Two-time Euroleague champion Johnny Rogers won both of his Euroleague titles with Panathinaikos Athens, in 2000 and 2002. Rogers also suited up for Olympiacos, Real Madrid and Olimpia Milan during a 15-season Euroleague career that saw him reach the Final Four five times with three different clubs. Since retiring, he has been a color commentator on Euroleague.TV, where he brings his expertise to millions of fans on a regular basis. Johnny will be in the commentator's booth again during the 2011 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul, but first he breaks down the upcoming playoffs series and the teams trying to get there.
FC Barcelona Regal
Barcelona is as hungry as any team to make it back to the Final Four after losing in the playoffs last season, and you can tell by how they play, especially on defense. This is the only series in which the teams have faced each other earlier this season, and Barcelona won both rather easily, which is a psychological advantage. They even scored 93 points in Kazan, which is 30 more than Unics gave up at home on average this season. For that reason, Barcelona head coach Xavi Pascual will try to get his team to play an up-tempo game. His team's outstanding team defense - which at 61.3 points per game allowed so far is on the verge of shattering the Euroleague record - is what usually opens up the Barcelona transition game. This team has all the ingredients, including go-to players inside and out in Juan Carlos Navarro and Erazem Lorbek, respectively. But what's amazing about Barcelona is its depth. Chuck Eidson, coming back from injury, was the top performer in last year's Final Four. Marcelinho Huertas, Boni Ndong, Fran Vazquez and others can take over games. And all of them sacrifice for the team.
Player to watch: Erazem Lorbek
We have the privilege in this series to watch one of the world's premier post players, Erazem Lorbek, in the prime of his best season yet. Lorbek's basketball IQ is off the charts and he has become a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor. No one has stopped him when it counted so far this season.
Unics has several plusses to work with in this series. First, few people expect them to win, so they won't play with that pressure. Second, they seem to enjoy playing slow-down defensive battles. Third, they are the oldest team in the Euroleague, so they have a lot of veteran know-how, which could make a difference in tight games decided by a play or two. The challenge for Unics will be to keep the games tight. Head coach Evgeny Pashutin will have his team slow the tempo as much as possible, which means that his players must be patient on offense. Most important will be taking good shots, which will allow Unics to prepare its transition defense. Unics is at its best in half-court sets thanks to its mix of experienced, intelligent veterans. Even so, Terrell Lyday, Lynn Greer and Henry Domercant will need to be accurate from long range because it's very tough to score against Barca's height close to the basket. Nonetheless, I like the Unics big men and don't discount them - or perimeter guys like Terrell Lyday and Kelly McCarty - making noise. Veteran teams like Unics usually do well limiting mistakes to stay in games a long time.
Player to watch: Vladimir Veremeenko
The guy who I think will be key for Unics is power forward Vladimir Veremeenko. Perhaps not as well-known as some of his teammates or opponents, Veremeenko has been very productive all season, especially on offensive rebounds. If he can hurt Barcelona in that department it will be huge for Unics.