With the first beko BBL semi-final finally set, fans will see two of the leagues power houses with one time BBL champion FC Bayern Munich that lives by their physical nature against eight time beko BBL champion Alba Berlin that also knows how to bang when they feel it´s necessary. This series could be like in the manner of the 80´s playoff atmosphere between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers where there was no love lost between both teams as the hot topic before and after each game was who was more physical and what was the physical play of the game. Another hot topic in this best of five series which starts Sunday will be the battle between the ex Alba Berlin players Heiko Schaffartzik, Nihad Djedovic, Lucca Staiger, Yassin Idbihi and Bryce Taylor and Jan Jagla(only player who wasn´t with winning team last season) who are seeking to defend their title from last season and go two for two against Alba Berlin. However the most interesting aspect of this series will be, can this series be as physical as an amateur bout at the local boxing club in Detroit or will this series go to the extreme punch like during a Mike Tyson/Evander Holyfield in the 90´s, but not including any ear play. It is no secret that both teams like to tear up the paint the way an Egyptian goose does it´s territory when other birds get in their way. Alba Berlin love to defend aggressively and with Clifford Hammonds or Akeem Vargas one has two of the most fierce defenders in the back court while down low a Marko Banic or Leon Radosevic don´t shy away from anyone. FC Bayern Munich show their special defined physicality with John Brant and Vladimir Stimac who won´t stop getting to the hoop or getting by 2-3 opponents until the ball is safely in the bucket or them getting to the free throw line. The inside play of FC Bayern Munich wasn´t always clean in the playoff series against the Fraport Skyliners as Danilo Barthel witnessed in game three as he got a taste of the elbow of Nihad Djedovic. Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert was less than pleased of Djedovic and even let out his frustration with a verbal tirade in front of 6-7 Munich employees and coaches following the game four loss in Frankfurt. After the loss, Herbert gave to record that the play of Djedovic in game three was uncalled for and that he should have been suspended. Herbert also didn´t understand why the league didn´t value the video evidence as it was clear that Barthel was punished by Djedovic unjustly in the paint. After the loss, Herbert had his view to this playoff series and what could happen if these two teams play dirty instead of fair. “IF FC Bayern Munich play against Alba Berlin with the same physicality that they played against us, then I think that a brawl could ensue on the court”, stressed Gordon Herbert. The beko BBL can only hope and dream of a more clean series, but especially when the stakes are so high, a team will do anything to win a game no matter what.
Alba Berlin is led by power forward/center Jamel Mcclean(13,9ppg, 6,5rpg, 1,9apg) who made his international break through this season in the Euroleague averaging 13,0ppg, 5,6rpg and 1,6apg and scored in double figures in 16 of 21 games. He belongs to the most dangerous inside scorers in the league with John Bryant. Alex Renfroe(10,9ppg, 4,7rpg, 4,3apg) who helped Bamberg win their last title in 2013 has given his new team much experience primarily being that energy player from the bench and explosive scorer. Reggie Redding(10,8ppg, 3,9rpg, 4,5apg) is the team´s third leading scorer and top assist man. His versatility is his biggest asset as he can play so many positions. He had some big games against FC Bayern Munich with 23 points and 27 points against Zalgiris. Leon Radosevic(10,1ppg, 4,2rpg, 1,1apg) continues to adjust well to the BBL in his second season and is that presence inside, but doesn´t shy away from placing the mid distance jumper through the net. The Croatian scored in double figures 17 times and had big games against Bonn and Bamberg netting 18 points a piece and had 16 points in the 80-70 win against FC Barcelona. Croatian Marko Banic(9,5ppg, 3,4rpg) also presents his inside out game to perfection, but especially inside is difficult to contain. He scored in double figures 15 times. American Cliff Hammonds(9,2ppg, 2,9rpg, 3,1apg) who balled at Clemson(NCAA) continues to be the top defender in the league and is just that reliable point guard that keeps an offense moving and netted 18 points against Frankfurt and Ulm. Two time NCAA champion with UCONN Niels Giffey(7,0ppg, 2,7rpg) has had a solid rookie campaign adjusting well to the European style and packed Alba Berlin roster. His best game was 17 points against TBB Trier, but on a team that is stocked with scoring power, he helps the team on defense and does small things not seen on the stat sheet. Alex King(6,5ppg, 2,5rpg, 1,2aapg) has matured unbelievably as a player who has gone from Murat Didin´s doghouse in Frankfurt 10 years ago to a respected Euroleague player. He is the team´s captain and an athletic bull that really can do so much well now from shooting to finding the open man. German Akeem Vargas(5,7ppg, 2,5rpg) started only seven games, but when one defensive pest in Hammonds took a breather then came in the next defensive pest in Vargas. Vargas is regarded as one of the most annoying players as he likes to use that physicality and had some good scoring games with 15 against Phoenix Hagen and 14 against Artland. German Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann(2,7ppg) got lost a bit in the big man shuffle this season fighting for minutes, but he is always an asset as he continues to develop. His best game was 10 points against BG Goettingen. The club also boast talented German Ismet Akpinar(3,2ppg) and veteran Jannik Freese(1,9ppg, 1,7rpg) who came to Alba Berlin in the second half of the season and went from practice player to rotation player.
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.
I did predict correctly that Alba Berlin would get by the EWE Baskets Oldenburg, but never in a sweep as I saw it going the distance, but the injuries of the 2015 Beko BBL cup winner were to extreme to make it a real competition, but they still did a good job holding their own. What would have happened if they would have had Nemanja Aleksandrov on board? Could that have made the difference? If Oldenburg had not let that 10 point lead slip away in the last five minutes in game one, they might have been able to go home win and have the 2-0 lead, but that never happened as Alba Berlin were challenged, but won game two and three comfortably by 10 points a game. Oldenburg was severely limited in game three as they only really had a six man rotation as the rest three were Pro B players and Julius Jenkins was out. Alba Berlin simply had the deeper rotation and experience factor which made the 3-0 series win look a lot more decisive than the scores did with all their injury problems. Nobody gave the Fraport Skyliners a real chance as people were speaking sweep from the start. Frankfurt actually did win one game at home in game two as they crushed FC Bayern Munich as they had a golden day while the opponent had a black day as their focus and effort were about as far away as the Allianz arena in Munich is from Frankfurt. Frankfurt had lost German national player Johannes Voigtmann after the game one loss in Munich and still were able to make such a performance and that had to be their best game of the season. However in game three and four the Fraport Skyliners had no chance as they were rocked 82-64 and 92-71. The biggest key´s for FC Bayern Munich advancing to the semi-finals was their consistency, rebounding, deeper bench, physicality, and better three point shooting of 18/43 while the Fraport Skyliners shot 9/39 from downtown.
Alba Berlin and FC Bayern Munich split the season series as the two games were only decided by a total of 5 points. Alba Berlin won the first game at home 83-80 as Americans Jamel Mcclean and Reggie Redding were on fire combining for 46 points with 23 points a piece. Alba Berlin only shot 4/18 from outside, but shot better from the two point range and rebounded better. In the return game in Munich, the home team pulled out a squeaker 70-68. Nihad Djedovic was the top scorer of Munich with 21 points and the game was literally decided on the free throw line as FC Bayern Munich hit 17 more free throws. When breaking down the team stats between Alba Berlin and FC Bayern Munich, Munich scorers more(88-85), rebounds better 38-36), and lets up only (10-13 turnovers) while Alba Berlin shoots better from the field(49%-47%), and better from the three point line with (37%-36%). Both teams stack up very well head to head and on paper. Both teams are deep and experienced, but in this regard I would put the slight edge with the Bavarian team. In this series the home court advantage could very much decide the series which Alba Berlin has. The key players to stop is Mr everything Nihad Djedovic and Mr energizer Bryce Taylor that exhibited his scoring in bunches against the Fraport Skyliners. The key players to stop for Alba Berlin is center Jamel Mclean who needs to be pushed out of the zone because he is unstoppable as soon as he has the ball and position and Mr versatile Reggie Redding who does everything for the team and fills up the stat sheet like no one else. Both teams are strong defensive teams and in this series defense will make the difference as effort and who really will do the little things will decide the series.