CSKA (14-6) has been really solid at home lately, winning six of its last seven games in Moscow and in Kaliningrad, including consecutive victories against Real Madrid and KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz last week. After a 0-5 start, Valencia is 10-10 and in playoffs territory. It has won its last three road games. Mike James (21.4 ppg.), Darrun Hilliard (11.0) and Kyle Hines (8.9) are leading CSKA right now. Bojan Dubljevic (14.4) is Valencia's top scorer, followed by Jordan Loyd (11.1) and Fernando San Emeterio (7.8).
Two very different centers are set to face each other again. Hines is a defensive wall, undersized but with great timing, mobility and experience. He will need to use all of his defensive skills against Dubljevic, who can pull the trigger from downtown or use his big body and post skills - highlighted by his trademark jump hook - to score in the low post. Expect an exciting matchup, full of intensity.
Earlier this season
These teams faced each other in Round 1, in a highly-anticipated showdown between last season's EuroLeague and EuroCup champions. CSKA gave Valencia no chance, downing the Spanish powerhouse 71-96 at La Fonteta. Hilliard led the winners with 22 points. James added 20 and Andrey Vorontsevich had 13 for CSKA, which won all four quarters. Mike Tobey led Valencia with 14 points. CSKA hit 17-of-31 three-point shots (54.8%) and that made the difference.
Keys to victory: CSKA
CSKA ranks sixth in scoring (84.4 ppg.) but just 11th in assists (17.2 apg.), which suggests that many of its baskets come in one-on-one actions. In that sense, running its offense through James and Hilliard will be important for the defending EuroLeague champs. CSKA is showing great hustle this season, ranking third in offensive boards (12.0 orpg.) and fourth in blocks (3.03 bpg.). Keeping that level of intensity against a deep, up-and-coming squad like Valencia will be critical for Coach Dimitris Itoudis's team.
Keys to victory: Valencia
Valencia has had trouble protecting the paint all season long, as opponents score 57.4% of their two-point shots on average. It has good defensive big men like Maurice Ndour and Louis Labyerie, who must get everyone involved with their high intensity and determination. Valencia is taking good care of the ball, dishing 1.5 assists per turnover. Its point guard depth will be critical to try to stop James; expect Guillem Vives to see extended playing time against him.