2015 Beko BBL Playoff Quarterfinal Preview: Fraport Skyliners-FC Bayern Munich 3-2

This season in German basketball there have been many things that went accordingly to plan and what many probably predicted like with the Crailsheim Merlins moving back to the second division, Ludwigsburg monster Jon Brockman winning the rebound trophy with the best per game average, the s.Oliver baskets Wurzburg returning back to the BBL, Fraport Skyliner Johannes Voigtmann following in the footsteps of teammate Danilo Barthel and winning the league´s most improved player award as the Skyliner coaching staff continues to believe in their youth and Braunschwieg forward Derrick Allen still not slowing down as the 34 year old can still ballerina to points and rebounds inside. However on November 19th on a cold night around 21:15, the Fraport Skyliners had just experienced a bitter 72-70 buzzer beater loss in the Eurochallenge to Swedish team Boras in a foreign gym in Russelsheim only 23 kilometers away from their real living room Fraport arena and were 1-2 in the international competition and had a bleak 2-7 record in the Beko BBL and were living in the league cellar with little support as the club was undergoing a nasty injury bug as they had a walked wounded list as long as the weekly grocery list of Shaq. You never know exactly how head coach Gordon Herbert is feeling since his back problems is no secret, but one thing is for sure just how painful this period was was impossible to read on his face as he hides it as perfectly as Rajon Rondo tries his jump shot, but can´t when he has to attempt it. If anyone had predicted then on November 19th that the Fraport Skyliners would reach the Eurochallenge final four and finish the BBL season in sixth place and reach the playoffs, one would have declared that person for mentally insane and given that perplexed look. However the team got many guys back healthy, turned the season around thanks to the break out rookie season of Justin Cobbs and Johannes Voigtmann who became a house hold name in Europe thanks to his consistent and potent play on the court especially in the Eurochallenge. With the Fraport Skyliners accomplishing so much this season despite having low odds five months ago, now it´s time for me to make the boldest of predictions and possibly most insane of the Fraport Skyliners somehow clawing, fighting and pushing themselves by FC Bayern Munich. The Fraport Skyliners played superb in three of the eight quarters this season against Germany´s most famous team and won one game and led at halftime of the other game in Munich by double digits before caving in in the third quarter. I am probably the only one to make this prediction, but someone has to do it even if the chances on paper for the Fraport Skyliners to get to the semi-finals is about as probable as Frankfurt Skyliner Mike Morrison ever being allowed to take a three pointer. The Fraport Skyliners finished the regular season in sixth place with a record of 20-14. After that horrendous start, they regrouped and had a 18-7 record. Had they started better, they may have been able to have competed with the Telekom Baskets Bonn for fourth place. They finished off the BBL season strong winning six of their last seven games despite losing both games at the Eurochallenge Final 4 in Turkey. Their biggest staple is their defense where they allowed 70 points or less 10 times. As stated so often this season, the turning point of the season came in November as the club had to react to the injury of starting point guard Richard Williams by bringing in rookie Justin Cobbs who had started the season with VEF Riga in Latvia, but didn´t find a rhythm and was scooped up by Frankfurt. Cobbs came and the rest is history as he led the team to a 17-6 record in the BBL and 10-2 record in the Eurochallenge which equates to a 27-8 record. Cobbs(14,1ppg, 2,6rpg, 4,5apg) brought a high basketball IQ with him and used his cleverness and calmness in crunch time situations more often than not to help the team to victory most importantly against Enisey Krasnoyarsk where he led a second half charge from 19 down to win 85-80 and get to the Eurochallenge Final 4. The club also got solid production form others like rookie Sean Armand(13,1ppg, 3,0rpg, 2,4apg). He proved to be a scoring threat in so many games scoring in double figures in 23 BBL games and 11 Eurochallenge games. His 22 points against FC Bayern Munich helped lead the charge to the win in the fourth quarter and his 31 points against Avtodor and 23 points against Enisey Krasnoyarsk despite being loses showed that he can score with the best of them at an international level. Third year man Johannes Voigtmann(12,5ppg, 6,0rpg, 2,5apg) had his break out year. When do you ever see a center be so high in assists as he was third on the team? In the Eurochallenge he cleaned up the Eurobasket awards as he was the top center in the competition averaging 16,0ppg, 7,2rpg and 1,8apg. He scored in double figures in 13 of 15 games and had five double doubles. His 26 points against Enisey Krasnoyarsk sealed the ticket to the Eurochallenge Final 4. Quantez Robertson(11,0ppg, 4,4rpg, 3,2apg) is playing his sixth professional season with Frankfurt and will be playing his third playoffs after reaching a final and semi early in his career. He was so often an extra point guard this season, best defender on the team and just does so much that isn´t seen on the stat sheet. Danilo Barthel(9,0ppg, 5,2rpg, 1,6apg) was having a productive season until he got injured in mid January which cost him two months to sit out. He was a solid performer in the Eurochallenge as well scoring in double figures in seven of nine games He was the teams best three point shooter at 42%. His return has been stalled a bit by more limited minutes as he is still finding his way back into a more developed rotation. The rotation is further aided by three strong role players in Jacob Burtschi(7,8ppg, 3,6rpg, 1,8apg) who came for the injured Barthel as is the ultimate warrior on the court that does everything from bringing leadership, Boris Becker diving qualities or nailing 10 three pointers in a game, Aaron Doornekamp(A6,8ppg, 4,1rpg, 1m5apg) has had an up and down season, but took on much responsibility the last few months bringing more support in the scoring department, but also being a force down low and Mike Morrison(7,1ppg, 3,3rpg) who is the bruiser down low and half his points this season are on dunks. He is an important presence in the paint especially on defense and is the perfect back up to Voigtmann. The club also has big man Johannes Richter that owned the Baaken Bears taking away their much beloved honey in both games leading the team to a big 74-64 win at home as he had 15 points. The team also brought back Max Merz who is taking a semester in Australia, but has a vacation break Kevin Bright, Mikko Koivisto and Stefan Ilzhoefer. FC Bayern Munich finished the season in third place as they had a record of 26-8 as they weren´t as dominating as last season as this season they had bitter and hard to believe loses against TBB Trier and BG Goettingen where they only mustered 59 points. They had a disappointing 2-8 record in the Euroleague and unsatisfying 5-3 record in Eurocup. Despite not having that dominant American point guard like in recent years with Tyrese Rice or Malcom Delaney their offense was their biggest strength as they scored 80 or more points 26 times and had NBA 100 plus type scores nine times including mastering 124 points against Phoenix Hagen.. They are also a strong defensive team when they want to be as they allowed 70 points or less 11 times, but then again allowing the Telekom Baskets Bonn get 107 points or BG Goettingen 95 points. FC Bayern Munich without a doubt have the deepest roster in the league and one would want almost each guy on your team as most would be starters on any other team in the league. The star of the team is John Bryant(13,5ppg, 7,9rpg) who played three seasons with ratiopharm Ulm and is the best center in the league as he is so difficult to stop, but the most valuable player on the team is Serb Nihad Djedovic(15,0ppg, 3,5rpg, 2,6apg) who is a high energy player that is so versatile that just does all on the court scoring in double figures in 19 of 24 games. After missing two months, he came back strong in April as if he had never been away. Head coach Svetislav Pesic has had his luck with picking the right Serb´s as Dusko Savanovic(11,6ppg, 4,6rpg, 2,1apg) was the hidden MVP as he is also a very mobile and versatile big man who is unselfish and belonged to the team´s best performers in the Euroleague. The guy with the biggest heart Bryce Taylor(9,5ppg, 3,1rpg, 1,3apg) was the team best three point shooter and as captain his team play was never missing. He came back slow from injury, but started going in February. Some just come and pay admission to see Anon Gavel(8,4ppg, 2,1rpg, 4,0apg) launch his line drive shots led the team in assists and can always haunt you with his bombs from outside. With Bryant taking a rest an opponent gets hit with the next bruiser with Vladimir Stimac(8,1ppg, 5,4rpg). There is nothing fancy about his game, but he gets the job done as Bonn witnessed as he poured in 19 points. The Serb connection continues with 2014 NBA draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers with point guard Vasilije Misic87,6ppg, 2,1rpg, 3,7apg) who is like an energizer bunny and is just a pest to deal with from the bench. Just when you thought that that was the roster, you still have six Germans on the team. Heiko Schaffartzik(6,9ppg, 1,6rpg, 3,4apg) started only seven games, but was the teams second best three point shooter at 41% and can scare anyone with his focused look on the court at all times. Robin Benzing(6,5ppg, 2,2rpg, 1,3apg) is playing his fourth season in Munich, but his scoring stats have fallen the last three seasons. His scoring average obviously will suffer on a team like Munich, but he is always good for some unexpected big plays. Jan Jagla(5,3ppg, 2,8rpg)still going strong at 33 and is always effective in the minutes that he gets. Paul Zipser(4,9ppg, 2,4rpg) is a guy that needs to fight for his minutes, but showed what he can do scoring 20 against Tuebingen and 13 against Valencia in the Eurocup. Yassin Idbihi(3,5ppg, 2,0rpg) can always give support from the bench with points and rebounds, but this season is more a cheerleader. Most of the German basketball population will go with a 3-0 or 3-1 FC Bayern Munich win against the Fraport Skyliners so why am I doing the daring crazy 3-2 for the Fraport Skyliners? Well I love the underdog and just believe that the Fraport Skyliners have the ability to beat FC Bayern Munich even if it seems more unrealistic than anything in a five game series where the bench is the x factor. The question is how often can the Fraport Skyliners play consistent and strong for 40 minutes or near to it in a five game series against this Bavarian powerhouse? So far in the two games this season they showed up for only 30 minutes. They played a fierce first half in Munich early in the season leading 48-34 at halftime, but collapsed in the second half giving up a 14-0 run to start the third quarter losing 80-73 and in the return game stunk up the Fraport arena in the first 30 minutes being down 63-48 where there seemed to be no hope, but made a massive comeback in the fourth scoring 28 points and winning 76-73. FC Bayern Munich lead in almost every vital team statistical category this season scoring points 89-77, rebounds 38-34, field goal percentage 48-45, and turnovers 14-10, only with three point shooting does Franfurt have the edge 36%-35%. FC Bayern Munich also have the overwhelming bench edge. From the perspective of the Fraport Skyliners, in a series like this one can´t preach too much the statistical edge that the opponent has, but concentrate on the mental side and motivation something head coach Gordon Herbert can do. There is so much x and o´s in the game of basketball, but at the end of the day effort is a huge factor as Frankfurt showed in the fourth quarter of their last win. The other big factor will be playing up to their other strength of team basketball. They didn´t always show it this season, but principally Frankfurt is a team that focuses on team something that head coach Gordon Herbert has preached all season long. Sharing the ball making the extra pass on offense and on defense helping, helping and helping until the paint area looks worn out, clogging the lane and just trusting Quantez Robertson on the court with his leadership. FC Bayern Munich obviously has the experience factor and with Frankfurt the youth of Cobbs and Armand might just not be ready to make heroic after heroic feat as the first seems to have reached his limit as a rookie as his consistency has been lacking in the last weeks as fatigue and scouting from the opponent have caught up with him. The leadership and on court play of Aaron Doornekamp and Jacob Burtschi will be key for the younger players as they play their first BBL playoffs and will be as motivated as a Tez is every game. Of course FC Bayern Munich will remember their disaster from their last game in Frankfurt. The Fraport Skyliners need to steal game one in order to make this a long series. It is no secret that the Fraport Skyliners are an annoying team that won´t be a desired opponent for many teams and despite Gordon Herbert saying recently, he hasn´t seen the team develop since a late March training camp in Mallorca, it is May now, it’s playoff time and the season really starts now. Reaching the Eurochallenge final 4 may have been a big achievement this season, but the Fraport Skyliners won´t go out without a big fight against FC Bayern Munich and also need some unexpected help from their opponent not always playing up to their standards. This prediction may feel absurd for all, but Gordon Herbert has built a special squad this season and one thing is for sure, if there are any Skyliner fans that catch Gordon Herbert after game five in Munich approaching the team bus at the end having missed the game because of having lost track of time in a local Brauhaus, at least they won´t be disappointed at first glance of the Canadian, because win or lose with his usual expressionless look one can still dream at that moment that the most unlikely still did happen until the bitter truth is most probably revealed.

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