This is a showdown between two of the teams that made it to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four last season. AX Armani Exchange Milan signed Dinos Mitoglou, Nicolo Melli, Devon Hall and Giampaolo Ricci, among others, to improve a roster that already included two former CSKA Moscow superstars, Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez, as well as Ettore Messina, who won two of his four EuroLeague titles with the Russian powerhouse. CSKA's marquee additions are two-time EuroLeague top scorer Alexey Shved and sharpshooter Marius Grigonis. CSKA center Nikola Milutinov set a EuroLeague record with 16 offensive rebounds in Milan last season and is healthy again. That night, CSKA also set a team record for most offensive boards in EuroLeague history with 30. These teams faced each other for the first time in the 1966 EuroLeague semifinals and most recently in the 2021 Third Place Game. CSKA has a 14-7 record against the Italian powerhouse in those 55 years of a sporting rivalry.
All eyes will be on Melli, who is back in the EuroLeague for the first time since reaching back-to-back Final Fours with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in 2018 and 2019. Melli is a mobile big man with shooting range, post skills and a high basketball IQ, which he uses to read his opponents' defense and find the best way to score. He is also a good rebounder, especially on the defensive end. Melli must use all that against Toko Shengelia, another All-EuroLeague power forward. Shengelia runs the floor like a guard, attacks the rim when given the opportunity and is one of the fastest at his position in basketball, giving CSKA a lot of points in transition. Melli is a better shooter, Shengelia is faster and stronger, and both players know how to use their size in the paint with smooth post moves. If you are looking for a high-profile matchup, you came to the right place.
Keys to victory
Milan must box out better than it did in the game at Mediolanum Forum last season. Milan, however, fixed the problem in its next two games against CSKA, allowing 18 and 8 offensive boards, respectively. The hosts rely on Hines to stop Milutinov in the paint. Rodriguez and Malcolm Delaney must set up the game tempo against Iffe Lundberg, Shved and Daniel Hackett. Milan should make the most of its versatility at both forward spots, as Melli and Luigi Datome are used to playing together and finding advantages everywhere. Above all, Milan must find a way to stop Will Clyburn, who is CSKA's main difference-maker due to his combination of size, power, experience and outstanding one-on-one skills. Of course, getting Clyburn involved should be a priority for CSKA, as well as using its size advantage in the paint with Milutinov, Johannes Voigtmann and Joel Bolomboy around the baskets. Shved has had some big games against Milan in the past and that should motivate him even more in his first EuroLeague official game with CSKA since 2012. Nikita Kurbanov and Shengelia must be ready for a demanding matchup against Melli and Mitoglou. Milan plays at home, which is always an advantage, but CSKA led the EuroLeague in road wins last season (13) and is always looking for more.