CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce and Real Madrid are the grand favourites in the Final Four, whereas Zalgiris Kaunas are the underdog that will fight tooth and nail to make the surprise and shock the basketball world.
The Muscovites eliminated Russian rivals Khimki in four games in the playoffs to advance to the Final Four for a seventh straight time. Similarly, Fenerbahce overcame Baskonia in the postseason and now have their sights set on successfully defending their title.
Real Madrid and Zalgiris Kaunas didn’t have the home-court advantage in the playoffs and had to eliminate Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, respectively, to advance to the Final Four.
The “Whites” came back from a 95-67 defeat in Game 1 and won the next three games, preventing the “Greens” from reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 2012.
At the same time, the Lithuanians stole the home-court advantage in Game 1 and dominated the “Reds” twice at the “Zalgirio Arena” to qualify to the Final Four for the first time since 1999.
CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid
CSKA have one of the most dominant rosters in the Euroleague, but their match-up with Real Madrid is expected to be ultra competitive, as the Spaniards are extremely talented and their squad consists of many top class players that can make the difference in the semi-final.
The battle between Sergio Rodriguez and Nando De Colo of CSKA Moscow and Sergio Llull and Luka Doncic of Real Madrid will be one of the key factors in the game, while the return of Kyle Hines can be a game changer for the Russians.
Hines, who won the Best Defender Trophy for the second time in his career, is considered a defensive specialist that will make the team’s defence even tougher.
Real’s coach, Pablo Laso, will seek to impose a run and gun playing style in order to take control of the game and come closer to the victory.
A high scoring game is expected, as this is a battle between the two best offensive lines in the league.
Fenerbahce vs Zalgiris Kaunas
The defending champions want to claim the title for a second straight time and seem perfectly capable of doing this.
Coach Zeljko Obradovic has a created a great team that can play excellent basketball on both ends of the floor.
Fenerbahce had the best defence in the regular season, conceding 75 points per game, and that will be their main weapon in the Final Four.
On the other end of the floor, the Serbian coach will be expecting to see all his players, including Kostas Sloukas, Brad Wanamaker and Jan Vesely, play at very high standards and stick to the game plan.
Through their defence, the Turks will seek to run in transition and score easy points, while their shooting percentage will be the X-factor in the game.
Zalgiris Kaunas have already been successful, as they started the season in low expectations. Yet, they have defied the odds and now want to claim their first title since 1999.
Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius has done a great job so far, with the Lithuanians playing very well on both ends of the floor.
Thanks to the great spacing and ball movement, Zalgiris find many ways to score either from inside the paint or the three-point range. This versatile playing style was the key in the playoff series against Olympiacos.
The squad plays very tough and at very high standards defensively, making the opponents’ effort to score more difficult, as most of the players are great on-ball defenders, while Brandon Davies protects the rim and grabs the rebounds.
Kevin Pangos, Paulius Jankunas and Davies will be the reference points, with Arturas Milaknis coming off the bench to score crucial three-pointers.
Overall, the 2018 Final Four, which will take place at Belgrade’s Stark Arena next week (May 18th-20th) is expected to be ultra competitive and fun to watch. There is no doubt about it.
When it comes to Euroleague Final Four betting, it’s not easy to make a safe prediction, yet I believe CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce will again fight for the title, two years after their epic Championship Game in Berlin.