as good as Fenerbahce.
Prior to this season Turkish clubs had won just one Korac Cup and one Eurochallenge title between them in the long history of continent wide club basketball. Galatasaray won the nation’s first Eurocup a few weeks ago in the first appearance by a team from Turkey in the final since the competition’s inception. No Turkish club had ever made the final of the European champions cup or Euroleague before this weekend. Like their cross city rivals, I’m picking Fenerbahce to lift the trophy at the first attempt.