The Miles Basketball Minute: 2016 Beko BBL Semi-final Playoff Preview: Fraport Skyliners-ratiopharm Ulm 3-0

It is sometimes bizarre how two seemingly similar occurrences happened at the same time almost one year apart with two new players coming on board to their respective teams and being dominant right away and being the central figures in the complete turnaround of the teams. Back in November of 2014, the Fraport Skyliners had started the season 3-7 and were totally underachieving, but had severe injury woes to battle. Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert had little choice, but to get another point guard for the injured Richard Williams and hauled in Justin Cobbs who was a much traveled rookie in his first two months having been shortly with 2016 Euroleague finalist Laboral Kutxa Vitoria (Spain-Liga Endesa), was the last cut of the NBA Charlotte Hornets and also briefly played with VEF Riga before coming to Frankfurt. Cobbs had the magic touch and instantly helped the team to winning six of eight games and turned around the season leading the team into the Eurochallenge final four and from last into the playoffs where the club bowed out to FC Bayern Munich. In Ulm the same kind of scenario surfaced this season as the club was battling intense injuries and head coach Thorsten Leibenath responded by bringing in ex NBA player Chris Babb who played at Iowa State(NCAA) with ex Ulm forward Will Clyburn and played 14 NBA games with the Boston Celtics. After being cut by the Golden State Warriors, Babb was available and like Cobbs last season snatched up in November. Like Frankfurt last season, ratiopharm Ulm got off the wrong side of the bed and started the season with a pathetic 2-7 record until November 21st where the Babb came on board and the Ulm season turned around rapidly as the club commenced to win 13 of their next 14 games putting them into great position to reach the playoffs. Babb had some huge games this season like his 29 points game in the 91-72 victory against FC Bayern Munich where he dropped seven three pointers or his huge scoring contributions in the wins against Braunschweig with 20 points and 21 points against the Giessen 46ers. Despite having played against the big boys of the NBA, the humbleness of Babb is as refreshing as the massive intense playoff spark that American Raymar Morgan has given the team. “I think that after we won our first few games, it was an overall confidence thing that helped the team in the winning streak. Guys started to fall into their roles and we learned what it took to win games”, stressed Chris Babb. Babb is still searching for his first professional title and already has gone a step further than Cobbs last season by reaching the Beko BBL semi-finals. However now Babb has the biggest challenge of the season trying to get past the Fraport Skyliners which has been an extreme difficult task for most teams. Even if Fraport Skyliner Jordan Theodore has won his first professional title this season, he is as hungry to win a second and will be a big hurdle to overcome for Babb and co.

The Fraport Skyliners have had one of their best season´s in their 17 year existence, but it´s not over yet as they could still win the Beko BBL title as for some have a realistic chance of doing if many things go right. It took Frankfurt 12 years to finally win a title again as they won only the fourth ever international club title after Alba Berlin, Mitteldeutscher BC and BG Goettingen. With John Little Frankfurt has the only player in the history of German basketball to win two international club titles. A goal this season of the Fraport Skyliners was winning the Fiba Europe Cup and they did boasting an amazing 18-1 record, but in their minds they aren´t done yet. They played a superb regular season finishing in third place with a record of 26-8 and had winning streaks of six, seven and nine games to cap of the regular season. Their biggest strength is their defense as they had the best in the Fiba Europe Cup giving up 65 points per game and in the Beko BBL giving up 68 points per game. Their offense isn´t too shabby either as they averaged 78 points per game 12th best in the Beko BBL. They also had a respectable 9-7 record against potential palyoff teams. They also displayed an amazing ball movement that could be compared to the Brose Baskets Bamberg and there were some opponents from time to time that compared it to the NBA San Antonio Spurs. However their biggest strength is their team chemistry. By having the German big three on board with Johannes Voigtmann, Danilo Barthel and Konstantin Klein for three years, Quantez Robertson on board since 2009 and Aaron Doornekamp and Mike Morrison since 2014, the club just know each other inside out like a 30 year married couple. Head coach Gordon Herbert also made the right choices bringing in the conductor Jordan Theodore who has moved into the top three point guards in the BBL, top defensive specialist John Little and rookie Phillip Scrubb who plays like he is a four year veteran and could be labelled as one of the better sixth men in the league. Frankfurt was able to beat every playoff team this season as they prove to be a team not to take lightly. Teams were watching the Beko BBL standings at the end of the season as nobody wanted to get them. Alba Berlin suffered getting swept and will ratiopharm Ulm be the next sweep victim?

Ratiopharm Ulm has always been that type of team that had very solid players that were good enough to make the playoffs, but not talented enough to make a run and survive a five game series. The club now has reached the playoffs five years in a row, but only reached one final in 2012 and semi-final in 2013. They have reached two cup finals in 2013 and 2014 and their hunger to win a title continues to grow. This season the club finished the regular season in seventh place with a record of 21-13, but came into the season winning only two games of their first seven games. However with tough injuries to Carlon Brown and Taylor Braun, the club had to react and got ex NBA player Chris Babb and then bang the team started winning getting 13 victories in their next 14 games which put them in good position of reaching the playoffs. It isn´t always easy to start a season strong when the club starts from scratch as nine new players were signed to build a new roster around Ulm identity figure Per Guenther who has been around since 2008. The club got a mix of balance of inside and shooting and athletic players. The club has a very sold versatile game in the front court with Raymar Morgan, Augustine Rubit and Phillip Neuman and good back court players with Chris Babb, Pierra Henry, Taylor Braun, and David Brembly. Head coach Thorsten Leibenath has the luxury of having many guys that can play multiple positions causing unending mismatches. They were fifth best in scoring netting 82 points per game, ninth in points given up at 79ppg and second best rebounding team at 33 per game. They didn´t fair as well against top teams as Oldenburg did having a 6-10 record, but did beat FC Bayern Munich and Alba Berlin. Their trio of Per Guenther, Raymar Morgan and Augistine Rubit are the main scoring threats, but also get solid production from Chris Babb, Da Sean Butler, and Taylor Braun.

The Fraport Skyliners marched into the Beko BBL semi-finals with a very impressive sweep of Alba Berlin. The Fraport Skyliners held true to their pride in defending as they kept the 8 time Beko BBL champion to 65 points per game in the three game series. The unending threatening self confidence was present every game where they sprouted no fear while Alba Berlin was playing scared and without that fight something that Frankfurt never loses. The Fraport Skyliners did a splendid job holding possibly the leagues best guard duo of Jordan Taylor and Will Cherry combined to 36 points and shot very well from downtown netting 33/82 trey´s while Alba Berlin never found their offensive or three point shooting rhythm as they shoot 18/61. In the other series, ratiopharm Ulm dismantled the potent EWE Baskets Oldenburg with 3-1, but the series reminded one of the 2013 Beko BBL finals where Oldenburg was swept by the Brose Baskets Bamberg and lost the whole series by only a combined point total of seven. Against ratiopharm Ulm, Oldenburg lost the first game by nine points, but in the last three games, they were decided by a total of only eight points. The biggest mistake was losing the home court in the first game losing 90-81. Even if the EWE Baskets Oldenburg were able to keep their composure and pull out a thriller at home in game three 87-85, it was ratiopharm Ulm that had the last ace up their sleeve having the home court in game four and better nerves and their sixth man their fans helping them power to the 80-79 victory. Strange enough the EWE Baskets Oldenburg shot out the lights from outside in every loss, but in their only win shot a dismal 6/21. The series was won in the paint where the scrappy play of ratiopharm Ulm prevailed. Ulm won the rebound battle in each game except for game one where both teams had 26 rebounds a piece.  Raymar Morgan wasn´t a beast from the swamp, but a good double for the mighty Godzilla as he owned the paint area averaging a ridiculous 24 points and nine rebounds in the series. Despite getting 100 points from Ricky Paulding in the four game series and 58 points from Vaughn Duggins in the four game series, it wasn´t enough for Oldenburg to get to the semi-finals.

Frankfurt and Ulm split the season series as the Fraport Skyliners lost on the road 68-61 as the club was tangled in possibly their worst mini slump of season as it had lost to Alba Berlin prior to the Ulm game at home and would lose two weeks later in Bayreuth. In Ulm, Frankfurt was without their basketball conductor Jordan Theodore who was nursing an injury and problems with their offensive rhythm as their staple defense was as productive as usual. Raymar Morgan was his usual dominant self in the paint leading the team with 19 points and finished off eight of nine shots in the paint. In the return game in the living room of the Fraport Skyliners, they had little difficulty disposing of ratiopharm Ulm 92-73 as they displayed high class Skyliner basketball as their offense was clicking on all cylinders and their defense was as rock solid as Alcatraz was for most jail inmates. The Frankfurt twin towers of Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel combined for 35 points while Raymar Morgan continued to be a thorn in the side of Frankfurt netting 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. This is a game that will be decided in the paint and on defense with the physicality being a big factor to who will be able to take control of each game. The Fraport Skyliners showed in both games against ratiopharm Ulm this season that they had the upper hand in both categories. Frankfurt was banged up after the Alba Berlin series, but had almost a week to recover while ratiopharm Ulm have 72 hours before game one in Frankfurt. ratiopharm Ulm will have to play very good defense if they want to have a chance against Frankfurt. ratiopharm Ulm come into the series with a huge upset of the EWE Baskets Oldenburg and have a heightened self-confidence, but they are playing the Fraport Skyliners the second best team in the league behind the Brose Baskets Bamberg. Ulm has a good rotation and bench and may have a slight advantage there, but Frankfurt has the ultimate team chemistry and a self confidence that is still levels above what Ulm are feeling right now. The Fraport Skyliners are on a mission and in control in this series with the home court where they haven´t lost in 2016 and will sweep Ulm and meet Bamberg in the final again.


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