The biggest question in the buildup to the Köln 99ers' game against Khimki was if Köln would even play. Head coach Sasa Obradovic's Köln side was ravaged by financial problems - even filing for bankruptcy - before managing to finish the regular season at 6-4. But in their efforts to find ways to save money - and its season -the German club cleaned house of its stars as Aleksandar Nadjfeji, Immanuel McElroy and Toby Bailey all have left town for greener pastures. Gone are Obradovic's three best players - the top three scorers, top three rebounders and top three assist men. Small forward Bailey was averaging 13.8 points, 6 rebounds and 2.9 assists while playmaker McElroy had 13.5 points, 5 rebounds and 4.3 assists and power forward Nadjfeji chipped in 12.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists off the bench. So, who is left? Forward Milko Bjelica is probably Obradovic's main option (10.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.4 apg) along with power forward Yassin Idbihi (10 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.2 apg) and playmaker Misan Nikagbatse (7.1 ppg, 1.9 apg). Also look for guard Derek Raivio to step up as well as the trio of promising youngsters - 20-year-old forward Marko Keselj, 17-year-old small forward Philipp Schwethelm and 19-year-old center Tibor Pleiss. Regardless who plays, Köln will have its hands full. Head coach Kestutis Kemzura's Khimki is one of the strongest teams in ULEB Cup, finishing with an 8-2 record. The Russian side tallied 84 points per game while hitting a fourth-best 80% from the free throw line and committing a ULEB Cup-low of 10.7 turnovers per contest. But the one weakness Khimki may have is its rebounding, having collected just 29 rebounds per game. The heart of Kemzura's team is former ULEB Cup MVP small forward Kelly McCarty, who averaged 16.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. But there is plenty of talent on this team, including point guard Dan Ewing (12.5 ppg, 2.9 apg), small forward Anton Ponkrashov (10.1 ppg, 4.4 apg), shooting guard Teemu Rannikko (11.3 ppg, 2.6 apg) and power forward Mike Wilkinson (7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 spg). Kemzura struck gold with the late season addition of center Maciej Lampe, who averaged 13.7 points, 8 rebounds and 1 blocked shot in the final three games, including a classy 20 points and 13 rebounds at Pamesa Valencia. And Khimki added another top scoring option with the acquisition of shooting guard Clay Tucker, who had been averaging a league-high 21 ppg in the Italian league. With the lack of high level talent for Köln, this game could get ugly.
Monday, February 18, 2008