The Miles Basketball Minute: 2016 Beko BBL Playoff Preview: EWE Baskets Oldenburg-ratiopharm Ulm 3-2

Whenever May comes around in Germany, it means the first sign of warm weather, people showing off their newest shades in the café´s, men drooling again at the sight of mini-skirts moving with the motion of the cool spring breeze and family´s doing bike trips on the weekends when the spring weather is nice. On the basketball side, it is time again for the Beko BBL playoffs and one player that seems to have an almost guarantee  pass to the being able to battle for that coveted title is Mr Oldenburg Rickey Paulding who has been their eight out of nine seasons since his arrival to Oldenburg in 2007. However in those eight attempts, he has only been able to win one title which was in 2009 as the EWE Baskets Oldenburg beat the Telekom Baskets Bonn in one of the more memorable final´s series in the history of the Beko BBL. Paulding and co were close a few years back reaching the final and despite being swept by the Brose Baskets Bamberg lost the three game series with only a combined seven points. Paulding isn´t getting any younger at age 33, but he still plays like a 27 year old and seems like his body is ageless as he still looks as fresh on the floor like a young buck  belonging to the  top 5 perimeter players in the Beko BBL as his consistency over the years with age has been commendable. Especially at age 33, every new playoffs experience has to be of big worth for the ex Missouri(NCAA) player as he doesn´t know if it might be his last. It is never good to look ahead, but the American probably has realized that there could be a possible semi-final date with the Fraport Skyliners, a team that not only he wants to seek revenge on, but also his teammates. This season, the Fraport Skyliners won a do or die game in January for the ticket to the Beko BBL cup final 4 in Munich and recently were easily disposed of in Frankfurt as they couldn´t find a remedy to stop their lethal ball movement. Two facts riding on the side of Paulding who can compete with the best American smiles in the Beko BBL when he displays his wide grin and glistening white teeth, in that he beat Frankfurt back in 2009 in the quarterfinals of the playoffs and also has beat ratiopharm Ulm in the playoffs in  a hard five game series . Paulding wants more after winning his second title last season with the cup on his own floor as he wants another title to make him a tad more immortal in Oldenburg even if achieving it this season will be a difficult task with the competition level, but not many expected it in 2009 either.

In mid January, the EWE Baskets Oldenburg were playing  very solid in the Eurocup competition advancing from round to round, but were playing an ok season in the Beko BBL, but nothing special as they had had some big wins against Alba Berlin and Ludwigsburg but also losing to lesser teams. The turning point came in mid January as after a bitter loss against medi Bayreuth, the team needed one win to be back in the Beko BBL cup final and try to defend their title. Instead of getting the chance to play for the title for a second year in a row, the teams road to the final 4 was halted in Frankfurt. However the ending of this big dream of getting back to the final 4 must of struck a massive chord within them as after that, they produced a masterful 11 game winning streak and then funny enough lost to Frankfurt again and then closed out the regular season with a three game winning streak. Oldenburg finished the season in second place with a record of 27-7 and are more than ready to start the playoffs as they are hungry, confident and strong and lost only to Frankfurt twice in the last three months while beating the big three of FC Bayern Munich, Alba Berlin, and the Brose Baskets Bamberg. Management did a good job keeping together Oldenburg identity figure Rickey Paulding and the new second identity figure in the making Chris Kramer as well as forward Nemanja Aleksandrov and Robin Smeulders. In the past the club had made poor decision in roster changes, but this season brought in guys like Vaughn Duggins and Brian Qvale who aren´t only top quality players, but also have good characters as any coach would call winners. The club also brought in veteran Philipp Schwethelm who is the complete team player as well as good fits with ex NBA player Scott Machado who had injury problems, but also good games as well as Klemen Prepelic. In the regular season, the team showed that they could put up points as they were third in points averaging 84 points per game, but also no slouches getting back on defense as they were sixth in points given up with 78 points per game. They also belonged to the top rebounding teams hauling down 32 per game resting at sixth place. They also had a superb 11-4 record against the playoff candidates sweeping Alba Berlin. The trio of Paulding, Qvale and Duggins are about as lethal an offensive force that you will find in the Beko BBL and have other solid scoring options with Aleksandrov, Schwethelm and Smeulders who can turn up on any night. A big strength of the team is their team chemistry and great characters that the team have. Despite having Machado out at the start, they were able to compensate the loss with Prepelic who stepped it up.

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 two teams split the season series with ratiopharm Ulm winning the first contest 80-63 at home displaying a top defensive effort controlling Qvale and Duggins and Per Guenther exploded for 27 points. In the second meeting on the road, the EWE Baskets Oldenburg proved again that they are almost unbeatable at home as they lost only once in their living room this season winning 90-75. The key for the Oldenburg win was their hot three point shooting as they nailed 13 from downtown, Paulding and Qvale combined for 44 points and the club also got solid production from Duggins and Prepelic from the bench. There always seems to be one series in the quarterfinals that goes five games and this is the one. The key to winning this series will simply be what team decides and wants to play defense. Both are very explosive scoring teams, but at times take the night off defending. The other key will be the home court advantage. Ratiopharm Ulm will need to win a game in Oldenburg even if that has been the biggest obstacle for teams this season. Oldenburg currently has the momentum with their amazing run in the Beko BBL and have the edge with their team chemistry that will carry them to the semi-finals.

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