What an enticing clash it will be when fellow Russian clubs Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Zenit St. Petersburg meet for the first time in continental action in the EuroCup Quarterfinals! It’s great offense versus great defense with only one advancing to the semis.
Past and future matchups
It’s an all-Russian derby in which Lokomotiv and Zenit not only know each other well, but have in common that both clubs have changed locations in recent years. Lokomotiv settled in Krasnodar in 2009, after playing some 300 kilometers north in Rostov-on-Don for six years, after which the club rebranded as Lokomotiv Kuban. On the other hand, Zenit moved to St. Petersburg in 2014-15, after previously being known as Triumphy Lyubertsy. No matter what they were called and where they played, this will be the first time they ever meet in European competition. However, despite coming from the same league, the two sides have not played as much as one would anticipate in recent seasons, either. Since the 2012-13 season, Coach Vasily Karasev’s team played against Lokomotiv only seven times – all in VTB League regular season action - and has won only once, last season at home. Interestingly, with another VTB clash coming at the end of March, two sides could be meeting in the next 30 days more than half the times they played in the past five years. When they squared off in St. Petersburg in December this season, Lokomotiv won 62-68, with Vladimir Ivlev scoring 14 points and Andrey Zubkov adding 13. Ryan Broekhoff had a nice role grabbing 10 rebounds in victory, while Zenit saw Stefan Markovic collect 15 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. But Zenit’s two primary scoring options had underwhelming games, with the EuroCup’s second-best scorer, Ryan Toolson, scoring only 5 points on 1-for-8 three-point shooting, and Janis Timma scoring 8 points while going 3 for 12 on field goals.
Zenit’s scary offense
With 14 games in the books, it is safe to say Zenit features the most dangerous offense in the competition. Zenit has scored at least 80 points in each game this season and leads the EuroCup in scoring (89.3 ppg.), three-pointers made (10.9 per game) and assists (22.4 apg.). Sharpshooter Ryan Toolson ranks second in scoring with 21.2 points, and Janis Timma is seventh in scoring, with 16.8 points per night. It makes Zenit the only team with two players averaging more than 15 points, but with Sergey Karasev (12.1 ppg.), Stefan Markovic (11.8 ppg.) and Kyle Landry (11 ppg) off the bench, Zenit features a lot more than just two scorers. Playmaker Markovic, with his 9.4 assists per game, is the runaway leader in that category, and no player who has appeared in more than six games has averaged that many assists in competition history.
Loko’s top defense
While Zenit impresses on offense, Lokomotiv has evolved into the competition’s top defense. Lokomotiv is a team that during the Top 16 allowed the fewest points (70.7) and fewest rebounds (25.7), despite forcing the fewest turnovers (10.8) and collecting the second-fewest steals (5.3). Lokomotiv’s home-court advantage in this series could turn into a big factor considering that no team scored more than 77 points all season on Lokomotiv’s floor and in its last five home EuroCup games, Coach Sasha Obradovic’s team has not allow more than 68 points. And Zenit can be added into that conversation too considering that in the aforementioned December VTB league clash, Lokomotiv allowed only 62 points against Zenit, holding it to 7-for-30 shooting from long range and to a mere 34% on field goals.
Famous coaches making good
Once premier European guards back in the 1990s, Russian scorer Vasily Karasev and Serbian point guard Sasha Obradovic will meet for the first time as head coaches. They did not square off often during their playing days, with their most notable clash coming in the 1998 World Championship title game, where Obradovic started at point guard for Yugoslavia, which edged a Karasev-led Russia 64-62 to win the gold. Karasev, who played until the age of 38, has now been with his current club for nine seasons, joining it back in 2008-09 when its name was still Triumph and was located in Moscow’s region of Lyubertsy. Karasev ended his playing career there and joined the coaching staff. In the meantime, the club moved to his hometown of St. Petersburg and Karasev has now gotten Zenit into the EuroCup elimination rounds for three consecutive campaigns; his team has a 22-10 record in the competition since the start of last season. Obradovic took over and rejuvenated Lokomotiv after arriving mid-November this season and has a 7-3 record in the EuroCup since taking over. He has turned Lokomotiv from a team that reached the Top 16 with a losing record to winning its Top 16 group as the second-fastest team to lock up home-court advantage for the quarterfinals. Lokomotiv’s turnaround in confidence might be best showcased in the team’s three-point shooting, which rose from dead last in eight regular season games (28%) to the best-shooting three-point team in the Top 16 (44.9%).