2013 Beko BBL playoff preview ratiopharm Ulm-Artland Dragons 3-1

As the Boston Celtics were down 3-0 to neighbors the New York Knicks, being a Boston Celtics fan was about as tough as if Derek Jeter awakened a hard core Red Sox fan with a self made cooked breakfast on a Sunday morning wearing the Yankees uniform. Fans had been wondering will one ever see Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo ever play again as the futures of the trio was as unknown as that of ratiopharm Ulm player John Bryant. The rise of ratiopharm Ulm has gone steadily not too fast after the club reached the Beko BBL cup and playoff final last year, moving into a new arena this season and having another stellar regular season and strong Eurocup season, but the 2013 Beko BBL playoffs could be the last time that John Bryant could help Ulm win a title. Bryant has won the Beko BBL MVP two seasons in a row being the best center in the league giving the word double double a new meaning and without big John, ratiopharm Ulm would not have reached two finals. Also in Quackenbruck, the Artland Dragons seem to be at a kind of cross roads. They are now in their third season with Stefan Koch, but despite reaching three playoffs in a row, it seems like the team has been a bit underachieving especially with the strength of their rosters. The last time, the Dragons won a title was the 2008 Beko BBL cup in Hamburg. Fans are thirsty for a title and the dungeon of Toby the Dragon and the fire inside seems to be getting a tad weaker. The expectations are high despite the average season by the Artland Dragons and this could be that last chance before another rebuilding and possible total restructuring of the roster could happen as it seems to be more the case now a days with professional basketball teams. Recently the 2000 cup winning head coach of the Opel Skyliners announced he wont return to Quackenbruck.

Ratiopharm Ulm had another very strong season not as potent as last season where they finished in second place with a record of 27-7, but this season in third place with a record of 24-10. One cant forget that this season every team was gunning for the Swaben team and that surprise effect like last season wasn´t present, plus they had the strain of the Eurocup season. Despite all this, the club was able to play like a top team and the players from last season and head coach Thorsten Leibanath were able to develop further in their functions and as a team as the chemistry stayed intact from last season coupled with the integration of the new players.  The club strung together a six, five and four game winning streaks. Their biggest wins of the season were sweeps of Alba Berlin, EWE Baskets Oldenburg and the Artland Dragons. Who could forget the buzzer beater of Keaton Nankivil last season against FC Bayern Munich and this season they beat Germanys most famous team again at home. Ratiopharm Ulm also have a strong offense as they averaged 84 points per game and scored 80 points or more 24 times. Defense isn´t their strong suit as they were only able to give up 70 or less points nine times. They kept Bayreuth, Trier and MBC under 50 points and even combined the perfect offense/defense combination beating Giessen 100-46, but then again that is no feat. Giessen surprised them in the Osthalle giving them a hard fought loss, defining the meaning that anything is possible in the Beko BBL.Their strength is their scoring power and depth on offense. With John Bryant and Per Guenther they have a powerful duo with the young German always creating points with his penetration or pick and roll play and the American just makes men look like boys in the paint. With Allan Ray, Steve Esterkamp and Daniel Theis, they have very formidable scorers. They also have unlimited potential from the bench with Philipp Schwethelm, Keaton Nankivil, Lance Jeter and Sebastian Betz. Even when Dane Watts went down for the season with an injury, nobody panicked and the late season pick up of Omar Samhan has added stability to the paint. The late addition of Pro B monster Myles Hesson has been a pleasant surprise as he has given strong minutes. For some a weakness is that the club is too dependent on Bryant, but if you look at the team, there is enough firepower and even if you take away the 10 rebounds per game by Bryant, then the team still has 29 which is what many lower ranked teams average. No matter how the game goes, one is never totally able to take Bryant out of his rhythm. Their defense is also suspect which could be a liability when Artland has good shooting nights and Ulm is not on as much on offense.

The last two seasons the Artland Dragons have been my sleeper team, but each season the y have underachieved. At the start of the season, I had them as one of the deepest teams in the league, but seven months later, they ended the season only in sixth place with a record of 20-14 and remained a riddle why such a talented team couldn´t perform better. There were some reasons in that Demond Mallet was injured to start the season and they never had a classic point guard and the big problem of the season was the power forward position as guys came and went like fleas do after having dinner on Beethoven the dog as ex NBA players Ryan Gomes and Dennis Horner as well Andrew Drevo left. Kristaps Valters also played for  a few months before having to pack his bags. All in all the club has been searching for a team chemistry and identity all season long, but have always had disturbances of players departing and coming. The team still is a very strong offensive team averaging 77 points per game, but could never go for a very long time with consecutive wins as they had a quick four game winning streak in the first month and after that four three game winning streaks. They actually did have some success against top teams as they beat Alba Berlin and even swept the Brose Baskets Bamberg including being only the third Beko BBL team to do in Bamberg since June 2010 which is definitely something to tell your grand kids. Dragons head coach Stefan Koch has a very strong 11 man rotation and even has started with German Acha Njei, a guy who was usually a garbage time player his whole career. With Branislav Rathkovica, who came recently, they have a classic point guard and with the guard trio of Bryce Taylor, Demond Mallet and Marquez Haynes possibly the best in the Beko BBL. The heart and soul of the team is German Johannes Strasser who is the ultimate team player. The center duo of Anthony King and Petar Popovic is solid and King belongs to the most underrated big men in the league. With Brad Buckman, the team has the perfect power forward who has stepped it up in the last weeks and will need to continue to get touches and shots. Their weakness is that they are still looking for their 100% team chemistry, but that may have been found as they ended the regular season with a three game winning streak beating Bamberg and the red hot Phoenix Hagen.

Ratiopharm Ulm swept the season series as Artland lost 80-69 at home after leading at halftime, but losing control in the second half and then being embarrassed in Ulm 88-60 as the game was already decided at halftime and Artland only mustered eight points in the fourth quarter. In the loss in Ulm, Artland was clobbered on the boards.  The duel of the game could be John Bryant-Anthony King. Bryant had Artland for dinner in both games as he scored combined 34 points and 27 rebounds. Artland has to find a way to somehow keep Bryant out of his comfort zone with aggressive post defense and denying him the ball, but that is easier said than done.  Both teams have very strong offensive teams and this could be a high scoring series and in the end it will be the team that decides to defend more consistently that will win. Artland needs to change the tempo of the game as well and get out running and try to get Bryant in foul trouble. German Daniel Theis who has been rumoured to have entered the 2013 NBA draft has developed well and even he could have big games if a Bryant has to sit down, not to forget the Egyptian tank Omar Samhan. The Artland Dragons also need a potent Branislav Rathkovica or this could be a short series. All in all ratiopharm is stronger  on offense, deeper and has John Bryant. They will be too much for the Artland Dragons and win the series 3-1.

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