Bayern Munich crashed out of the German Cup at the hands of Alba Berlin on Wednesday night. The reigning German champions aren’t the team that took the title last year but Emmet Ryan says they have come a long way since a disastrous regular season in Euroleague.
When last we looked at Bayern in depth, this was a team that was far from a contender on any level. Not only were they outclassed by Barcelona that night back in November, they looked wholly without direction. There were far too many reasons to worry about this side.
The Euroleague campaign, as a whole, was something Bayern needed out of its system. The 2-8 record only tells half the story. The nights never got better after that 81-75 win over Panathinaikos in Round 2. That win came just a week after running Barcelona close in the Palau Blaugrana but this wasn’t the team that won the Bundesliga a year earlier. Bayern had stocked up on German talent but had they lost two massive pieces in Malcolm Delaney *and Deon Thompson. They were still trying to play the game that led them to a championship but without the players required to make it work. The early going in the Bundesliga helped to paper over the cracks. More often than not, Bayern could gun their way out of trouble. Once they stepped up against serious competition, there was no defence because they didn’t have any semblance of a defence.
*Delaney has won three championships in the past three consecutive seasons with Elan Chalon (France), Budvielnyk (Ukraine), and Bayern. I don’t care how good CSKA are, the stars say Lokomotiv Kuban win the VTB League this season.
The end of the Euroleague regular season was vital to Bayern. The great headache, the constant stress of going up against team who were just plain stronger than them every week had to go. They needed that head space. Sometimes when you are in a funk, the best thing possible that can happen is for it to end. That gives you the space to think, to plan, to get back to playing sensible basketball. What followed was a run of 14 victories out of a possible 15, punctuated by some absolutely stunning results.
Prior to last night Bayern hadn’t lost a game since 4 January in Bamberg, a dead rubber at Fenerbahce. The tear began slowly but a the band was starting to tune up again. Bayern rolled into Bamberg on 4 January and got stomped 80-63. That’s was in line with the season to date but the signs were there that maybe this wasn’t a paper tiger. A mere 10 days after losing in Bamberg, Bayern returned for a Bavarian derby in Eurocup and it was a rout yet again but this time it was Bayern laying the smackdown. They headed south to Munich with a 52-90 road win in the bag. Another pounding of Bamberg followed in the return fixture, 87-63. Eurocup was the cure as Bayern rolled to a 6-0 record and on to the knockout stages.
Along the road to last night’s clash with Alba, Bayern pounded Phoenix Hagen 124-79, went to Tübingen and romped home 80-117, and rounded off the run with a 102-76 shellacking of Ludwigsburg.
Things were starting to look good and for the first 20 minutes of last night’s cup game in Berlin there was little reason to doubt the progress Bayern had made. Fundamentally they had gotten smarter. They could still gun when they wanted to but the dumb shots were disappearing, the defence was actually disciplined. It wasn’t a Delaney and Thompson show but it was the best type of game possible with the resources available. That’s all anyone really expected from Bayern this year and they are getting there.
The second half however showed there is still a lot of road to claw back before we start talking about Bayern as back-to-back title contenders. Having led 31-38 at the break, Bayern allowed a 13-3 run to open the second half. Bayern rallied and pushed out into a double-digit lead but Alba had more room to improve. That was the scary part for Bayern as a 16-1 run by the home side changed the game for good. The shots Bayern had been able to create simply weren’t there anymore as Alba got it together defensively in crunch time. With Reggie Redding, Alex Renfroe, and Jamel McLean at their disposal, the Berlin club had the weapons to hurt the visitors. Once more Bayern was in a situation where the other team was just plain better in terms of top tier talent but this time, this time it wasn’t a cause for dismay.
Unlike those miserable Euroleague nights, this was a Bayern team that not only could have won the game but it should have. It lost because Alba made everything go right at a time where only that would suffice. Bayern have moved forward and catching Alba, not allowing them to get out of a hole like that, is possible this season.
Right now Bayern sit in the same spot they have for most of the season, third in the Bundesliga but they aren’t looking down anymore. They have home games against Bamberg and Alba to come. Time is on their side and it’s well within their compass to enter the playoffs as top seed. Next Wednesday they travel to Valencia with confidence of keeping their Eurocup campaign alive. It’s not the blistering enthusiasm of a year ago but there is positivity in Munich now. That may be all they really need.