EasyCredit BBL Playoff Preview 2018: Alba Berlin-EWE Baskets Oldenburg 3-0

Who could forget the refreshing and amazing playoff run of the EWE Baskets Oldenburg last season that made many a fans mild spring evenings so much more enjoyable as the 2009 BBL champion gave the word exciting a new meaning with some of their spectacular finishes that for some basketball fanatics would have made great scripts for future basketball movies. They may not have defeated a Munich or Alba Berlin in their run, but finished off two of that season´s big surprise teams with the scrappy medi Bayreuth club and the powerful offensive machine of ratiopharm Ulm. If someone had yelled into Ricky Pauldings face before the start of the playoffs with the words of “hey Ricky you guys will beat Bayreuth and Ulm and reach the final”, the first reaction of the Detroit native probably would have been “Say what” with that undeniable mischievious expression, but after a few seconds after grasping exactly what the fan had said would have probably carefully nodded up and down while inside had that why not feeling with his self confidence already being raised with that audacious remark by the basketball fanatic. The EWE Baskets Oldenburg really came to life last season in the playoffs disposing of big surprise team medi Bayreuth and title favorite ratiopharm Ulm and a big reason was the consistent scoring thrust from Ricky Paulding and the overall feisty and “I live filling up the stat sheet” Chris Kramer. Paulding slowly got going against Bayreuth scoring in double figures in three of the four games and had 18 points in game 4. But it was in the series against Ulm where he played from another planet as his 34 years of age didn´t show as he dropped 24 and 28 points in game one and two, 19 points in game 3 and saved his best for last netting 27 points in the thrilling 78-75 game five win. The EWE Baskets Oldenburg ran out of gas in the final getting swept by Bamberg despite a Paulding playing very solidly. A year later the EWE Baskets Oldenburg are back in the playoffs with a 35 year old Paulding and still sporting that fresh warm smile. This season he won´t be doing his magic against a Bayreuth or Ulm, but against the mighty Alba Berlin who may have won their share of cups in the last years, but haven´t won the BBL title since 2008 and haven´t been as close with talent and chemistry to winning again as they have been this season. Will the EWE Baskets Oldenburg and Ricky Paulding start a new Cinderella run this post season? As a fan, you would  love to see another historic Paulding run with another string of amazing upsets, but the only upset this season will be if Oldenburg can somewhat control Luke Sikma.

picture perfect 1991
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Alba Berlin forward Luke Sikma after dropping 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in the 90-84 loss against the Fraport Skyliner

After two seasons of finishing in sixth place, Alba Berlin returned this season with a new coach with Aito and MVP with Luke Sikma that led them to a second place finish. The club started off well winning seven of it´s first 8 games, but then had a drought period in November where they lost three of six games. But after that they were nearly unstoppable winning 18 games in a row and then lost a bit of concentration losing in Giessen on the second to last game day. In the big winning streak they beat their top opponents Bamberg and Munich and got revenge for their loss in Frankfurt destroying them at home by 37 points. When you lead the league in scoring buckets with 90 per game and lead the league in least points given up per game with 74, you obviously are doing something right.

The big reason for the turnaround in the play of the club has been the new Spanish coach Aito who has made basketball be fun for his players and gives them their freedom. So many players have profited from his philosophy like Luke Sikma(12,8ppg,7,2rpg,4,2apg) who had the season of his life and could see NBA life next season if the ball rolls the right way for him. Peyton Siva was reborn under Aito coming off a tough injury and his self confidence wasn´t  in the cellar, but even deeper somewhere 20 feet under. Siva(12,7ppg,5,8apg) also has had a great season and profited from being mentally strong last season despite adversary brought that self worth back this season and coupled with having the confidence from Aito and freedom to play his game has heightened the team play. So many other guys flourished as well including ex Iberostar Tenerife CB Canarias forward Marius Grigonis(11.8ppg,2,7rpg, 2,8apg 46% 3pt), ex Utah State guard Spencer Butterfield(12,0ppg,27rpg,3,6apg 44%3pt) and the biggest surprise was ex Giessen guard Joshiko Saibu(9,8ppg,50%) who surprised many by fighting his way into the rotation and being a vital role player. He also has profited from Aito being able to play his game and his ability to read the game has improved. Another big strength is their incredible three point shooting accuracy this season. The team has 7 guys shooting 40% or better. Playing hard and successful defense isn´t always about getting the most steals, but being able to consistently produce stops. Alba Berlin doesn´t get the most steals, but their aggressiveness has been their recipe for success and something they have consistently practiced all season long holding teams to under 70 points 13 times The biggest wins of Alba Berlin were sweeping Brose Bamberg and beating FC Bayern Munich once.

picture perfect 1990

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Peyton Siva in Frankfurt in 2017

The EWE Baskets Oldenburg had a solid season and reached their sixth playoffs in a row. The club went into the regular season having lost two of their main forces with Chris Kramer and Brian Qvale and had to compensate them with Mickey Mcconnell and Rashid Mahalbasic. When looking at the stats, Mahalbasic(16,2ppg,6,2rpg,3,3apg) who came from Iberostar Tenerife CB Canarias was an upgrade to Qvale(14,7ppg,6,4rpg,1,0apg) while Mcconnell(11,2ppg,2,6rpg,5,3apg) wasn´t an upgrade to Kramer(10,3ppg,5,6rpg,6,6apg,2,2spg). But having the better stats doesn´t always mean it´s the best recipe for success. That was proven early on with scoring ace Byron Allen(16,3ppg,4,6rpg,4,2apg) who departed after only 11 games. The EWE Baskets then prompt won 11 of their next 14 games turning their season around after starting only at 6-5 in the BBL. Even if Allen was that offensive machine, the team wasn´t winning the way it should and after his departure the tide turned. The club proved that they could be a consistent offensive force as they averaged 86 points per game fifth best in the league and scored 80 points or more 28 times. However they weren´t able to find a sound defensive identity giving up 82 points per game 12th most in the BBL. If one hadn´t seen the name EWE Baskets on the box score, one might have thought Phoenix Hagen with Ingo Freyer from the last seasons had played as they had quite a few high scoring shoot outs. Team basketball became more of a focus after Allen left as they were the third best team in dishing out dimes. Paulding had another strong season showing that he can still play like a 27 year old despite being 35 years of age averaging 14,7ppg. The club only had three players averaging in double figures in scoring, but still have good scoring depth with ex MBC guard Franz Massenat(9,0ppg,2,3rpg,27apg), Belgium national player Maxime De Zeeuw(9,4ppg,3,7rpg) and ex Ulm guard Philipp Schwethelm(8,1ppg,3,9rpg 45%3pt). Their biggest wins of the season were against FC Bayern Munich and Brose Bamberg and swept ratiopharm Ulm, but in comparison to their dominance last season wasn´t an unbelievable feat this season.

picture perfect 1845

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and BBL identity figure Rickey Paulding after the American dropped 6 points in the loss

In the head to head play this season, Alba Berlin swept the EWE Baskets Oldenburg winning 88-81 and 91-83. In the first game despite dropping 13 trey´s, the EWE Baskets Oldenburg were overpowered on the boards and had 29 less free throws than Alba Berlin. Luke Sikma led the charge as always filling up the stat sheet at ease with 16 points, 10 boards and 7 dimes and had three other teammates in double figures in scoring. Alba Berlin were overall the more clever team and made the needed plays in crunch-time. In the second game in Berlin, Oldenburg was able to do a little better job containing Luke Sikma in the scoring department with 11 points, but he was still a beast with 11 rebounds and had 4 assists. Oldenburg matched up pretty well in the stat department even winning the rebound battle, hitting 11 trey´s, but they had 3 more turnovers and once again had massive problems drawing fouls getting only 7 free throws while Alba Berlin reached the free throw line 24 times. Alba Berlin had 5 guys scoring in double figures while Oldenburg had four guys in double figures. The EWE Baskets Oldenburg played Alba Berlin tough, but how will they fair in a 5 game series in the post season against Alba Berlin? Alba Berlin come in with a tad more confidence into the series after getting a last offensive warm up blasting ratiopharm Ulm out of the Mercedes arena 102-73 and also displayed a solid defensive show. The EWE Baskets Oldenburg on the other hand arrive in the post season with an ugly 90-74 loss in their own living room against the Fraport Skyliners and at times looked uninspiring as if it was their last game of the season. Alba Berlin come into the game as the favorite. Even if Oldenburg played them tough in the regular season, Alba Berlin are stronger at every important stat and are much deeper. Alba Berlin has had problems taking care of the ball this season as they were one of the worst teams in turnovers which is difficult to understand, but sometimes it´s more efficient to make the sound pass instead of the pretty pass. Oldenburg struggles defensively and will have to step up their defense to have a chance. Alba Berlin rebound the ball better and if their shots aren´t falling will clean up in the paint. Alba Berlin is an amazing thee point shooting team and Oldenburg will have to find some kind of a way to limit their accuracy. That´s easier said than done, but being able to maintain that high shooting percentage will be Alba Berlin´s entrance to the semi-finals. A Luke Sikma is high on confidence after winning the MVP and isn´t done yet with filling up the stat sheet as it will continue in the post season. Even though it would be a delight to see another Paulding fairy tale story like against Bayreuth, but that won´t happen this spring. But the good news is that this off season there won´t be any fidgeting about whether the ex Missouri(NCAA) stand out will return or not, because he has a contract until 2019 and will continue to spice up the BBL as one of the great identity figures next season. One just dreams that a guy like Paulding will come back every season, because after years one has become a little spoiled in Oldenburg, but unfortunatly he won´t come back this season in the semi-finals as Alba Berlin will cruise into the semi-finals with a sweep.

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