By: Sam Meyerkopf, Sir Robert Scott, & Savas Birdal
One game, one spot, and the last ticket to Jordi’s exclusive party. Mapooro Cantu took down CEZ Nymburk in a closely fought game 89-83 to get to Friday’s final. Le Mans went to the wire with Unics and came out the victor by a final score of 86-78. To come full circle from our Qualifying Round Preview, I’ve asked Sir Robert Scott (@RobScott33) and Savas Birdal (@sannti) to join us again for a Final Round Preview. We’ll each give our take on how the games so far will effect the Final and then pick a winner. If you missed the recap of the First Round, you can find it here.
Sam: Wow, what an impressive semifinals! And now we get the two teams that truly deserve to be here. Cantu, besides the last 4 minutes of the game today, have been outstanding in their offensive execution. Jerry Smith, Pietro Aradori, and Manuchar Markoishvili have found great chemistry on the perimeter together and each has had sound scoring outbursts. Then Le Mans tried to one up them by taking down what many were saying was the tournament favorite in Unics. Le Mans was able to push the pace and attacked the rim at all costs against the Russian squad. Charles Kahudi, Cameron Long, and Cuthbert Victor ran the fast break well and were able to break down the Unics defense when given the opportunity. This was all paced by the dominating post play of JP Batista, who’s soft touch and smooth footwork led him to a 20 points and 10 rebound performance.
Friday’s game will be a clash of two solid teams who’s big men hustle and have solid lead guards. Le Mans will need Khalid El-Amin to be fresh late in the game, as he he looked a little more tired today. Jerry Smith should attack El-Amin off the dribble as much as he can. He was very effective at this against Nymburk. Cantu played their first game on Monday, Le Mans on Tuesday, so it’ll be three in a row for the French squad, giving Cantu a distinct advantage. With the extra rest and ability to throw both Alex “Always Active” Tyus and Marco Cusin at Batista, Cantu should punch their Euroleague ticket before their home crowd. I don’t like to bet against Khalid El-Amin but when he’s playing against a Andrea Trinchieri coached team, I’ll have to. Pick: Cantu
Sir Robert: Sign a lot of expensive free agents and get knocked out of the Euroleague before it even starts. Sounds like a great way to get into the Eurocup, after BC Donetsk and Unics Kazan just followed the formula started by Khimki last year, expect all the cool teams to be doing it in 2013.
Le Mans led Kazan for most of tonight’s game, leaning heavily on JP Batista’s 20 points and 10 rebounds. Early on it was Khalid El-Amin hooking up with JP Batista, feeding the Brazilian with some smooth high post looks. When El-Amin sat down in the second quarter, it looked like the need to rest his ageing legs might cost the French. No problem though, the plan seems to be to let El-Amin distribute, establish some easy looks, then have him hit the bench and let Cameron Long and Charles Kahudi turn up the defensive intensity. At the end, if the game is still close, El-Amin returns, does his clutch shooting thing, and seals the game.
Long, Kahudi and Pape Sy will make it difficult for any team to get into a rhythm offensively and Batista will definitely test Cantu’s post defenders, as neither Vougioukas or Dedushkin had a clue how to force him out of his comfort zone on the block. Le Mans have had the good fortune to play two sides built virtually from scratch over the summer and Cantu will be more organised. Jerry Smith might not be as big a name as Chuck Eidson, but he’ll be a much harder to check. Homecourt might be with Cantu but another game like this from Batista and the PalaDesio fans will be missing Georgi Shermadini. In a close game with the clock ticking down, you don’t want to be facing El Amin with the ball in his hand and a glint in his eye. Pick: Le Mans
Savas: Nothing is a given in Euroleague. Kazan’s sloppy performance against Le Mans didn’t only prove that, but also cost the Tatars a place in the most prestigious stage of European basketball. Knowing what Kazan has missed out on, both Cantu and Le Mans have to bring their A games to the basketball court tomorrow. Le Mans has already done more than enough to prove that they are not in Italy for a vacation. As Cantu has been one of the two favorites since the draw was made, pressure is going to be on the Italians’ side. Add to that Cantu’s unconvincing defensive performance in the both previous games, you have nothing but some justifiable hope for the French team in your hands. Assuming that the home court is actually going to be a factor this time, however, I say that Cantu should be able to pull off the victory and move on to the real thing. Pick: Cantu