sports blog by andy shenk

Enter Russian Basketball

In Lokomotiv-Kuban, Russian Basketball on March 26, 2012 at 6:56 PM

After the intensity of Xavier basketball over the last two weeks, the last three days have felt strangely calm. I’m back to the humdrum of the sports cycle, waiting for Opening Day and the beginning of the NBA playoffs.

Nonetheless, there is one contest tomorrow that I desperately wish I could attend. Lokomotiv Kuban, a professional Russian basketball team based in Krasnodar, is taking on fellow Russian squad BC Khimki in the quarterfinals of the EuroCup. Lokomotiv and Khimki already played once, last Tuesday in Khimki, and Khimki came out on top then by nine points. In order for Lokomotiv to advance to the EuroCup Final Four they must defeat Khimki tomorrow evening by at least ten points. This may have you scratching your head, unless, that is, you’re familiar with international soccer’s tradition of advancing teams based on aggregate. Two matches are held, home and away, and the team with the greater aggregate number of goals in the end advances. The same is true for Lokomotiv and Khimki in the EuroCup quarterfinals. Khimki, having won by nine at home, must simply lose by no more than eight points. Should Lokomotiv win their home match tomorrow by exactly nine points, the game, bizarrely, would go into overtime.

None of this makes any sense to me, good, honest American that I am. What fun is there in a competition, which blatantly favors the heavyweight in the match-up, in this case, Khimki? Having just devoted two weeks to cheering on underdogs in the NCAA Tournament, I am turned off by the idea that Lokomotiv could pull off a hard-fought upset tomorrow, thus evening the series 1-1, and still be sent home.

On the other hand, it heightens the game’s exotic appeal. I wish I could watch the game in person, or even on my computer, and potentially enjoy the absurdity of cheering wildly for Lokomotiv to push the lead to ten by the end of the game, or go home deflated that they had only beaten a terrific team by eight.

The game will be held at Lokomotiv’s home arena, the Basket-Hall. The Basket-Hall seats 7500 and was opened last fall. Lokomotiv is an up-and-coming club in Russian and European basketball and enjoys one of Russia’s most enthusiastic fan bases. In order to boost attendance at the new arena located on the outskirts of Krasnodar, management decided to do away with tickets for the first four months of the season, allowing everyone in free! The strategy proved successful, as the team is regularly complimented by its opponents for the quality and quantity of its fans. The Loko fans have even made significant showings at away games, a rare occurrence in Russia’s far-flung professional league.

Like I mentioned earlier, I won’t be able to attend or watch this game. But, as a basketball fan, I’m excited to watch the highlights after work tomorrow and see how to what extent the sport of basketball has grown in popularity in the southern steppes of Russia. I hope Lokomotiv, with their brand-new arena and burgeoning following, pull off the upset and advance to the Final Four. Their fans would be ecstatic and the future of basketball in Krasnodar that much brighter. Oh, and by the way, #8 for Lokomotiv graduated from Xavier University in 2004. I’ll be cheering on Xavier journeyman Lionel Chalmers as he attempts to reach a new level of success in his fourth year in the Russian league.

Lokomotiv Kuban vs. BC Khimki. EuroCup Quarterfinal, 2nd leg.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012. 11:30 AM ET. Basket-Hall, Krasnodar, Russia.


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