VIDEOS: Pre-game Interview, Sasha Kaun, Pre-game Interview, Georgios Printezis
The 2013 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four starts with a rematch of last season's final, as CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus face each other for the first time since that classic showdown in the first semifinal at The O2 in London, England, on Friday. Olympiacos rallied from a 19-point deficit to edge CSKA Moscow 61-62 in the 2012 final in one of most memorable comebacks ever seen in professional sports. Naturally that game will be on the back of both teams' minds. Olympiacos returns to the Final Four with nine of the players that won the title last season – a 10th, Vangelis Mantzaris, is injured. CSKA is back with a reloaded lineup that includes three former Olympiacos players – Milos Teodosic, Zoran Erceg and Theo Papaloukas, who is in his ninth Final Four, a record since the format was adopted in 1988.
Of course, stopping CSKA's experienced point guard duo will be a priority for Olympiacos, as both Papaloukas and Teodosic are former Euroleague MVPs. Teodosic, chosen to the All-Euroleague Second Team this season, offers deep shooting range and creativity, while Papaloukas provides court sense, size and of course, his legendary experience. Teodosic will not have it easy against Reds playmaker Acie Law, who is a known ball hound. Papaloukas must use his know-how against Dimitrios Katsivelis. Aaron Jackson will see minutes at point guard and could be CSKA's main option to guard Olympiacos superstar Vassilis Spanoulis, who was named to the All-Euroleague First Team for the second consecutive season. Spanoulis is a great pick-and-roll player, who is able to pull the trigger from downtown, drive to the basket or find the open man in double-team situations. Spanoulis will get plenty of help at both wings from two-time Euroleague champion Stratos Perperoglou, three-point threat Martynas Gecevicius, clutch hero Kostas Sloukas and 2012-13 Euroleague Rising Star award winner Kostas Papanikolaou, who can change any game with his shooting range, aggressiveness, driving skills and determination. His matchup against star forward Sonny Weems will be one of the keys to this interesting game. Weems has a very quick first step, great explosiveness and outstanding athleticism. Vladimir Micov does a little bit of everything for CSKA, from defense to rebounding to the occasional three-pointer. Anton Ponkrashov and Evgeny Voronov offer intensity and size off the CSKA bench. The battle in the paint will be the biggest key to this game, as Olympiacos needs to stop Nenad Krstic and Sasha Kaun down low. Krstic, who is back on the All-Euroleague First Team, can dominate with his low post moves and mid-range jumpers and Kaun is a great pick-and-roll player who never hesitates to dunk. Victor Khryapa is CSKA's silent leader, doing it all for the Russian powerhouse at both forwards. Andrey Vorontsevich and Dimitry Sokolov give Coach Ettore Messina plenty of options around the baskets. Khryapa will not have it easy against Georgios Printezis, who hit the game-winning shot in Istanbul last season. Kyle Hines, Josh Powell, Giorgi Shermadini and Pero make up the rest of the Olympiacos frontcourt, a group that faces a big, physical battle against their CSKA counterparts.
CSKA must run its offense through Teodosic and Krstic, expect an all-around game from Khryapa, control the defensive board to dominate the game tempo and get Weems involved, especially in one-on-one opportunities. Olympiacos must keep its fighting spirit, just as it did all season, expect Spanoulis to make the difference in crunch time, use as many fouls as needed to stop Krstic and Kaun down low and expect Law to play good on-the-ball defense against Teodosic. Expect nothing but an exciting game – as good as it gets to get the 2013 Final Four going at The O2!