With the countdown to the Final Four in full swing, Euroleague.net turns once again to our special analyst for the occasion, Jiri Zidek of the Czech Republic, to tell us his opinion of the semifinals. Zidek remembers well how a player feels in the lead-up to the big event, having won with Zalgiris in 1999, his first and only Final Four appearance. "Zalgiris did a good job of not letting the pressure get to us," Zidek told Euroleague.net. "They gave us time off, the weather was nice, we relaxed with our families in the days before going to Munich. We had like three days off plus one more easy day in Kaunas. Then, in Munich, we had easy pre-game practices and went into the game rested with fresh legs and our heads clear. I remember questioning at the time why we were taking it so easy. I thought that for a Final Four, we would be six hours a day in the gym preparing. We got more time off than we ever did the rest of the season. I was nervous, but all the free time proved the right choice. We went up by 15 at halftime in both the semifinal and the final. So the extra rest really showed."
First semifinal: Maccabi Elite vs. Tau Ceramica
"Maccabi is a team that uses five players who are almost interchangeable in all sports on the floor. They seem not to have too much structure to their game. Coach Gershon gives them a lot of freedom, but he has the players who accept the responsibility that comes with that freedom. And they don't make too many mistakes, which comes from their being together a long time. I think that Tau tries to run the fastbreak, obviously, but when they can't, they have a more systematic halfcourt offense, using Scola mainly in post-up situations. That's different from Maccabi's big man, Vujcic, who usually faces the basket to penetrate and finish or kick out passes, which he does well. For Tau, I really like Kornel David coming off the bench. He gives them a lot of energy. For him, no loose ball is dead. So I think he could be a factor. For Maccabi, there's a quality group of seven players, most of whom have been together a long time, and they have a coach who believes in them fully. In a Final Four, with the quality of the players and the coaches, the small things will be decisive. One or two loose balls or unforced errors. That makes it hard to predict what happens. It's logical to think that with many more Maccabi fans there, they will have an advantage, but I remember that when I won with Zalgiris, we had a few hundred fans and Olympiacos 6,000 in Munich. So the crowd is a factor, but I don't think it determines the outcome. I just think that Maccabi will try to play its uptempo style, not passing up any open shots, using its great quickness and agility from all five positions. There is also their experience and the fact of being back-to-back champs. I am not sure if thinking about a three-peat will be a factor. It could tie their hands a little. We'll see, but I don't expect it to be a negative factor. They've been together too long and have big faith in each other."
Second semifinal: Winterthur FCB vs. CSKA Moscow
"I think both of these teams have very strict and tough coaches. Both Messina and Ivanovic have full control over their teams. For me, Ivanovic has one of the best point guards, a potentially dominant figure in Shammond Williams, who has done a very good job for them. Their frontcourt and depth are very good, too. They have a hard worker under the basket who I like a lot, Marconato. He doesn't have great stats but a lot of things he does on court are not accounted for in stats. He's a solid worker and player, as is Fucka. They have a lot of experience and the most talented player in Spain, Navarro, along with Pau Gasol. As for CSKA, what is there not to like? They have great players, a great, experienced coach, and the highest budget in the Euroleague. People of course are looking to them as a favorite. They have not succeeded in the last three Final Fours, so this is their fourth try. I like the fact that they have a new coach leading them this time. It will give a new perspective and make them forget about the last three unsuccessful times. I like that they were able to fill the gap when Andersen, their prime-time player, was hurt. Smodis has been a big factor and the perimeter players are of great quality, too."