The Miles Basketball Minute: The Cup Of The Underdog Enchants Basketball Germany

A decade ago the Opel Skyliners ended the seemingly unending dynasty of Alba Berlin who had won 7 Beko BBL titles in a row where winning seemed as common then for the German capital team as Macabbi Tel Aviv did in Israel. Who could forget the wide smile by Skyliner captain Pascal Roller while hoisting the trophy that lit up the Ballsporthalle arena in Frankfurt  and blended in well with the spot lights glaring in all colors. Back then you had fewer dominant teams, more scoring, less high profile name players, less Germans getting minutes and the competition level was on a lower plateau than it is today. With the arrival of boss Jan Pommer in 2005, the league has come a long way and really developed in all areas with more high profile players coming to the league, Germans playing more of a role in their teams and the skill level and competition within the league seems to have risen each year the way a hot air-ballon slowly does from the ground moving up and up into the sky. In what other basketball league in Europe can you have in a span of seven hours in four games, four upsets. On Saturday,  Medi Bayreuth went to Weissenfels and won in the always difficult wolf den beating one of the hotter teams at the moment, league doormat Walter Tigers Tuebingen growled their way to Frankfurt defeating the 2004 champion after they had disposed of the two bests scoring BBL teams the last two weeks and at the cup weekend, 8 time Beko BBL champion Alba Berlin upset Bamberg while massive underdog ratiopharm Ulm totally dominated FC Bayern Munich from the start where one had to ask if Germany´s most famous sports team had had too much Kholodets to eat on their Euroleague trip to Moscow as at times they looked as sluggish on the court as a very well conditioned NFL guard or tackle. It was a weekend full of surprises in the Beko BBL as the only thing missing for the perfect weekend would have been for ex teammates John Bryant and Per Guenther entertaining the fans at halftime with a three point shooting contest, but all in all it was a weekend with the cup of the underdog.

After winning the Beko BBL cup three times in a row, the Brose Baskets Bamberg had to surrender their reign on the coveted trophy last season to Alba Berlin who had finally won a title again after winning their last title the cup in 2009 in Hamburg. It was a nice change last season and in a way this season if one had more gone with their own feeling and the current state of both teams Bamberg and FC Bayern Munich, one may have predicted at least one upset, but in the end, it is always the big clubs that prevail while the little meaningless underdog sits and obeys like a dog does his master. Despite a 22-4 record and second place in the Beko BBL standings, Bamberg has become more and more suspect the last two seasons as winning easily has become an understatement. In the end all that matters and counts is winning, but breaking a sweat was not always on the program with Bamberg. They did blow out their last two opponnets Ulm and Ludwigsburg, but lost to Alba Berlin and won very close games to less competitive teams like Bayreuth Bremerhaven, Tuebingen and Braunschweig by a combined point total of only 11 points in the last six weeks. In the past losing to the same team twice in a row was as uncommon as ex Bamberg guard Brian Roberts not hitting a clutch shot, but there is always a time for a first and Alba Berlin managed two wins in a row. Alba Berlin won 83-67, but that was helped with a rapid surge in the fourth quarter by Alba Berlin too easily seal the win. Except for one lead change late in the first quarter, Alba Berlin led in the whole game. Where was the usual Bamberg dominance? How could Alba Berlin pull away in the fourth quarter in a do or die game against the usual so unstoppable Bamberg? One rule that is becoming more and more visible in the Beko BBL is playing just ok won´t cut it and that is what happened to Bamberg. Both teams shot poorly from outside, but Bamberg couldn´t compensate it from the field. It was no secret that Alba Berlin have the advantage inside and Bamberg was killed on the boards.  11 turnovers for Bamberg is ok, but allowing only seven Alba Berlin turnovers will make it harder to get extra possessions especially when you need more and more in a comeback. Anton Gavel stepped up as usual and Bamberg got nice production inside from Maik Zirbes and Jamar Smith, but where were Casey Jacobsen a Rakim Sanders or Jared Jordan? Bamberg that gell as a team didn´t play as a team. Jordan had eight points and five assists in 32 minutes which are stats that he might have at halftime during a stellar game by him. Alba Berlin played better team basketball and the key heads of David Logan, Reggie Redding and Leon Radosevic led them to victory. Don´t count out Chris Fleming and his team yet, because he has displayed in the past that his team is always ready for the playoffs and they are still defending champions. The Cup is a two day affair while the playoffs are a six week adventure. Jordan and co will be a new team come the playoffs.

Who knows where FC Bayern Munich legend Uli Hoeniss was on the morning of the cup semi final game against Ulm and FC Bayern-Hoffenheim soccer game, but possibly he was getting in one last round of golf or getting a jump on easter egg goodies for his family, but if someone had whispered in his ear prior to the two games that the basketball team would lose and thus be denied their first title in the city where he is from and that the soccer club would engage in a boring, tiresome 3-3 against ninth ranked Hoffenheim, he probably would have given a surprised look and created a mountain of a wrinkle on his forehead as big to be able to place a peanut between the crease. It isn´t often that both the basketball teams and soccer teams don´t have a win on the same weekend, but what the FC Bayern Munich team experienced against ratiopharm Ulm wasn´t just a loss, but it was a humiliation of the worst kind. Despite only having 48 hours to recover from a Euroleague loss and trip to Moscow, most experts would have still picked FC Bayern Munich over ratiopharm Ulm even if it was in Ulm.  However it was a game that ratiopharm Ulm controlled for 40 minutes never allowing FC Bayern Munich to get a lead. The mighty FC Bayern Munich that predicted before the season that hardware would be coming to Munich this season weren´t the mighty FC Bayern Munich, but more like a helpless Scar from the Lion King after Simba takes control of the kingdom. Nothing FC Bayern Munich did was typical, but instead were playing catch up basketball all night long and it really looked like the teams had done a role reversal only not exchanging the jerseys. Where was the usual so dominant FC Bayern Munich? Has the Euroleague gotten the best of the strongest 12 man roster in the Beko BBL? One has to ask, if the club already has reached their peak earlier in the season and it will be interesting to see if head coach Svetislav Pesic can get them back on the road of glory that they predicted they would achieve. It doesn´t matter who you are, but if most shots aren´t falling even if the ball was taped with a wish bone and Ulm are hitting contested after contested shots from Neu-Ulm than even an FC Bayern Munich will struggle to win games.  Ulm shot 54% from the parking lot while FC Bayern Munich shot 17%. That stat was a back breaker, but what broke the neck of FC Bayern Munich was the boards. Ratiopharm Ulm outrebounded Munich 48-29 and you have to ask yourself was FC Bayern Munich content on watching a new Ulm DVD being made on how to rebound as on most occasions they were standing around as the very much lower paid guys like Matt Howard, Will Cylburn or Daniel Thesis were scooping down rebounds as if their life depended on it while the FC Bayern big men actually forgot what effort stands for when balls are bouncing around the rim. Will Clyburn and Cameorn Long had great scoring games, but the team as a whole had a great supporting cast as Matt Howard got big buckets late as did Rick Pitino student Edgar Sosa to keep FC Bayern Munich at bay in the fourth quarter. One has to give a lot of credit to Ulm head coach Thorsten Leibenath who had his team more than prepared. John Byrant and Deon Thompson supplied the fire power, but they kept Malcolm Delaney under control. One really notices that when the Maryland native isn´t in his comfort zone, FC Bayern Munich can´t get in that groove. FC Bayern Munich didn´t get that team effort that Ulm got as Germans Yassin Idbihi, Heiko Schaffartzik and Robin Benzing combined for only 11 points. It will be interesting to see how FC Bayern Munich recovers from this cup weekend disaster as they also lost the third place game against Bamberg. I am more sure that Bamberg will recover better than Munich. Svetislav Pesic has a lot of work in front of him.

The final pitted defending cup champion Alba Berlin against 2013 runner up ratiopharm Ulm. For many neutral fans, it was already a very nice Sunday not only because of the beautiful spring weather, but because a title wouldn´t have the name FC Bayern Munich or Brose Baskets Bamberg on it. This was a game that despite Alba Berlin sweeping the season series 2-0 didn´t really have  a favorite since ratiopharm Ulm had upset FC Bayern Munich and had overwhelming momentum coming in and a see of orange in the stands that could of filled up half of the English channel. Alba Berlin was the defending cup champion and ratiopharm Ulm had a crazy feeling of revenge for getting the win especially finalists like Matt Howard who never could win a NCAA crown being  a two time finalist with Butler and German national player Per Guenther still looking for that first win. The first half was very close as there were nine lead changes and one could say that ratiopharm Ulm had their nose forward   a tad more than Alba Berlin. However in the third quarter, the turning point came where at the score of 45-45, Alba Berlin went on a huge 21-6 run to lead 66-51 and ratiopharm Ulm could never fully recover until the last two minutes where they cut the lead down to six and could of cut the lead to three with 20 seconds, but missed two open three pointers. Alba Berlin shot much better and totally dominated the boards 37-25 and were all around the more cool team in pressure situations and after 40 minutes were clearly the better team.  Lots of respect has to be handed to Alba Berlin for clamping down and sticking together and not letting a David Logan rumor that FC Bayern Munich is interested in his services next season ruin their team chemistry and spirit in Ulm. Logan only had 5 points in the final, but Alba Berlin showed their vast ability to share the ball as they had five players in double figures with Clifford Hammonds with 19 points and Leon Radosevic with 15 points. Walter Tiger Tuebingen manager Robert Wintermantel knows exactly what he lost when Reggie Redding went to Berlin and was confident that they would win it all before the game against Frankfurt. Without a doubt without Reggie Redding on the floor in Ulm, Alba Berlin would not have won a second consecutive cup. Redding brought them to the 2014 Top 4 on a buzzer beater against the Telekom Baskets Bonn  and was their MVP as he had 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in the two games and led the team in the final with seven assists and rebounds.  Much respect also has to be given to head coach Sasa Obradovic who came to Berlin in the summer of 2012 taking over a team that was yearning for a title and had unending question marks about the future of the team. He built two very competitive teams and in two years have won two titles. This season he has let FC Bayern Munich and Bamberg do the talking and he quietly has done his work and was rewarded with his fourth coaching title in Germany. If you look back between 2003-2012, and Alba Belrin was able to win only three titles, so the hard disciplined Serb who only seemingly only smiles when no one sees it has to be credited with much responsibility for the current success. All in all, it was a great basketball weekend in the German Beko BBL and with the massive level of competition in the league, who knows, but possibly May and June could have traces, bits or even large pieces of the playoffs of the underdog?

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