Former champion Khimki Moscow Region and first-time Eurocup semifinalist Banvit Bandirma not only have different histories, but have taken very different paths on the way to their Eurocup Semifinals clash.
How they got here
Khimki enters semifinals on a nine-game winning streak after sweeping both the eighthfinals, against Zenit St. Petersburg, and the quarterfinals, against then-defending champion Valencia Basket. Khimki has lost only three games during the Eurocup season. It is led by last season's Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice. Since Round 5 of the regular season, Khimki has lost just once, winning 15 of its last 16 games. Rice is the best scorer left in the competition with 16.4 points per game and also leads all players in the semifinals with 5.4 assists per game. Meanwhile, Banvit has not been as dominant, entering the semifinals with 12-8 record, and has spread the wealth on offense. Six players carry the load and five of them average double-figures in scoring. No one ranks among the top performers for the season, as E.J. Rowland leads the team with 13.3 point and 4.3 assists, while Vladimir Dragicevic pulls down 5.5 rebounds.
Home sweet home
Khimki has not lost at home this season and has won 18 straight Eurocup games there dating back to the 2013-14 season opener. To find another Khimki home loss in the Eurocup, one has to go all the way back to February 2009 and its 69-77 defeat at the hands of Dynamo Moscow. All told, Khimki has won 29 of its last 30 Eurocup home games. In its 10 home victories this season, Khimki has registered eight double-digit wins and has won by an impressive average margin of 18.7 points. Banvit is traditionally hard-to-beat on its home floor, where it has a 26-4 home record in the past four years, including 8-2 this season. Four of those wins came by double-digit margins. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Banvit made it through the eighthfinals and quarterfinals by virtue of its home victories over Virtus Rome and Paris Levallois, despite losing to both teams on the road.
Khimki is not only a former champion but also one of the most successful clubs in recent Eurocup history. In its previous five appearances, it has twice played in a title game and twice more was beaten in a home-and-away series by the eventual champion – Joventut in 2008 and Valencia Basket last season. Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis won the Eurocup title first with Lietuvos Rytas in 2009 before winning again with Khimki in 2012. Two players from that 2012 championship squad, Sergey Monia and Egor Vyaltsev, are still with the team. Another Khimki player, Marko Popovic, was the 2011 Eurocup Final MVP after winning the title with Unics. Another player who won the Eurocup with Unics that year is now on the opposite end. Vladimir Veremeenko is the sole player on Banvit's team to have won a Eurocup crown in his career. But even though Banvit is in its first semifinals and made its Eurocup debut five seasons ago, it is hard to find a team with more Eurocup experience than Banvit. In addition to Veremeenko, who ranks first in all-time games played with 114, three more Banvit players – Chuck Davis, Keith Simmons and Vladimir Dragicevic – are near the very top in games played since 2010-11, which was club's first Eurocup season. Together with Sammy Mejia, E.J. Rowland and Safak Edge, the top seven Banvit players have an incredible 365 Eurocup games between them in the past five years.
No team has scored more points in the Eurocup this season than Khimki's 1,711, and it ranks third with an average of 85.5 per game. Khimki ranks first with 21.9 assists per game, which is also third-best for a single season in the history of the competition. Khimki is also one of the best three-point shooting teams (39.4%), leads the Eurocup in blocks (4.3), and has the best average performance index rating (102.4). Interestingly, a big chunk of that production has come from the bench. In addition to scoring and assist leader Tyrese Rice, the only other two double-digit scorers have been Petteri Koponen (13.7 ppg), who has come off the bench in half of the games, and Marko Popovic (11.2), who has not made a single start this season. The team's top rebounders, with 5.5 boards apiece, are bench contributor James Augustine, and Tyler Honeycutt, who assumed a role of a regular starter midway through the Last 32.
Banvit coaching change
Banvit is the first-time semifinalist, but its journey was not without some turbulence along the way. Prior to its eighthfinals series, club has made a head coaching change, naming Burak Selcuk Ernak to replace Zoran Lukic on the bench. Ernak, who has spent many years with Banvit both as a coach and in the club's administration, is the youngest of four remaining coaches in the Eurocup. His Banvit has not been much that different than Lukic's side, as the only major change has been inserting Vladimir Veremeenko into the starting linup instead of Vladimir Dragicevic. However, Dragicevic's minutes since then have increased. Also, Banvit has played a solid defense in two Eurocup series under its new coach, becoming the top-ranked defense by allowing just 64.2 points during that span.