Alba Berlin has been like a troubled child of the league the last years that is so gifted, but can´t use its talent to shine in basketball life as the 8 time Beko BBL champion hasn´t won a league title since 2006 and really has been overhauled by Bamberg in the last years as the top team in the Beko BBL. They have been one of the hottest teams in the Beko BBL in the last months having had a 17 game winning streak at one time and reached the Eurocup last 8 and might have the perfect roster this year that combines deepness, character and skill that will be enough to finally win that ninth league title. Last week, Alba Berlin played an unsatisfactory first half against the Fraport Skyliners where they looked anything like a future championship team as they couldn´t find a sound offensive rhythm against a young Frankfurt team, but very aggressive defensive orientated club in the first half. Under ex coaches like Luca Pavicevic, Gordon Herbert or Muli Katzurin, Alba Berlin probably wouldn´t have been able to come back and win the game in seven out of ten games, but the three time European champion with Yugoslavia head coach Sasa Obradovic made the necessary adjustments in the second half, had trust in his star players David Logan and Reggie Redding and just knew which players had to have the ball in their hands and who were to make the right decisions. Alba Berlin found their rhythm in the second half and outplayed and controlled Frankfurt until the end. Head coach Sasa Obradovic did a superb job finding the right mix of players again this season and the question is can the team still heighten their play in the playoffs to make that next step getting new hardware back to the German capital? If Obradovic can bring his third coaching title to Alba Berlin this season, it would be the most in two seasons in comparison to only two titles in seven years previously.
Ever since Mike Taylor got the Ulm coaching job in 2003 there has been something very healthy growing in the Schwaben city. Taylor planted the seed which has grown into Ulm reaching the Beko BBL again in 2006, making the playoffs in 2009 and even as he had to go in 2011, the positive curve of the organization has continued to move upwards as a new arena was launched and the playoff appearances have become a consistent occurrence and with more and more success, the expectations continue to rise with fans in the region. However there is one direction that the club doesn´t want to continue to move in and that is being the distinguished, but content runner up which started for the Telekom Baskets Bonn and hasn´t left them. In the last three seasons the team has been a finalist three times reaching the Beko BBL final in 2012 and reaching the cup final the last two seasons. Five weeks ago, it would have been the perfect gift to win the cup in their own arena, but Alba Berlin was a tick better, but ratiopharm Ulm was so close. Traditions are always there to be broken as mr Ulm and heart and soul of the team, German national player Per Guenther is still searching for that first title. If there is any guy that deserved a title as much as a Mike Taylor in Ulm then it is Per Guenther. Guenther always looks so focused on the court, but if needed can really show his emotions on the court would probably let out the biggest cry of joy that probably could scantly be heard in Hagen if ratiopharm Ulm ever won a title.
Alba Berlin reached the 2014 Beko BBL playoffs in third place with a record of 26-7 and despite a winter lull where the club lost three of four games including their traditional game in Hagen which has been on the norm in the last years, the team comes into the playoffs having won nine of the last ten games. Their biggest wins of the season was against FC BayernMunich, Bamberg and sweeping ratiopharm Ulm. Especially on defense, the club has shifted up a few gears in the down stretch giving up under 70 points in seven of the last nine games leading up to the last game of the regular season against FC Bayern Munich. Everyone lauded Alba Berlin for getting big time player David Logan that played with top Euroleague teams the past two seasons in Athens and Tel Aviv and has 101 Euroleague games under his belt and he has been one of the leaders this season hitting huge shots and just bring defenses in turmoil with his active aggressive play on every touch of the ball, but fact is that the best player for Alba Berlin this season has been Reggie Redding who does everything on the court. He is second in team scoring, third in rebounding, first in assists, second in steals and first in field goal percentage. The fact that Redding can play positions 1-4 makes him all the more valuable. Alba Berlin has a sound guard rotation with American Clifford Hammonds who knows exactly how to separate scoring from creating for his teammates and like Logan has a similar uncanny aggressiveness in his game. Young German Akeem Vargas who came as a nobody from Tuebingen to BG Goettingen where he had a huge season in the Pro A to Alba Berlin where he has fought for minutes and received them. Recently he has been more in the German basketball news for his aggressive defense, but Sasa Obradovic wouldn´t want it any other way. Vojdan Stojanovski has been an adequate role player coming from the bench and shines more through his penetration than outside shooting. It took Alex King six years to reach a top German team as his development continued to grow from Frankfurt to Bonn to Wurzburg and has had a solid season for Alba Berlin. He is often in the starting rotation and when controlled can give the team energy on both ends of the court and he may never reach the 54,2% from outside from last seasons Eurocup season, but he takes the three pointer with much more confidence since his Frankfurt days. The big strength for Alba Berlin is the big positions. The club has a strong four man rotation with Jan Jagla who won the 2008 Uleb Cup with NBA player Ricky Rubio is still a force at 32 years of age. He took force in the Frankfurt game with three put backs off offensive rebounds in one quarter, Leon Radosevic who is injured and might play in the Ulm series is a capable inside/out player, Levon Kendall is a modern 208cm player that is smart around the bucket and has a nice touch from outside and young German Johannes Wohlfarth-Botterman that gives the club another dimension in their pick and role game.
Ratiopharm Ulm finished the season in sixth place with a record of 20-14. Ratiopharm Ulm come into the playoffs playing under 500 having won four of their last nine games. Their biggest wins of the season were against Bamberg, Artland and Bonn. They are a team that can definitely light up the scoreboard, but the question is always, do they feel like defending as their defensive performances this season have been as up and down as actress Delta Burke´s weight in the last 20 years. ratiopharm Ulm is led by Per Guenther who is their leader and playmaker and gets their offense going. The Ulm guard play is a big strength as their three top scorers are all guards. Besides Guenther, there is American Cameron Long who has had a solid season can always present problems in crunch time, but has an unreliable three pointer as he was 0/6 against FC Bayern Munich, but 5/8 against medi bayreuth. Puerto Rican Edgar Sosa who learned the basketball trade under coaching legend Rick Pitino on the other hand can hit the three pointer with consistency making 7/8 against Cantu in Eurocup play, but also when his shot is turned off can be the playmaker as he displayed eight assists against Phoenix Hagen and seven assists against Wurzburg. The club also has a solid core at the wing with German Philipp Schwethelm who will never be a big scorer, but shines with his defense and can hit the three pointer under pressure, experienced Adam Hess who won titles early in his career in the Czech Republic isn´t the youngest anymore, but still has the stroke from downtown and will help out on the boards and American Wil Clyburn who is the Super Tez of Ulm definitely shines with his athletic play, but didn´t bring the consistency on offense. The club had no easy task finding replacements for John Byrant as no player was able to duplicate the two time Beko BBL MVP, but the team has a solid four man rotation with 2008 NBA Draft pick Trent Plaisted who has almost identical stats with German Daniel Thiess with points, rebounds and field goal percentage. The only difference is that the German has a three pointer in his arsenal. Two time NCAA finalist with Butler Matt Howard is possibly the hardest working player on the team averaging 10,8ppg and 5,1rpg. Wisconsin alumnist and third year man with Ulm Keaton Nankivil is that diligent worker that has a solid inside out game and who could forget his three point buzzer beater against FC Bayern Munich.
Alba Berlin won the season series 2-0 winning the first game in a blow out in Berlin 102-74, but in the return game in Ulm, it was a lot closer as Alba Berlin won 92-87. Alba Berlin won the rebounding duel in both games and used their deep rotation to their advantage as they were able to share the ball and get everyone involved. Alba Berlin has the home court advantage in this series and that first game will be very crucial. If ratiopharm Ulm could make the big surprise and steal it, then this series could go five games. However if Alba Berlin wins the first game then they will match through to the semi finals. Ratiopharm Ulm isn´t as potent as in recent years as big country John Bryant is gone. There is more pressure on the shoulders of Per Guenther who brings that team basketball quality to the team. When he is off the floor, then the ratiopharm Ulm style changes to less team basketball. This game will be decided on the boards and on the defensive end and since Alba Berlin do both much better will win this series. Logan and Redding are the key players to control for ratiopharm Ulm, but to get both off their game in the same game is more than unlikely. The roles in Berlin are more defined than in Ulm that other guys like Hammonds, Kendall or Radosevic will be able to carry them.